Mapping Search Requirements

Last week I commented on the richness of the search marketplace. However, diversity presents the enterprise buyer with pressure to be more focused on immediate and critical search needs.
The Enterprise Search Summit is being held in New York this week. Two years ago I found it a great place to see the companies offering search products, where I could easily see them all, and still attend every session in two days. This year, 2007, there were over 40 exhibitors, most offering solutions for highly differentiated enterprise search problems. Few of the offerings will serve the end-to-end needs of a large enterprise but many would be sufficient for medium to small organizations. The two major search engine categories used to be Web content keyword searching, and structured searching. Not only is my attention as an analyst being requested by major vendors offering solutions for different types of search but new products are being announced weekly. Newcomers include those describing their products as data mining engines, search and reporting “platforms,” BI intelligence engines, semantic and ontological search engines. This mix challenges me to determine if a product really solves a type of enterprise search problem before I pay attention.
You, on the other hand, need to do another type of analysis before considering specific options. Classifying search categories, taking a faceted approach will help you narrow down the field. Here is a checklist for categorizing what and how content needs to be found:
> Content types (e.g. HTML pages, PDFs, images)
> Content repositories (e.g. database applications, content management systems, collaboration applications, file locations)
> Types of search interfaces and navigation (e.g. simple search box, metadata, taxonomy)
> Types of search (e.g. keyword, phrase, date, topical navigation)
> Types of results presentation (e.g. aggregated, federated, normalized, citation)
> Platforms (e.g. hosted, intranet, desktop)
> Type of vendor (e.g. search-only, single purpose application with embedded search, software as service – SaS )
> Amount of content by type
> Number and type of users by need (personas)
Then use any tools or resources at hand to harvest an understanding of the mapping results to learn who needs what type of content, in what format and its criticality to business requirements. Prioritizing the facets produces a multidimensional view of enterprise search requirements. This will go a long way to narrowing down the vendor list and gives you a tool to keep discussions focused.
There are terrific options in the marketplace and they will only become richer in features and complexity. Your job is to find the most appropriate solution for the business search problem you need to solve today, at a cost that matches your budget. You also want a product that can be implemented rapidly with immediate benefit linking to a real business proposition.