The FAST acquisition of Convera

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.

1 Comment

  1. Hadley Reynolds

    April 17, 2007 at 1:57 pm

    A few comments to elaborate on the points I made in response to a question from Lynda at the KM Forum event that she refers to in this post.
    In addition to speaking about CNVR’s government business as a logical target for FAST to expand on its own 30+ government relationships, I noted that FAST also views the software assets that come with the acquisition, including the innovative Screening Room video analysis and management software, the core image handling functionality, the semantic network technology, and the vertical taxonomy cartridges as providing substantial business value beyond their existing user base. It is also the case that FAST’s underlying pipeline processing architecture enables us to leverage these features across broader audiences going forward. As a note, FirstGov continues to be an important FAST client.
    To Lynda’s points about the tendency of acquirers in the enterprise software space to treat their acquired customers with less than full respect, I have to point out that FAST has a track record of taking the opposite approach from famous practitioners like CA and Oracle.
    To quote from a document that FAST has provided privately to current Convera customers:
    “FAST is committed to supporting RetrievalWare for the foreseeable future, including the provision of “bug fixes” and patches. Beyond support, FAST will honor all outstanding development commitments made by Convera to its customers, will consider customer-requested features in our product roadmap decisions, and will develop custom features on a case-by-case basis. FAST will also support partners who offer system customization.
    The RetrievalWare products included in the commitment above include, but are not limited to, the RetrievalWare SDKs, Synchronizers, Folder Service, Spider, Knowledge Workbench, Fileroom, Security connectors, language processors, Semantic Networks, Taxonomy Cartridges and Screening Room.
    Note that the key driver behind FAST’s acquisition of RetrievalWare is to fast-track relationship-building with government organizations. As such, customer satisfaction is an essential outcome for FAST. FAST has set a precedent with similar acquisitions in the past. For example, in 2003 the company purchased the assets of Alta Vista. FAST has helped Alta Vista customers move on to more advanced technology in a timeframe that was appropriate for them, and continued to support those customers who chose to remain on the Alta Vista platform.”
    Clearly, this approach is quite the opposite from the thrust of David Gardner’s piece. A number of us at FAST have been close to Convera and its predecessor companies Excalibur and Conquest Software for years. We are looking forward to once again energizing the business value in this software for a group of great companies, departments, and agencies.
    Hadley Reynolds

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