Making More Sense of Enterprise Search

Fernando Lucini, CTO, of HP Autonomy is an interesting guy. Born to Spanish parents, he grew up… everywhere. His parents worked for IBM, so he spent summers in White Plains, NY. He now lives in Cambridge (“the one in the UK…the real one,” he says.) So he’s been surrounded by technology and academia forever. We had a chat a few days ago, ostensibly focused on enterprise search and information discovery. It was mostly that, but we veered off course a couple times.

Despite his title, he insists he’s not a “code writing dude.” He describes himself as a leader of the technical group and a “customer guy.” His goal has always been to match the technology of Autonomy (he has been with them for 14 years, so his history well predates the HP acquisition.)

I expressed my concern that my approach might be more “market-oriented” and less technology-based. He said that I should not worry about that. “I answer questions like that all day,” he said.

He didn’t hesitate. “The first, most fundamental thing that has changed the search market is that many more people are more information-savvy than has ever been, thanks to mobility. They change applications all the time. All the applications are data-driven. So we now have a new, evolved user. In the past we had monolithic applications, and the user surrendered to that. Now, they have all these new tools and the information to use them. So those of us in the search market, and enterprise search in particular, need to understand how to satisfy the new, more knowledgeable users. It’s not that they’re more demanding—they’ve always been demanding. But they are much more knowledgeable of the things that help them, and don’t help them. It’s no longer just as simple as taking things from SharePoint or SAP. They now have very active social lives. The mobility has been the game-changer.”

As for the governance concern, Fernando says that organizations are “giving up” to the very strong user. “In the old days, we’d give a new employee a Blackberry. That was enough. Now users want to have mobility by having applications on their phones. They’re putting things in their DropBoxes, their Google boxes… and they want to have the same experience across all their devices.” Surprisingly, according to Fernando, the response from the enterprise is not “stop it.” It’s more along the lines of, “how do we make the bring-your-own-device thing work for us?”

“We can’t stop users from using their own devices. The bow wave is too big,” as he puts it. So they have to get with it. “That’s what I mean when I say the end user has become powerful.” Before it was the enterprise which decided what tools would be provided. “Now it’s the users who are making strong demands. If you don’t give those users ways to access information they need, they’ll just use whatever tools they have available,” says Fernando. “Whether you like it or not. They’ll just use other means,” he says.

Therein lies the opportunity, Fernando thinks, for the search vendors. “If we get smart and learn to solve problems for that end user, we can augment what those users need to do their tasks. That is a fundamental change. It’s no longer about providing a list of possible answers. It’s now about small real estate, very high targeting, understanding as much about the user as possible, understanding the users as an information space and reaching out to the sources that surround the person… not just what the enterprise provides,” Fernando insists.

I had suggested to Fernando that he might reflect on what has happened to enterprise search in the last nine to 12 months. He had a clear answer for that: “Nine to 12 months ago we were wondering what impact big data would have on the search market. Today we’re talking about what impact ‘bring your own device’ has on the user experience.” Pretty clear. But there’s more.

Mobility is the Key Game Changer

The issue of BYOD has, in my mind anyway, serious governance issues. I ask Fernando whether or not organizations are leery of individual users having access to organizational information on their smartphones and tablets. “I go around the world, and for me it’s an empirical understanding in business today,” he says. “Leaders want to get the top talent, and the top talent is coming with a new set of personalities. They love their devices; they’re addicted to their devices, in fact. So they feel they need to accommodate to that, not the other way around.”

There’s a lot of vendors out there—and this is not just enterprise search, by the way—who are providing solutions for the enterprise that allow whatever devices, whether they’re iPhones or Android devices, to partake in what the enterprise has to offer and still provide some degree of control. “The organizations can maintain some control, but the end users get the satisfaction of having control of their devices,” argues Fernando. In today’s world, Fernando thinks, that is the new order. “They want to have the satisfaction of having the tools they think they need to get on with their daily lives,” he says.

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