Computerworld: Business Video: Make Mine Searchable
Corporate America's use of video will only grow, which makes it more important to allow end users to find exactly what they need.
For some enterprises, online video has become a vital tool for training, security, sales, marketing and other functions. And along with that growth in the use of video comes increased demand for users to be able to find exactly what they need.
Video search technology enables users to find specific videos, or to search within videos for key words and phrases spoken in a presentation, text such as subject titles and subtitles, particular people or topics and other content.
In an August 2009 survey of 210 corporate IT and business professionals by research firm IDC, almost 45% of the respondents said that they already publish videos on their public-facing Web sites and another 16% said that they plan to do so.
And in a May 2010 poll (download PDF) of 2,412 consumers by media and communications consultancy Frank N. Magid Associates Inc., half of the respondents said that they watch online video at least once a week, up from 43% in 2009. Although short-form videos, including those on YouTube, are the most popular content for online viewing, some 40% of the respondents said that they watch either full-length TV shows or movies online.
"In the corporate world it's not uncommon for a video to be an hour long, and you want to be able to jump to the 10 minutes that you really want to watch" rather than sit through the entire 60 minutes, says Dan Rayburn, an analyst at research and consulting firm Frost & Sullivan in New York. Searchable video "allows you to consume more content a lot faster; it's lot more targeted," Rayburn says. And that, in turn, translates into improved productivity.
Further, he says, a big part of managing video is making it possible to search for specific content.
Susan Feldman, an analyst at IDC in Framingham, Mass., says, "Just like presentations, images and video contain enterprise information that can be used and reused for marketing and messaging."
Although video search functionality will likely prove to be an increasingly important corporate tool, it can be expensive and challenging to set up a system that's capable of reliably searching through video.
Video's security uses
Companies are discovering a variety of ways to make use of searchable videos. Hilton Americas, for example, uses the technology to improve security and customer service at its hotels. In November 2009, the hospitality company deployed technology from San Francisco-based 3VR Security Inc. that makes raw video searchable. With 3VR's SmartRecorder system, Hilton can search video to find lost luggage, identify license plates in hotel parking lots and reduce employee time theft, among other things.
The 3VR system supports highly detailed searches; for example, it can search based on the direction in which people or objects are traveling and the color or size of objects, says John Alan Moore, security director at McLean, Va.-based Hilton. The system is also good with facial recognition. At one Hilton site, an unauthorized person entered an employee-only area of a hotel and was apprehended with the help of the 3VR technology. "We used his image and set up the alert system on him, and the next day he tried entering the back of the [hotel] again and we received the alert e-mail, located him and had him arrested," Moore says.
Hilton uses the 3VR system's ability to recognize and count license plates to verify the number of vehicles that come into and out of garages during events. "If someone runs through the gates, we have their license plate [number] and a video of the incident to pursue damage costs," Moore says.
The video system nearly paid for itself within a week after it was installed, Moore says. A guest at a Houston hotel claimed to have been hurt in an incident involving a malfunctioning elevator door. But by searching a surveillance video, officials were quickly able to determine that the doors were working fine. At that point, the person decided not to pursue a claim, Moore says.
Making better use of streaming video
Since November 2008, Marquette General Health System, a health care provider in Marquette, Mich., has used the Accordent Capture Station and Media Management System from El Segundo, Calif.-based Accordent Technologies Inc. to capture, edit and stream medical presentations for staff and patients.
The organization operates a streaming video Web site called MGHSonDemand, which has 1,100 registered viewers and 85 presentations.
"As our online content grows and the number of viewers increases, the ability to have searchable video is very important," says Kathleen Stuart, manager of media services and telehealth at Marquette. Users can search for specific content within videos using keywords, Stuart says. "Since we are entering the online descriptions of each presentation ourselves, we try to be as descriptive as possible," she says.
Stuart says there was no specific training needed on how to manage and implement the keyword search, "but we have found through trial and error and from requests from our viewers certain methods that we now implement with each presentation."
For instance, each presentation description starts out with the length of the video, and if viewers can earn educational credits by watching that video, the word credit is included in the title. So people who want to earn educational credit have been instructed to enter the word credit in the search field in order to see a list of all the videos that carry credits.
Stuart is the primary site administrator for the portal, so there are no problems with multiple site administrators entering conflicting titles and keywords.
The search capability helps users more quickly and easily find specific presentations, speakers, dates, descriptions of presentations and other information.
Expanding customer service
Searchable video is helping some companies expand their services to customers. For example, Raytheon Professional Services (RPS), a training services provider, uses video search to enhance the educational programs it offers clients.
Since 2004, the Garland, Texas-based subsidiary of defense manufacturer Raytheon Co. has used a streaming video system called Altus vSearch from Altus Learning Systems Inc. to provide searchable streaming video to a major customer in the automotive industry. The customer, which RPS managers declined to identify, had previously been receiving RPS broadcast video that was not searchable. The video covers topics such as how to repair auto parts like brakes and transmissions.
RPS integrated the Altus video system with its own learning management system, says Greg Inman, RPS's learning technology manager in North America.
RPS initially launched an internal pilot program to determine the effectiveness of repurposing its broadcast content as streaming video. Success would be measured by the number of people accessing the video. Altus converted several broadcasts, created a custom-branded portal called "vPortal" and hosted the video on its global content delivery network. Altus then provided secure access to the RPS vPortal. Streaming video content is indexed in the searchable portal, so users can easily search for specific content within videos, Inman says.
The pilot was a success, based on high rankings from a user response survey the company conducted, as was a second trial conducted with the automotive customer. Following that, RPS converted fully to streaming video that's accessible by more than 50,000 users at the automotive company.
Typically, more than 10,000 technicians visit the portal 18,000 times each month and conduct more than 9,000 video searches. Users can browse videos by topic or search across the entire library of videos to quickly find content they need. The biggest advantage of going with streaming has been greater convenience for users and the ability to search content, Inman says.
"If there's a certain procedure they remember seeing in one of the classes, they can use [the search capability] to go right to that segment to refresh their memory," Inman says. Plus, Altus provides searchable text transcriptions of each video that "allow the learner to search literally to the spoken word," he explains.
Users can search for exact phrases used in videos. "So instead of a technician doing a search for a keyword such as brakes and getting every video nugget that had something to do with brakes, in our system the learner can search for replacing brake pads and not only get the video where that topic was discussed, but get to the exact point in the video snippet where the phrase is used," Inman says.
RPS is looking to offer the streaming video and video search capabilities to clients in other fields, including the transportation, energy, pharmaceuticals and health care industries.
Challenges include determining content's meaning
As with any newer technology, there are challenges to overcome when you implement and use searchable video. One involves determining the meaning of a video, IDC's Feldman says.
"While images have great impact, they are hard to pin down in terms of meaning" and context, Feldman says. "Am I looking at my vacation in St. John [or at] a beach, a boat, a tree? Or am I looking at an ecosystem that shows invasive species taking over from native species, as well as beach erosion? Recognizing what are the important components of an image or a video, as well as predicting what may be important to searchers five years from now, is a difficult task."
Another challenge is segmentation -- the process of dividing a video into meaningful, coherent units. "All of the frames about a topic should be in the same segment, and when the topic or scene changes, then that should be the end of the segment," Feldman says. "Easy in concept, not so easy if [a] newscaster is just sitting and talking, with no major changes in the image. To make it even harder, sometimes the scene changes and then some footage is shown to illustrate the topic, so the scene does change, but the topic doesn't."
And then there's the issue of storage. "Video files are large. Searching them is computationally intensive," Feldman says. "Storing them is a problem because of the volume. Can we compress them effectively without losing important content?"
One of the early hurdles for RPS was dealing with the bandwidth requirements of streaming media. Over time, says Inman, network costs have come down and video technology has been optimized to make the most efficient use of available bandwidth. "The bandwidth requirements are relatively low and haven't changed," he says. "However, in 2004 many [auto] dealers were still on dial-up and could not even meet the bandwidth requirements."
For Marquette General, managing the server for streaming video proved difficult. "Monetary resources prevented us from buying [a] streaming server," Stuart says. "We chose to have the Web server, application server and database server here on-site and outsource the streaming server."
Since the video streaming is the "heaviest load" of the system "we did not want to have to manage that on our end and possibly compromise our intranet's bandwidth, so outsourcing to a CDN [content distribution network] seemed the best way to go," she says. "We also did not have to worry about updating or managing the streaming servers and can easily increase our capacity by purchasing more storage and bandwidth directly from the CDN." By outsourcing the streaming server from the start, the health care provider also put less demand on its already overloaded IT staff, Stuart says. Marquette uses a service from a Detroit company called PowerStream, and Stuart says that she's pleased with the service.
Despite some implementation challenges, analysts Feldman and Rayburn both agree that searchable video will grow to become a formidable piece of the enterprise content equation. Video is becoming recognized as a "valuable asset" in companies, says Feldman, and with that recognition comes the need to manage it like any other corporate resource.