Matrix—the internet company for Telecom Italia—focuses on technology and digital marketing. It delivers Virgilio.it, which provides news, music, email, and video services to around 15 million users a month, as well as around 8,100 local websites for towns in Italy. In a highly competitive environment, Matrix wanted to improve customer experience, support more sophisticated marketing initiatives and cross selling, and drive users to revenue-generating sites. In 2004, Matrix began using FAST Enterprise Search Platform—now owned by Microsoft—and has subsequently enhanced the environment with Bing Maps and Microsoft FAST Search Server 2010 for Internet Business. Customers receive more accurate search results, increasing the number of click-throughs. With more than 500 sales agents, the local advertising business is achieving triple-digit growth, driven by enhanced enterprise search features.Situation
Founded in 1995, Matrix is the internet company for Telecom Italia, and a wholly owned subsidiary of the telecommunications group. It operates Virgilio.it, the leading portal in Italy for a wide range of editorial, music, lifestyle, sports, and advertisement services. This includes Virgilio Local, which has around 8,100 websites—one for each town in Italy.
Matrix serves 15 million web users a month on Virgilio and competes with global brands such as Yahoo and MSN. It also operates 1254, a telephone information service—with more than 8 million callers a year—and online directory. The firm specialises in digital communication through internet, voice, and mobile channels, and is seeking to increase revenue from web and mobile users.
As part of its programme of continuous improvement for its web portals, Matrix needed to upgrade the search feature of its Virgilio service. The aim was to give customers highly customised and accurate results, such as products listed according to regional preferences and demand.
Marco Fillo, Virgilio Portal Technical Director, Matrix, says: “Today’s web users are attracted by editorial content and vertical services specialised to respond to user needs such as search, messaging, social networking, maps, classified advertising, travel, and weather.”
Matrix market research shows that the Virgilio brand is top of mind among the country’s internet users in terms of brand recognition and intention to use. According to Fillo, however, capturing the attention of users is increasingly challenging given the competitive market, the convergence of web and mobile technologies, and raised customer expectations in the Web 2.0 era.
A key driver for investing in search capabilities is to increase user satisfaction by returning more accurate search results, thus deterring them from switching to other websites. Fillo identifies several other challenges for web portals in attracting and retaining customers and visitors. He says: “They should serve as aggregation points for communities and services, offer a distinctive service approach, and, most importantly, steer traffic to revenue-generating content.” Solution
After starting to use search engines in around 1999, Matrix decided to standardise on FAST Enterprise Search Platform—a service-oriented architecture environment, which is geared towards producing searchable indexes.
||The platform we chose had a clear and robust roadmap for its future development—this was a key factor in our decision to use it.
Virgilio Portal Technical Director
Matrix is the oldest Italy-based partner for FAST Enterprise Search Platform, with past successes including the search feature for the Turin Winter Olympics website. Before choosing the solution, Matrix evaluated other software vendors, including an open-source search server based on Java. Fillo says: “The platform we chose had a clear and robust roadmap for its future development—this was a key factor in our decision to use it.”
FAST Enterprise Search Platform—which was acquired by Microsoft in 2008 when Microsoft bought Norway company FAST—provides a flexible framework for creating extract, transform, and load (ETL) applications for efficient indexing of searchable content. ETL also offers a number of search-derivative applications focused on specific search use cases, including publishing, market intelligence, and mobile search.
Matrix now has the largest FAST Enterprise Search Platform in Italy, with more than 150 servers, and has formed a solid developmental partnership with Microsoft. In its latest phase of development, Matrix is using Microsoft FAST Search Server 2010 for Internet Business as an enterprise search solution, together with Bing Maps, to help localise editorial content on town maps and improve user experience.
Fillo says: “The Microsoft search feature is supporting all our main channels, such as news, music, and video. An example of this is our federated search feature for music, which brings together content from eight separate domains.”
The FAST search engine and Bing Maps are playing vital roles in the Virgilio Local portal project, which covers around 8,100 towns in Italy. Fillo says: “We needed a high-quality mapping solution and Microsoft was the better choice from a business and visualisation perspective. On the business side, working with Bing Maps ensured that we retained ownership of all our data, which would have been impossible with other solution providers.” Benefits
By investing in FAST Enterprise Search Platform and Bing Maps, Matrix has made it easier for administrators for its town sites in Italy to customise search results. The combination of technologies with federated search domain features is supporting new strategic sales and revenue-generating initiatives. It is also helping to recruit and retain users by delivering more immediate and accurate search results. Fillo says: “With Microsoft enterprise search technology, Matrix is providing intelligent search results in complex environments where content changes frequently.”
Search Feature Offers Customers Faster Results
||With Microsoft enterprise search technology, Matrix is providing intelligent search results in complex environments where content changes frequently.
Virgilio Portal Technical Director
The user experience has been transformed with FAST Enterprise Search Platform because content from multiple domains is combined into a single experience. Each town site or vertical can customise automated keyword classifications and visual search results—supporting their individual revenue-generating initiatives.
FAST Enterprise Search Platform and Bing Maps, when enhanced with a proprietary classification module, deliver a unified search experience for the 1254 service. Users gain personal and business listings with dynamic filtering for local town sites and online directory assistance. FAST Enterprise Search Platform is also used as part of voice directory assistance services, which provide operators with fast, reliable tools for responding to phone enquiries.
Fillo says: “Customer feedback has been extremely positive, especially with Virgilio Local, where maps display search results and business listings now have user recommendations.”
Business Exhibits Triple-Digit Growth with Potential for Technology Reuse
Since implementing Bing Maps with FAST Enterprise Search Platform, the rate at which users click through the search results to internal pages has increased substantially. Fillo says: “The Matrix local advertising business shows triple-digit growth year-on-year, which is partly attributable to the improved search engine and the integration with Bing Maps mapping technology.”
In addition, Matrix is generating more revenue by reusing the technology platform and providing a website service to other organisations in Italy, including the national social security agency INPS and TV broadcaster LA7.it.
Recommendations Offer Enhanced User Experience
FAST Enterprise Search Platform and Bing Maps provide accurate business-driven search results. Even in the absence of an explicit search request, the platform suggests relevant content and services tailored to the user’s interests, thanks to social intelligence algorithms created by Microsoft, which iteratively analyse user behaviour and adapt to it. Fillo says: “With zero-term search techniques, the platform can not only offer the most popular business or entertainment venues or content, but also real-time suggestions that account for a user’s navigation patterns.”
Business Partnership with Microsoft Offers New Opportunities
After eight years of development work with FAST Enterprise Search Platform, Matrix is seeking to continue to improve its partnership with Microsoft by supporting a migration to a Windows-only search system.
Fillo says: “On the technical side, we want to develop further synergies between Virgilio and Bing Maps to create an even better user experience. For the business model, we need to become more flexible to address the needs of small businesses and use our experience to create new market opportunities.”Microsoft Server Product Portfolio
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