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“Search” Versus “Access”
Making the (Current) Case for Enterprise Search

Recently I sat down with some people who are a lot smarter than me on the subject of “enterprise search and information access.” They were Richard Tessier, executive vice president, products, Coveo; Rajat Mukherjee, product manager, enterprise search, Google Enterprise; Chris Hall, vice president, product marketing, InQuira; and Stacy Monarko, director of product management, Vivisimo. Here’s a little bit of our conversation:

“Enterprise search.” For some reasons it’s become the third rail for technology companies, pundits and users as well. We start off this month by getting into the terminology surrounding this market. I’m not entirely clear on the reason, but the analyst community has fled from the term “enterprise search.”  Now, I’m like most of you... I don’t really care what it’s called. But I’m wondering whether there’s been any shift in the marketplace that explains this?

“I can’t speak for everyone, but search is at the heart of what we do,” replies Stacy Monarko, director of product management for Vivisimo. “Providing broad access to multiple content sources, and adding intelligence and context around that, is where we’re at. But recently we went back to our customers and asked them: How are you using search? And the theme that emerged is that they’re optimizing and unlocking the value of information. This is much more than traditional enterprise search, which was a single box where people went to ask for information. They now want information pushed out to them in an intelligent manner, based on their role and their needs. So we ARE seeing a new market emerge, where search is at the heart, but it’s really more about information optimization,” Stacy says.

Naturally, there are plenty of pragmatic reasons for striving to differentiate oneself in such a large and ambiguous market. Chris Hall is vice president of marketing at InQuira: “As a marketer, the last thing you want to do is abandon a category!” he says. “But you definitely want to abandon a category that is a red ocean. There’s a lot of big guys out there in search, and with all respect to them, we don’t want to stay in the same category!”

But what about the question...? “Yes. There is such a thing as enterprise search. But is enterprise search a one-size-fits-all-business-problems proposition? No. We think of it being about answers. We’re in a customer-service business, and when customers call, they want answers. Whether it’s consumers looking for answers on companies’ websites, or agents looking for procedural advice on a credit card dispute... in those examples, search is deployed very differently.”

A changing environment is certainly on the minds of my friends on this day. For example, Rajat Mukherjee, product manager for enterprise search at Google Enterprise, sees it as a cultural shift. “Two things have changed over the last two years,” says Rajat. “First, the definition of ‘enterprise’ has changed. The enterprise is no longer restrained within the firewall. As organizations move to the cloud, we have components of the enterprise that are spinning outside the traditional firewalls. That changes the scope of what ‘enterprise’ means,” he says. “Also, user expectations have changed. Simplicity, speed and relevance are all very critical.”

I went around the room (OK, it was a conference call... I went virtually around the room.) “Let’s say you are approaching a virgin customer for the first time. Do you walk in and say: I want to sell you search”?“ The shift to ‘information access’ is fueled by the analysts,” agrees Richard Tessier. Richard is executive vice president for products at Coveo. “But it has, in fact, had some resonance in the market. We still have people coming to us looking for ‘search solutions.’ But when people hear ‘search,’ they think ‘Web search.’ And then they think about a search box... there’s more to it than that. You should have information pushed out to you without ever having to enter a query in a search box,” Richard insists.

Rajat: “The terminology doesn’t matter. What matters is the business application. For example, the pharma companies have a concept called ‘fast fail.’ If they’re going to fail in the development of a drug, they’d rather know about it sooner than later. They don’t want to spend a billion dollars and then have it fail at the very end. So the sooner they find related experts, projects and documents, the better. That’s something search can do for them. People know that to be effective, they need to access information really quickly. Doesn’t matter whether that’s called ‘enterprise search’ or ‘knowledge management’ or ‘information access,’” he says.

And he’s right, but there is something to be said for a certain finesse with the semantics. “It’s true... at the end of the day, we just want to get the right answer,” adds Chris Hall. “By the way, we’re not in pharma, so at least we’re not going to kill anybody!” The difference can be in the lingua franca of the industry, Chris thinks. “In the high-tech sector, it’s perfectly normal for customers to ask how do you search? What are your algorithms? What are your methodologies? But when you cross into transactional businesses, such as insurance, you don’t want to say the word ‘search.’ It’s a passé word. If you’re talking to a contact center, and you tell them you want to provide a search tool, what they think is, ‘uh oh... call times are going up.’ Search might be the underlying technology, but the way we present it to different customers demands different language,” Chris says.

Technology or Business... Hmmmm
It’s inescapable that the search-vendor community is struggling with a dilemma... do they present themselves as a technology solution? Or as a business application? And what happens when you go down one of those routes versus the other?

Stacy has some thoughts on that: “Search has been around a while as an IT solution... not a business solution. We now talk about increasing revenue; increasing productivity and creating a more effective interaction with customers,” she says. “We also look at merger situations, and try to help them figure out which systems are redundant and can be retired. And, finally, how to mitigate risk by making sure governance policies are being followed. At the heart of it is enterprise search, but the message is more of a business solution one.”

“We prefer to speak to the business owner who has a problem to solve,” adds Richard Tessier. “And once you solve one problem, you’re asked to solve the next, and the next... and at some point the IT people ask how many problems in total can we solve with this solution? That’s when they start to consider the solution ‘enterprisewide’ versus ‘department-by-department,’ and that’s where you better be able to do both! You need to go in with a small footprint quickly, provide benefits to a group, but then be able to scale across all the information systems and all the groups of users,” he says.

And it’s also true that the advancements in “commercial search,” (i.e., the kind of search you and I do to look for deals on home appliances and cheap sporting equipment) has had an enormous impact on the business search vendors. “People have an expectation to get to their answer in the first page of results,” says Rajat, correctly. “So relevance is absolutely paramount. Commercial search IS different than enterprise search, but many of the improvements that commercial search has provided works for the enterprise, too. Relevance rankings for example... spelling technologies... mobile access... as these things get better out in the cloud, they can apply to the enterprise as well,” he says.

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