Enterprise Search has been an illusive dream for too many organizations for too many years. Search technology is ubiquitous but the “holy grail” for most organizations is to be able to find all content within the organization through a single query interface. My instinct is to give a chronology of search over the past four or five decades to guide your understanding of why enterprise search has remained so “out of reach.” I could also describe the ways in which search technologies have evolved and morphed with hundreds of functions and thousands of features. It would certainly help explain why the typical company has a daunting task narrowing its options but it would probably not quicken the selection process.

For now, one view of the current market segmentation is a starting point. Sue Feldman, Research VP, Content Management and Retrieval Solutions at IDC, gave the audience a high level view of the market in a session at Gilbane Boston 2006. She placed enterprise search technology into three big buckets: Appliances and Downloadable Search, Enterprise Search (software) Platforms, and Application Specific Search embedded with other software. She then broadly described the features and functions that characterize each major type. If you have grown up with search in your professional life for over 30 years as I have, it makes perfect sense that this is what we have come to in the market but differentiating the options is a step far less clear-cut.

After the sessions, 15 conference-goers joined me to continue discussing and learning about enterprise search in a roundtable forum. It was hard to know which end of the search animal we should address first to help everyone speak the same language. That is precisely what is making this marketplace such a tough one. Vendors represent a huge variety of solutions, each positioning product(s) for a problem of their definition, offering technology that targets the specific problem. Buyers have multiple search needs but still want a single solution. Further complicating the mix is a dizzying array of search jargon. With vendors and buyers using their own language the market is, frankly, a real mess.

Take Ms. Feldman’s three big buckets and think of one example of search product in each category. Now think about all the types of searches that people in your organization need to perform just to get their routine work done:

  • Looking up an address in a directory
  • Finding an image for a presentation
  • Retrieving a press release your department issued last year on a new product
  • Locating a configuration change to a piece of equipment in manufacturing
  • and so on…

Can you imagine any single search interface or product from the tools you know that would give you the means to find all of these pieces of information? Can you imagine a single search tool that would answer your query in a couple of simple steps, and able to perform the functions right out of the box? Simple solutions that address the complexity of business variables and technology standards in most organizations make any single solution an unlikely candidate at a reasonable cost.

Blog readers can request answers to questions, ask for help with sorting out the marketplace or definitions to understand the jargon. I invite readers to tell me what you think needs to be talked about and I’ll give it my best shot. What do you need to know first to tread through the search marketplace?