Search is the new website menu!

Sonans took the matter in their own hands when they needed a new educational platform for students and teachers. By developing the solution themselves, they have completely adapted it to their needs. A customized search function is key to ensure knowledge-sharing.

“We realized that standardized educational portals often contain more functionality than we need, while having limited possibilities for customization. That’s why we decided to make our own platform,” says Terje Ravnsborg, director of IT and operations in Sonans Gruppen.

Sonans Gruppen is Norway’s largest provider of private student education through Sonans Utdanning, with 11000 students on 12 campuses in Norway. Additionally, they have a department that delivers follow-up education in collaboration with the Norwegian Labour and Welfare Administration (NAV). Sonans Karriere has 7-8000 course participants. Close to 600 employees ensure that the educational services are delivered across the country.

Alf enables collaboration, while IT remains control

«After mapping our needs, we concluded that we were able to develop the set of functions we wanted by using our own developers. Since January 2019, we have run a pilot with 250 students. It will run until summer 2019, and the feedback has been positive. We will go live with the educational platform for all Sonans Utdanning students fall 2019. At the go-live, we will have a new search function in place as well,” Ravnsborg says.

The platform is called Alf and is mainly a tool for interaction between teachers and students. Teachers make sure that the students can access all study materials, assign tasks and receive papers and other deliveries from the students. They can also create FAQs and «speak» directly with the students via chat and forums. Both teachers and students can monitor student progression or task progression, and easily get an overview of schedules and tasks at hand.

Knowledge-sharing with DIY solution

Early on in the project, Sonans knew that they would need a solid search function to ensure that students got the expected benefits from the platform. They wanted to be in control over the search as well. When speaking with Haive (previously IntelliSearch), they found a solution that could satisfy their needs.

“Haive had a DIY-solution called Engine that could be used to build the search functionality into the platform. We received a starter kit that included a search engine and two APIs: one for input to the engine, and one for output. The solution enabled us to define where and how the engine should get the information from, and how the information should be presented. The Engine makes sure everything works, Ravnsborg explains.

Search is the new menu

Solid search functionality that generates relevant hits are becoming ever more important, as we use online platforms differently. If the search does not work, knowledge sharing does not work. Knowledge sharing is essential to websites and intranets.

«We used to browse menus to find material, but today, users search to find information. You could say that the search has become today’s website menu,” Ravnsborg states.

“To complete the DIY solution, it is necessary to have a developer in-house that has competencies within integration – although it is no rocket science to build it. Since January, we have worked to connect the content we want to index to the engine, and the presentation of the search results. We have not met any challenges, and the collaboration with Haive has been excellent.”

Full flexibility to fine-tune

Sonans is very pleased that they have not needed external support to develop the search solution.

“The APIs from Haive have worked well for us. We did not need any additional functionality, and a couple of workshops with Haive were sufficient to enable us to get the job done,” says Ravnsborg.

They pay for a user license for the search engine and APIs from Haive, while having full flexibility to make further adjustments and fine-tuning themselves.

“We will fine-tune and adjust content to be indexed and the presentation as we move forward with the project. As we control the solution and search function ourselves, we can make the changes we want while not depending on external suppliers. We avoid expensive licenses on complex solutions with excessive functionality,” says Ravnsborg.

They have not calculated the savings but expect that Alf will be a cost-effective solution.

“We are able to solve all issues ourselves, that is the most important feature for us. We don’t have to wait for suppliers but can make adjustments at our own speed. That’s a great advantage,” Ravnsborg concludes.