As I was developing concepts put forth in the report Enterprise Search Markets and Applications – Capitalizing on Emerging Demand I bounced around the Internet a lot to verify information I had previously noted about products listed in the vendor directory. As I did so, evidence began to emerge about the ease with which I could resurrect an earlier retrieved bit of content. It mystified me that vendors of products to aid retrieval of content would make it so difficult to find information on their own web site. One assumption of mine has been completely debunked, that vendors would use their own search product to help site visitors discover more about their products and services. It made me wonder why they would not be showcasing the full flavor of their offerings.
The report was not written to evaluate specific products but rather to give a more holistic view of how the markets for products break down and how products themselves can be categorized. In order to do the latter, it required reading about many products with which I had no hands on experience. I wanted to understand how vendors were positioning their products, what markets they felt their products are most suited to satisfy, and what search problems were best solved with their technologies. Coming up with generalizations, trends, and differentiators was one purpose for my research. When I realized how difficult it was to dig out specifics from many vendor Web sites, I moved on, probably leaving stones unturned but time was not on my side.
Now I am going back to learn more about the problem with researching search, something complained about by a number of buyers I interviewed. Vendors are not making it easy for buyers to narrow their search for search, and shame on them. This should be a “no brainer.” If you are a vendor pushing a product that is easy to install, implement and deploy, there is no better way than to put it to work on your own site. On the other hand, if you have products that are more sophisticated in terms of offering complex retrieval by leveraging refined ontologies or rules, you had better take the time to make it work well for finding nuggets on a few hundred pages of your Web site.
I am going to be writing more about this because the deeper I dig, the more interesting the results. For starters, of the first 28 vendor on my list, twelve have no site search. Of those that do, several use a third-party search engine, not their own. One major vendor’s search result count displayed nearly a hundred records that matched the search while also displaying the breakdown of records by category. The trouble was the category numbers totaled less than 20. Hmmm!
Perhaps the trouble in “searchland” is that no one wants to take the time to implement, deploy and maintain search to satisfy the user. I keep saying, “it’s not the technology; it’s the thought and skill that goes into the back room implementation.” Or is it? Stay tuned.
In the forthcoming Gilbane research report, Enterprise Search Markets and Applications Capitalizing on Emerging Demand, I describe several distinctly different scenarios for search applications. The variety of search products underscores innovative approaches to applying search and diversity of needs. The Enterprise Search track at the upcoming Gilbane Conference in San Francisco will feature numerous examples of why and how search is being applied across small, medium and very large domains of enterprise content. Hearing from those experienced in implementing and deploying search solutions will inform you when positioning your search “must haves” as you narrow possible options.
Our first group panel will feature two consultants and a solutions provider each with a perspective on aligning the search problem you are trying to solve with a business case and the type of product being offered. As moderator, I will be looking for examples from speakers that will resonate with the audience to provide a connection between what has been demonstrated as valuable and workable, and what conference-goers are seeking. These sessions are about matching experience with investigation and creating an environment for exchanging information and allowing inquiry and research to flourish.
Much has been made of the rise of “social” technologies in the past year, but technology is only a tool. Any meeting gathering with product exhibits facilitates your first-hand viewing of technology and the vendors offering products. But more important, are the professional social connections that give flesh and realism to the application of technology. If you set out to ask just one question of each speaker you meet or fellow attendee, make it one that will help you build a realistic picture around a product you are considering to meet a need. For example, ask not about whether product “A” can perform function “XYZ” but what it took in terms of human resources to deliver that terrific interface that the speaker is showcasing. Social networking gives you that opportunity.
Professional conferences are learning opportunities and, compared to today’s college tuition costs, a great bargain. Also, educational institutions are relatively limited, exposing you to controlled scenarios or short-term experiences. What you gain at meetings like the Gilbane conferences is opportunity to benefit from long-term experiences in real business situations by asking those who have been there and done that, how it came about, got built and what the demonstrable outcomes are.
A look at these topics for session EST-2 shows how our speakers will frame their experiences: Venkat Rangan, CTO, Clearwell Systems, Search and Information Retrieval Needs for eDiscovery; Randy Woods, Executive VP, Non-linear Creations, Best Practices for Tuning Enterprise Search; Sam Mefford, Enterprise Search Practice Lead, Avalon Consulting, Beyond Silos: Changing ‘Hide and Seek’ to ‘Index and Find.’ I’m always looking for new perspectives on search and ways of helping my clients understand their options. This will enrich my own learning experiences, as well.