Enterprise search applications abound in the technology marketplace, from embedded search to specialized e-discovery solutions to search engines for crawling and indexing the entire intranet of an organization. So, why is there so much dissatisfaction with results and heaps of stories of buyer’s remorse? Are we on the cusp of a new wave of semantic search options or better ways to federate our universe of content within and outside the enterprise? Who are the experts on enterprise search anyway?
You might read this blog because you know me from the knowledge management (KM) arena, or from my past life as the founder of an integrated enterprise library automation company. In the KM world a recurring theme is the need to leverage expertise, best done in an environment where it is easy to connect with the experts but that seems to be a dim option in many enterprises. In the corporate library world the intent is to aggregate and filter a substantive domain of content, expertise and knowledge assets on behalf of the specialized interests of the enterprise, too often a legacy model of enterprise infrastructure. Librarians have long been innovators at adopting and leveraging advanced technologies but they have also been a concentrating force for facilitating shared expertise. In fact, special librarians excel at providing access to experts.
We are drowning in technological options, not the least of which is enterprise search and its complexity of feature laden choices. However, it is darned hard to find instances of full search tool adoption or users who love the search tools they are delivered on their intranets. So, I am adopting my KM and library science modes to elevate the discussion about search to a decidedly non-technical conversation.
I really want to learn what you know about enterprise search, what you have learned, discovered and experienced over the past two or three years. This blog and the work I do with The Gilbane Group is about getting readers to the best and most appropriate search solutions that can make positive contributions in their enterprises. Knowing who is using what and where it has succeeded or what problems and issues were encountered is information I can use to communicate, in aggregate, those experiences. I am reaching out to you and those you refer to complete a five minute survey to open the door to more discussion. Please use this link to participate right now Click Here to take survey. You will then have the option to get the resulting details in my upcoming research study on enterprise search.
Just to prove that I still follow exciting technologies, as well, I want to relay a couple of new items. First is a recent category in search, “active intelligence,” adopted as Attivio’s tag line. This is a start-up led by Ali Riaz and officially launched this week from Newton, MA. Then, to get a steady feed of all things enterprise search from guru Steve Arnold, check out his new blog, a lead up to the forthcoming Beyond Search: What to Do When Your Search Engine Doesn’t Work to be published by The Gilbane Group. You’ll be transported from the historical, to the here and now, to the newest tools on his radar screen as you page from one blog entry to another.
Since I weighed in last week on the Microsoft acquisition of FAST Search & Transfer, I have probably read 50+ blog entries and articles on the event. I have also talked to other analysts, received emails from numerous search vendors summarizing their thoughts and expectations about the enterprise search market and had a fair number of phone calls asking questions about what it means. The questions range from “Did Microsoft pay too much?, to “Please define enterprise search,” to “What are the next acquisitions in this market going to be going to be?” My short and flippant answers would be “No,” “Do you have a few hours?” and “Everyone and no one.”
I have seen some excellent analysis contributing relevant commentary to this discussion, some misinterpretation of what the distinction’s are between enterprise search and Web search, and some conclusions that I would seriously debate. You’ll forgive me if I don’t include links to the pieces that influenced the following comments. But one by Curt Monash in his piece on January 14 summarized the state of this industry and its already long history. It is noteworthy that while the popular technology press has only recently begun to write about enterprise search, it has been around for decades in different forms and in a short piece he manages to capture the highlights and current state.
Other commentary seems to imply that Microsoft is not really positioning itself to compete with Google because Google is really about Web (Internet) searching and Microsoft is not. This implies that FAST has no understanding of Web searching. Several points must be made:
- FAST Search & Transfer has been involved in many aspects of search technologies for a decade. Soon after landing on our shores it was the search engine of choice for the U.S. government’s unifying search engine to support Internet-based searching of agency Web sites by the public. Since then it has helped countless enterprises (e.g. governments, manufacturers, e-commerce companies) expose their content, products and services via the Web. FAST knows a lot about how to make Web search better for all kinds of applications and they will bring that expertise to Microsoft.
- Google is exploiting the Web to deliver free business software tools that directly challenge Microsoft stronghold ( e.g. email, word processing). This will not go unanswered by the largest supplier of office automation software.
- Google has several thousand Google Enterprise Search Appliances installed in all types of enterprises around the world, so it is already as widely deployed in enterprises in terms of numbers as FAST, albeit at much lower prices and for simpler application. That doesn’t mean that they are not satisfying a very practical need for a lot of organizations where it is “good enough.”
For more on the competition between the two check this article out.
Enterprise search has been implied to mean only search across all content for an entire enterprise. This raises another fundamental problem of perception. Basically, there are few to no instances of a single enterprise search engine being the only search solution for any major enterprise. Even when an organization “standardizes” on one product for its enterprise search, there will be dozens of other instances of search deployed for groups, divisions, and embedded within applications. Just two examples are the use of Vivisimo now used for USA.gov to give the public access to government agency public content, even as each agency uses different search engines for internal use. Also, there is IBM, which offers the OmniFind suite of enterprise search products, but uses Endeca internally for its Global Services Business enterprise.
Finally, on the issue of expectations, most of the vendors I have heard from are excited that the Microsoft announcement confirms the existence of an enterprise search market. They know that revenues for enterprise search, compared to Web search, have been miniscule. But now that Microsoft is investing heavily in it, they hope that top management across all industries will see it as a software solution to procure. Many analysts are expecting other major acquisitions, perhaps soon. Frequently mentioned buyers are Oracle and IBM but both have already made major acquisitions of search and content products, and both already offer enterprise search solutions. It is going to be quite some time before Microsoft sorts out all the pieces of FAST IP and decides how to package them. Other market acquisitions will surely come. The question is whether the next to be acquired will be large search companies with complex and expensive offerings bought by major software corporations. Or will search products targeting specific enterprise search markets be a better buy to make an immediate impact for companies seeking broader presence in enterprise search as a complementary offering to other tools. There are a lot of enterprise search problems to be solved and a lot of players to divvy up the evolving business for a while to come.
I closed 2007 with some final takeaways from the Gilbane Conference and notes about semantic search. Already we are planning for Gilbane San Francisco and you are invited to participate. There is no question that enterprise search, in all its dimensions, will be a central theme of several sessions at the conference, June 17th through 19th. I will lead with a discussion in which a whole range of search topics, technologies and industry themes will be explored in a session featuring guest Steve Arnold, author of Google Version 2.0, The Calculating Predator. To complement the sessions, numerous search technology vendors will be present in the exhibit hall.
A most important conference component will be a highlight for conference goers, shared-experiences about selecting, implementing and engaging with search tools in the enterprise. Everyone wants to know what everyone else is doing, learning and what they know about enterprise search. You may want to present your experiences or those of your organization. If you are interested, considering presenting, know of a good case study, usability or “lessons learned” from implementing search technology, please raise your hand. You can do this by reaching out through this link to submit a proposal and make reference to the “enterprise search blog call for papers.” You can be sure I’ll follow-up soon to explore the options for you or a colleague to participate. This is a great opportunity to be part of a community of practitioners like you and attend a conference that always has substantive value for participants.
Leave it to Microsoft to end the year with a big announcement and open the next one with an even bigger one. We knew that the world of enterprise search was going to contract in terms of the number of established vendors, even though it is expanding in new and innovative offerings. Microsoft had to make a bold play in an industry where Google has been the biggest player on the WWW stage while reaching deeper into the enterprise, tickling at Microsoft’s decades-old hold on content creation and capture. So, with the acquisition of FAST Search & Transfer, whose technology may not be the best in the enterprise search market but is certainly the most widely deployed at the high-end, Microsoft opens with a direct challenge to its largest competitor.
Boy! Have the emails been flying this morning. At least I know there will be plenty of material to ponder in the next few weeks and months. P.S. Don’t miss the action in San Francisco!