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.