It has been a couple of weeks since the announcement that Fast Search & Transfer would acquire Convera’s RetrievalWare, a search technology built on the foundation of Excalibur and widely used in government enterprises.

At a recent Boston KM Forum meeting I asked Hadley Reynolds, VP & Director of the Center for Search Innovation at Fast, to comment on the acquisition. He indicated Fast’s interest in building up a stronger presence in the government sector, a difficulty for a Norwegian-based company. I remember Fast as a company launching in the U.S. with great fanfare in 2002 (http://newsbreaks.infotoday.com/nbreader.asp?ArticleID=17223 ) to support FirstGov.gov, a portal to multi-agency content of the U.S. Government. That site has recently been re-launched as http://www.usa.gov/ using the Vivisimo search portal. There must be a story behind the story, as I hope to learn.

To add to the discussion, last week I moderated a session at the Gilbane San Francisco conference at which Helen Mitchell, Senior Search Strategist for Credo Systems and Workgroup Chairperson for the Convera User Group, spoke. I asked Helen before the program about her reaction to the recent announcement. She had already been in contact with Fast and received assurances that Convera Federal Users would be well supported by Fast and they want to actively participate in conversations with the group through on-line and in-person meetings. Helen was positive about the potential for RetrievalWare users gaining from the best of Fast technology while still being supported with the unique capabilities of Convera’s semantic, faceted search.

Erik Schwartz, Director of Product Management from Convera, was also present; I encouraged him and Helen to leverage the RetrievalWare user community to make sure Fast really understands the unique and diverse needs of search within the enterprise. We are all well aware that in the rush to build up large customer bases with a solid revenue stream of maintenance, vendors are likely to sacrifice unique technologies that are highly valued by customers. A bottom-line round of pragmatic cost cutting usually determines what R&D a vendor will fund, foregoing the long term good will that could accrue if they would belly-up to integrating these unique features into their own platform.

Time will tell how serious Fast is in giving its new base a truly valuable customer experience. I would also note that this acquisition has also been observed by a broader information management industry publication, Information Week. See David Gardner’s article at http://www.informationweek.com/news/showArticle.jhtml?articleID=198701793.