Month: October 2007

Gearing up for Gilbane Boston 2007

I am in a mode of indecision about prioritizing a lot of news in the enterprise search space; it all seems important because we have an agenda focused on search at the upcoming conference on November 27 – 29 in Boston. The following, in no particular order, is not an exhaustive list but representative of happenings in the past month that will surely be the subject of much commentary and discussion by our speakers and panelists:
> Don Dodge of Microsoft, one of our panelists in the search keynote session, is taking on Google’s customer support positioning as an enterprise solutions provider in his blog.
> MondoSoft went from being shut down by its investors to being acquired by possibly two companies (one acquiring MondoSearch and the other acquiring Ontolica) and now both are being acquired by one company. Meanwhile, IntelliSearch is making an offer to MondoSearch clients to “switch and save.”
> Steve Arnold is continuing his drumbeat on Google search patents and their significance.
> Oracle is getting very serious about search as you will hear in this Webinar download and is positioning itself for a holistic approach to managing content in the enterprise.
> Fast and Autonomy are making acquisitions, too, and have begun to act like they are not the only search options for the enterprise by re-focusing their marketing.
> Companies like Connotate, ISYS, Exalead, Recommind, SchemaLogic and Coveo are acquiring good clients and showing their strengths in important niche markets with new enhancements
> Vivisimo’s social search is getting a lot of positive press, inviting a lot of blogging and has set the bar high for competitors to match their offerings.
> Endeca continues to expand its staff, client-base and well-engineered product line; they are also building important alliances with technology and business partners when it makes good sense to do so
> IBM is talking up the potential of semantic search in the enterprise.
Most of the above mentioned will be making an appearance or two at GilbaneBoston, as speakers or exhibitors, or both. I am trying to figure out how to make sure the seven sessions on search and semantic Web technologies touch most of the bases but with so much afoot in the search arena, we will be working overtime. If you are going to be an attendee in any capacity, I hope you’ll blog or make comments when I do. We want to hear what you think and learn about from the experts and users alike. There are sure to be surprises. Your take on the programs will be of interest to many. If you do make the conference, be sure to find me and introduce yourself so we can have a chat.

Eating Your Own Dog Food

I sat in on a demonstration for an enterprise search engine this week. There were several things that really impressed me. First it was not canned; although the demonstrators were clearly following a script, and members of the audience members were asking questions throughout the demonstration. The audience was a mix of consultants and prospective customers; they had a lot of questions, asked to be shown features, functions and “what ifs.” The person demonstrating was very soon off script and doing nothing more than answering questions and demonstrating completely ad hoc searches and with excellent results.

The second impressive aspect was that the entire corpus of content was company information for the vendor. It was not everything they have on their intranet for this public view but enough to see that this is a company that actually uses its own technology throughout the enterprise for all of its divisions. Content from Lotus Notes, SharePoint, Documentum, an employee gallery, emails and files were all there and presented in a clear format for the audience to see and understand.

Finally, what impressed me was the extent to which their content reflected how their search engine was being used as a platform for doing business and working collaboratively, internally. This caused me to reflect back to a presentation for an analyst group earlier in this year by another search company. That company was rolling out a number of features in the business intelligence (BI) space. So, I asked them a couple of questions, “How are you using these tools to manage your own enterprise, doing business intelligence? How are you exploiting internal content to understand the dynamics of a rapidly growing company?” There was a long silence but the answer was along the lines of, we aren’t but we should probably consider it and it takes time to think through a strategy for deploying a good BI solution.

In my experience, if everyone in a company with an enterprise search technology product does not find a use for and evolve with its own offerings, then there is a missed opportunity and a flawed business strategy. This missed opportunity is the terrific feedback the developers will get from that internal use and the evangelism that can come from enthusiastic employees. The flawed business strategy is the huge disconnect that develops between customers and suppliers when supplier employees just never have a customer experience themselves. Search and BI are two functions that every company can benefit from using; why on earth wouldn’t every search vendor be aggressively seeking opportunities to apply its own tools.

So, buyers be aware – look for evidence that the purveyors of search actually have their own experiences to talk about and demonstrate. That can tell you a whole lot about how you will be treated as a customer because they are one, too.

Collaboration and Expertise Bring Focus to Enterprise Search

The topic of the month seems to be “social search;” I confess to being a willing participant in this new semantic framing of a rash of innovative new tools for enterprise search products. I would, however, defer to the professional intent of some great new features by stressing that this is really a next step in bringing collaboration closer to where expert knowledge workers do their work. As I view enterprises with a heavy research component, 10 – 30% of the average professional’s time is spent in a search environment. In other words, we all spend a lot of our day just looking for “stuff.” We also spend a significant amount of time in meetings, exchanging emails, and making presentations. More and more of us contribute to collaboration spaces where we work together on various types of document production.

Putting together the work habits and needs of a time-poor and information-rich community of knowledge workers in a post-processing environment where they can “mash up,” tag and commentate their search discoveries is a natural evolution of search technology. It is remarkable to see how search companies that are serious about the enterprise market (search within and for the enterprise) are rapidly turning out enhancements for their audiences, now that they are convinced that “Enterprise 2.0” has a boatload of early adopters in the wings. Search should always be about connecting experts and their content. Add collaboration and the ability to enrich search results by searchers for the benefit of their colleagues and you have a model for, soon-to-be, heavily adopted products.

That pretty much sums up how we should be thinking about “social search” in the enterprise. You can hear more of my views in a KMWorld Webinar, Using Social Search to Drive Innovation through Collaboration next Tuesday in a presentation sponsored by Vivisimo, one of the leaders in this area.

The week had plenty of virtual ink devoted this topic so you might want to check out these two articles with more commentary. The first was in eWeek, by Clint Boulton, Vivisimo Marries Search, Social Networking. The second shows that Google is on the bandwagon, as well, Google Enterprise Search gets social, a blog entry at C|Net by Rafe Needleman.

Trust is a Pact between a Vendor and Its Customer

There is nothing more disappointing to a consultant than to learn that a project in which you gave significant guidance to a client is experiencing a project meltdown…except maybe having everything get off to a positive start only to falter due to problems with the technologies being implemented. I have been burned several times lately and that surprises me because, as a former software vendor myself, I have pretty deep skepticism when it comes to overblown claims and can usually spot the companies I wouldn’t want my clients to trust. This was not one of them.
It is hard to deal with situations that you didn’t consider likely. A big one is a broken promise, even if it is implicit, not explicit. For a vendor to deliver a solid CMS product with a buggy search interface to toggle between keyword and metadata search is one thing. My client spent months getting it to work so that users could seek by keyword or on explicit metadata fields. They rolled it out and it was “OK,” if not great. But after much discussion with the vendor about the bugs, my client was pressured into adopting an upgrade to “solve the problem.” Unfortunately, the upgrade was an experience from hell, but worse was the fact that the old search controls no longer worked and there was no way to search metadata any longer. Having predicated the procurement on being able to search metadata… well, you get the picture.
What happened to the old motto of “first do no harm?” In my world that means you never release an “upgrade” that subtracts functionality. In the words of my client, “we consider this a major regression.” I consider it a serious breach of trust between them and the supplier but also between me and my client. Why would they ever trust my guidance about the solidness of a vendor again? Guess I have my work cut out for me to find some recourse for my client.
On a much more positive note, I will be offering commentary on the subject of trust and technology solutions when I participate in my first Gilbane Webinar with Oracle’s Brian Dirking, Wednesday, October 10th. The title is The Trust Factor: Secure Enterprise Search for High-Value Content and it will include some key considerations when considering your path to a successful search implementation. I’m still optimistic and enthusiastic that you can implement an excellent search solution for your organization if you really chose your strategy, your technology and your business partners carefully and I’m teaming with Oracle to reinforce that message.
It is free, so click on the title to sign up, even if you are in the beginning stages of your quest for a search product. I hope you will join us for the discussion.

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