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What Determines a Leader in the Enterprise Search Market?

Let’s agree that most if not all “enterprise search” is really about point solutions within large corporations. As I have written elsewhere, the “enterprise” is almost always a federation of constituencies, each with their own solutions for content applications and that includes search. If there is any place that we find truly enterprise-wide application of search, it is in small and medium organizations (SMBs). This would include professional service firms (consultancies and law firms), NGOs, many non-profits, and young R&D companies. There are plenty of niche solutions for SMBs and they are growing.
I bring this up because the latest Gartner “magic quadrant” lists Microsoft (MS) as the “leader” in enterprise search; this is the same place Gartner has positioned Fast Search & Transfer in the past. Whether this is because Fast’s assets are now owned by MS or because Gartner really believes that Microsoft is the leader, I still beg to strongly differ.
I have been perplexed by the Microsoft/Fast deal since it was announced earlier this year because, although Fast has always offered a lot of search technology, I never found it to be a compelling solutions for any of my clients. Putting aside the huge upfront capital cost for licenses, the staggering amount of development work, and time to deployment there were other concerns. I sensed a questionable commitment to an on-going, sustainable, unified and consistent product vision with supporting services. I felt that any client of mine would need very deep pockets indeed to really make a solid value case for Fast. Most of my clients are already burned out on really big enterprise deployments of applications in the ERP and CRM space, and understand the wisdom of beginning with smaller value-achievable, short-term projects on which they can build.
Products that impress me as having much more “out-of-the-box” at a more reasonable cost are clearly leaders in their unique domains. They have important clients achieving a good deal of benefit at a reasonable cost, in a short period of time. They have products that can be installed, implemented and maintained internally without a large staff of administrators, and they have good reputations among their clients for responsiveness and a cohesive series of roll-outs. Several have as many or more clients than Fast ever had (if we ever know the real number). Coveo, Exalead, ISYS, Recommind, Vivisimo, and X1 are a few of a select group that are marking a mark in their respective niches, as products ready for action with a short implementation cycle (weeks or months not years).
Autonomy and Endeca continue to bring value to very large projects in large companies but are not plug-and-play solutions, by any means. Oracle, IBM, and Microsoft offer search solutions of a very different type with a heavy vendor or third-party service requirement. Google Search Appliance has a much larger installed base than any of these but needs serious tuning and customization to make it suitable to enterprise needs. Take the “leadership” designation with a big grain of salt because what leads on the charts may be exactly what bogs you down. There are no generic, one-suit-fits-all enterprise search solutions including those in the “leaders” quadrant.

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