Month: January 2009

Churning in the Search Sector – Two BIG Events in One Week

Analysts having been projecting major consolidation in the enterprise search marketplace for a couple of years. What is interesting to me is how slowly this is evolving. For every merger or acquisition, whether small or large (acquisition of Mondosoft by SurfRay or FAST by Microsoft), other companies emerge or evolve with diverse and potentially competitive technologies (e.g. Attivio, Connotate, Expert System, EyeAlike, Truevert, Temis).

We have seen companies like Exalead, ISYS, and Vivisimo gain on former leaders. Microsoft is often listed as an industry leader because it acquired former leader FAST while companies with solid products for verticals, like Recommind in law and financial services, are often overlooked because they lack the total company revenues of a Microsoft that sells a lot more software than enterprise search.

This past week two industry news items caused me to reflect on the potential impact of announcements that, while not surprising, can upset the plans of buyers of search technology. The first was the announcement that Autonomy is planning to procure Interwoven. That Interwoven is being acquired is no surprise, since the company was being groomed for acquisition. However, this appears to be the first instance of a “search” company acquiring a “content management/document management” company. The norm has been that search companies get bought to fill a need by ECM or CMS vendors. For anyone planning to procure Interwoven because of its embedded Vivisimo Velocity for Universal search in its Worksite product, this does put a wrinkle in the fabric. What a shame because it is going to be a while before the actual impact is really known and could slow sales. The cost to buyers having to accept Autonomy’s IDOL instead of Velocity could be significant. The effect could be on both licensing and deployment because Velocity has been an efficient install for most enterprises. Autonomy has got a big ramp up to shift from being a search company to becoming an ECM supplier and some will take a wait and see attitude, regardless of the Idol reputation.

The second big announcement, of course, is the departure from Microsoft of John Marcus Lervik, a co-founder of FAST and recently named Executive VP in a newly created position for Enterprise Search at Microsoft. I’m sure you’ll be seeing plenty about the reasons elsewhere. However, the difficulty for those buyers who are depending on FAST’s search technology to be integrated sooner rather than later in Microsoft’s offerings has just been made more complicated as one of the original leaders of FAST is leaving the team.

Two years ago I commented to FAST executives about the need for vendors on a rapid growth path to make the buying, business and support experience for customers a priority, beyond technology enhancements; so, I take little consolation in seeing this turmoil. If you are a buyer, take a good hard look behind the technology to see what else you will be dealing with as you make plans to acquire software.

Taxonomy and Glossaries for Enterprise Search Terminology

Two years ago when I began blogging for the Gilbane Group on enterprise search, the extent of my vision was reflected in the blog categories I defined and expected to populate with content over time. They represented my personal “top terms” that were expected to each have meaningful entries to educate and illuminate what readers might want to know about search behind the firewall of enterprises.
A recent examination of those early decisions showed me where there are gaps in content, perhaps reflecting that some of those topics were:

  • Not so important
  • Not currently in my thinking about the industry
  • OR Not well defined

I also know that on several occasions I couldn’t find a good category in my list for a blog I had just written. Being a former indexer and heavy user of controlled vocabularies, on most occasions I resisted the urge to create a new category and found instead the “best fit” for my entry. I know that when the corpus of content or domain is small, too many categories are useless for the reader. But now, as I approach 100 entries, it is time to reconsider where I want to go with blogging about enterprise search.

In the short term, I am going to try to provide entries for scantily covered topics because I still think they are all relevant. I’ll probably add a few more along the way or perhaps make some topics a little more granular.

Taxonomies are never static, and require periodic review, even when the amount of content is small. Taxonomists need to keep pace with current use of terminology and target audience interests. New jargon creeps in although I prefer to use generic and terms broadly understood in the technology and business world.

That gives you an idea of some of my own taxonomy process. To add to the entries on terminology (definitions) and taxonomies, I am posting a glossary I wrote for last year’s report on the enterprise search market and recently updated for the Gilbane Workshop on taxonomies. While the definitions were all crafted by me, they are validated through the heavy use of the Google “define” feature. If you aren’t already a user, you will find it highly useful when trying to pin down a definition. At the Google search box, simply type define: xxx xxx (where xxx represents a word or phrase for which you seek a definition). Google returns all the public definition entries it finds on the Internet. My definitions are then refined based on what I learn from a variety of sources I discover using this technique. It’s a great way to build your knowledge-base and discover new meanings.
Glossary Taxonomy and Search-012009.pdf

Open Source Search & Search Appliances Need Expert Attention

Search in the enterprise suffers from lack of expert attention to tuning, care and feeding, governance and fundamental understanding of what functionality comes with any one of the 100+ products now on the market. This is just as true for search appliances, and open source search tools (Lucene) and applications (Solr). But while companies licensing search out-of-the-box solutions or heavily customized search engines have service, support and upgrades built-in into their deliverables, the same level of support cannot be assumed for getting started with open source search or even appliances.

Search appliances are sold with licenses that imply some high level of performance without a lot of support, while open source search tools are downloadable for free. As speakers about both open source and appliances made perfectly clear at our recent Gilbane Conference, both come with requirements for human support. When any enterprise search product or tool is selected and procured, there is a presumed business case for acquisition. What acquirers need to understand above all else is the cost of ownership to achieve the expected value. This means people and people with expertise on an ongoing basis.

Particularly when budgets are tight and organizations lay off workers, we discover that those with specialized skills and expertise are often the first to go. The jack-of-all-trades, or those with competencies in maintaining ubiquitous applications are retained to be “plugged in” wherever needed. So, where does this leave you for support of the search appliance that was presumed to be 100% self-maintaining, or the open source code that still needs bug fixes, API development and interface design-work?

This is the time to look to system integrators and service companies with specialists in tools you use. They are immersed in the working innards of these products and will give you better support through service contracts, subscriptions or labor-based hourly or project charges than you would have received from your in-house generalists, anyway.

You may not see specialized system houses or service companies listed by financial publications as a growth business, but I am going to put my confidence in the industry to spawn a whole new category of search service organizations in the short term. Just-in-time development for you and lower overhead for your enterprise will be a growing swell in 2009. This is how outsourcing can really bring benefits to your organization.

Post-post note – Here is a related review on the state-of-open source in the enterprise: The Open Source Enterprise; its time has come, by Charles Babcock in Information Week, Nov. 17, 2008. Be sure to read the comments, too.

What Does an Analyst Do for You?

Among the roles that I have chosen for myself as Lead Analyst for Enterprise Search at the Gilbane Group is to evaluate, in broad strokes, the search marketplace for internal use at enterprises of all types. My principal audience is those within enterprises that may be involved in the selection, procurement, implementation and deployment of search technology to benefit their organizations. In this role, I am an advocate for buyers. However, when vendors pay attention to what I write it should help them understand the buyer’s perspective. Ultimately, good vendors incorporate analyst guidance into their thinking about how to serve their customer better.
We do not hide the fact that, as industry analysts, we also consult to various content software companies. When doing so, I try to keep in mind that the market will be served best when I honestly advocate for software and service improvements that will benefit buyers. This is a value to those who sell and those who buy software. My consulting to vendors indirectly benefits both audiences.
Analysts also consult to buyers, to help them make informed decisions about technology decisions and business relationships. I particularly enjoy and value those experiences because what I learn about enterprise buyers’ needs and expectations can translate directly into advice to vendors. This is an honest brokering role that comes naturally because I have been a software vendor and also in a position to make many software procurement decisions, particularly tools and applications that were used by my development and service teams. I’m always enthusiastic to be in a position to share important information about products with buyers and information about buying audiences with those who build products. This can be done effectively while preserving confidentiality on both sides and making sure that everyone gets something out of the communications.
As an analyst, I receive a lot of requests by vendors to listen to, by phone and Web, briefings on their products, or to meet, one-on-one with their executives. You may have noticed that I don’t write reviews of specific products although, in a particular context, I may reference products and applications. While we understand the reason that product vendors want analysts to pay attention to them, I don’t find briefings particularly enlightening unless I know nothing about a company and its offerings. For these types of overviews, I can usually find what I want to know on their Web site, in press releases and by poking around the Web. During briefings I want to drive the conversation toward user experiences and needs.
What I do like to do is talk to product users about their experiences with a vendor or a product. I like to know what the implementation and adoption experience is like and how their organization had been affected by product use, both benefits and drawbacks. It is not always easy to gain access to customers but I have ways of finding them and also encourage readers of this blog to reach out with your stories. I am delighted to learn more through comments to the blog, an email or phone call. If you are willing to chat with me for a while, I will call you at your convenience.
The original topic I planned to write about this week will have to wait because, after receiving over 20 invitations to “be briefed” in the past few days, I decided it was more important to let readers know who I want to be briefed by – search technology users are my number one target. Vendors please push your customers in this direction if you want me to pay attention. This can bring you a lot of value, too. It is a matter of trust.

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