Coming soon to a Cineplex near you: SharePoint

Keeping track of unstructured data can be a real pain, but many businesses—including Cineplex Odeon Corp.—are using Microsoft Corp.’s SharePoint as an ad-hoc enterprise search solution to find what they need within the e-clutter.

“We’ve seen a growth in unstructured data,” according to senior analyst Warren Shiau of the Strategic Counsel. “People need to have a solution that can look across collaboration and back-end.” Once you add in people, the intranet, and databases, the solution necessary needs to be very targeted, he said.

Improving enterprise search can net good productivity gains, said Shiau. “How much time is spent doing manual pulls from ERP spreadsheets? What if no one can work on a document at the same time?”

He suggests doing a questionnaire of employee needs to gauge what everyone requires for optimal job performance so that the appropriate product — and subsequent access levels — can be sussed out.

In the current economy, said Andy Papadopoulos, president of the Toronto-based Microsoft partner Legend Corp., maximizing productivity becomes even more critical. He said, “You need to improve the relevancy of search for better results.”

Theatre chain Cineplex Odeon was dealing with a lot of extra information floating around in the wake of its acquisition of the Famous Players chain, said Jeff Kent, the company CTO. “We had a lot of areas of information, and we had to focus on the amount of information — where it was, how it was used, where it went—along with everything from e-mail, fileshares, portals, infrastructure, and apps,” he said.

The whole situation was worsened by the fact that the national business ran through all the timezones. Kent decided that he needed to turn this unstructured data into structured data, and, last year, started to put in place a solution.

Cineplex Oden called on Legend Corp. to aid in the implementation of SharePoint Server 2007 to take care of the unstructured data. Kent said, “With SharePoint lists, we can put the data in in a structured way and make the search results much clearer.”

It’s an ongoing process, he said, with “fine-tuning the results” going on all the time. Said Kent: “We get a new product every week, so we have to make educated guesses as to maximize the revenue, and then validate whether the guessing is right and adjust it the right way.” Enterprise search enables better use of information from the algorithms that determine which movies play where and for how long.

Leases are another area that Microsoft SharePoint Server’s functionality comes in handy. With 130 leased locations, managers were shuffling through the documents all the time, looking in vain for information they needed.

Kent said, “It used to be paper copies in a drawer that were often 10 or 15 years old. People could be paying for things that weren’t even their responsibility, but they didn’t know, because they couldn’t look at the lease in a timely manner. It’s much faster now, with looking things up twice as fast.”

Even the ever-present security threat comes into play. “We see compliance as one of the main drivers in this market,” said Wanda Yu, Microsoft Canada senior product manager.

And, in Cineplex Odeon’s case, enabling better enterprise search has ensured a more secure operation, Kent said, as the security of the data is enhanced by monitoring who has access to it via role-based controls.

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