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Kona DataSearch: Secure Intelligent Search within Salesforce

By May 12, 2014Article

Editor’s note: What began as strictly a tool for advanced search in Salesforce in 2011 has expanded to a cloud-based, hybrid single-search solution for critical data in content management systems. Dave Hall, CEO and co-founder of Kona DataSearch, discusses the trends in data search solutions and permissioning and encryption involved in intelligent search. 

Please describe some of the search trends and comments you hear from potential customers that indicate there is still a problem with search that’s generally not met in the marketplace. 

Dave Hall: The trend that we’re seeing now is companies want more of a hybrid experience in that they want a single search solution and search location for their important data. This includes not only Salesforce data but things like SharePoint, Box and typical content management systems where people look for critical data. That’s not just cloud content; some large companies typically keep a certain portion of critical data behind a firewall. 

Another issue is that people want to do intelligent, relevant search for Salesforce. Salesforce only searches through the first 2,000 records. But some of our clients such as AstraZeneca, Cisco and United Healthcare have hundreds of thousands, if not millions of records in Salesforce. One client told us, “There are leads in my Salesforce system that I never knew I had until I started trying out the Kona product.” We have the ability to look at a very large data set and trim it down to what’s critical to the customer. This is important for the recruiting industry where millions of resumes can be filtered down to a handful of candidates in a matter of three or four clicks. 

In addition, we think that a universal search across multiple systems will be even more important in making the user base more productive because of being able to search intelligently and quickly. Structured data has been growing in single digits, whereas unstructured data is growing exponentially both inside and outside of Salesforce. And Salesforce, built on an Oracle database, has both of those components built into the product. They’ve taken the standard rows and columns for data, but there are also things like long textboxes where people put meeting notes inside, or they attach PDF files, or they use Chatter files to attach resumes to a contact record. 

Aren’t there other similar search products on the market? 

Dave Hall: There are companies that offer different search solutions in Salesforce. But a lot of search solutions were acquired in the last five years.  Endeca was picked up by Oracle, HP picked up Autonomy, and Vivisimo was picked up by IBM. So the companies that offer the ability to search both structured and unstructured data at the same time have exited the market. And mainly those solutions were on-premises solutions rather than cloud solutions. 

We took a third-party engine that was behind the firewall and put it in the cloud. We made it multi-tenant, just like Salesforce, and we built intelligent search for Salesforce in all of their products. And it’s critical for most Salesforce clients that any AppExchange apps and solutions adhere to the Salesforce permission model so that User A cannot see User B’s data. We have integrated that permissioning security into our product. 

Let’s talk about some of the trends in problems with security in intelligent search. Is Kona doing something different than just applying a permissioning functionality to your search product? 

Dave Hall: Yes, we are doing some different things. The challenge is when you start adding new data sources to a search solution. For example, if you add SharePoint, Box or anything else, you need to know that John Smith in Salesforce is also Jonathan J. Smith in SharePoint. On the permissioning side, it’s really important to be able to confirm that those two users are the same person. We have the ability to work with those protocols. 

On the encryption side, everybody is working with encryption, including Salesforce. But they have certain limitations. Salesforce only encrypts files up to five MB. Kona’s search index has the ability to encrypt any content of any size. That’s extremely important for companies that have data files that are 20, 50, 100 MB files. 

So this is a differentiation of your solution. 

Dave Hall: That’s correct. As of now, we don’t know of anyone that can handle all of the permissioning, security, authentication and encryption — or combination of those functions — that we offer, especially in conjunction with having a native solution to Salesforce. 

Isn’t the effectiveness of the search based on the effectiveness of the user’s keywords? 

Dave Hall: We offer fuzzy search. If someone types “Bill” into the search box, but in the database it says “William,” there is no way that the standard search product will find that. But we have our own integrated dictionaries for synonyms, acronyms and friendly names. 

We also offer spell correction or a Google-like “did you mean?” approach for the unstructured data component.  

Why did you select Salesforce? Do you plan to expand to other content systems? 

Dave Hall: We’re a young company, and we chose to cater to the Salesforce community first because we think Salesforce is the desktop of the future. And the market for Salesforce is very big. Eventually we’ll look to work directly with other content markets. 

The other thing we see is there will be people building products on the platform. That will definitely shape up the content management space just because integration is so much easier with a solution that is built on the same architecture as a company’s key system ( for CRM). There is good synergy there. 

That integration is important. People don’t want to switch back and forth between different data silos to be able to find content quickly. 

Where do you think the intelligent search market is headed? Will it change significantly in the next two years? 

Dave Hall: Like everything else, it will have to be mobile. Vendors will need to offer an abbreviated version of their product in the mobile space. That’s definitely going to be happening in the next two years. 

But in the next three to five years we see the integration play to become dominant. Things like SharePoint are not going away, and it has 20 million users. 

How extensive can a search be on a mobile device? 

Dave Hall: It can be very extensive. First of all, we’ve integrated with Salesforce’s new Salesforce1 mobile platform. They’ve already created a platform that has that abbreviated version for mobile phones and tablets, and the user experience is still the same. There might not be as many bells and whistles or things like checkboxes, drop-down menus, multi-value pick lists and things like that. But users can still find relevant results quickly. They still get that Google experience but on a small screen. 

We believe the bigger challenge will be with on-premises data. Being able to offer real-time search with on-premises data systems that are typically locked down is clearly going to be a challenge, and we’re already working with a client in this space. 

Dave Hall is CEO and Co-Founder of Kona DataSearch. He has extensive background in manufacturing, medical device and electronics with positions at Teradyne Connections (now Amphenol), Fujitsu Consulting and Elevated Resources. He is also the Boston Area Salesforce Partner User Group Leader. Dave can be reached at or on Twitter. 

Kathleen Goolsby is managing editor of 




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