”Search” vs. “Searching”: Bringing Enterprise Search Back to Reality

Once upon a time, anything labeled “enterprise search” got attention. I actually saw people adding the words “enterprise search” with magic marker onto their signage at trade shows.

But it didn’t take long for the dew to evaporate from THAT lily. Enterprise search has become assimilated into the vocabulary of IT and business in such a seamless way that it’s difficult to imagine when it wasn’t a common part of standard, everyday business processes.

“The reality of search for most of the last 20 years was pretty dismal; people had a really hard time deploying search because of the complexity,” says Jerome Pesenti, chief scientist and co-founder of Vivísimo. “But that’s changing; search has grown up. It’s possible now to deploy search in a complex environment and successfully do it with an application that’s appealing to users, that brings value and pleases them.”

Twenty years seems like a long time to be able to say, “We can do it now.” But search is unlike most “applications.” In fact, it’s quite possible that search has slammed the accelerator, hit the HOV lane and moved right ahead of the pack to become part of the fundamental structure that many—most—businesses are built upon. The question I put to this month’s esteemed panel of experts is: How’s that workin’ out?

A Fragmented Marketplace

“Search is very different from any other software,” says Pesenti. “The big infrastructure players are all addressing this space. But they don’t realize is that search has such a complexity and possibility for improvement that’s WAY over anything they have done before. There are literally millions of ways—in fact, infinitesimal ways—that search could be better.”

Silvija Seres, VP product marketing at Fast Search & Transfer (FAST), agrees that the challenges presented by deploying search have been difficult for the user market. “Our biggest competitor is NOT another software company; it’s the lack of knowledge about what search can do for a company. Has the market been successful in convincing end-user customers to think of search in a strategic way? I don’t think we’ve accomplished that, but we’re progressing. People are more and more aware that this is real, and that they have to act fast (I’m sure she intended no pun) and get some really good tools.”

Matthew Glotzbach is product management director for Google Enterprise. Not too surprisingly, he compares the enterprise search market with that of the general consumer public one: “Companies are struggling with the IT aspects, and the business setting is lagging behind that of the consumer market. On the consumer side, search has become the de facto means of navigating information. That’s come about by necessity; as consumer information sources grow and expand, traditional means of navigating sources that large have broken down. Search has prevailed.

“The same is true inside the enterprise,” Matt continues. “Content has grown at an astounding rate, and people are having trouble finding it. The impact on the consumer side is huge because of the advertising monetization, but we can have the same impact inside corporations by helping people do their jobs smarter, not just faster. The economic impact of that will be astounding,” says Matt.

Jared Spataro, group product manager, enterprise search of Microsoft, describes the dynamic this way: “‘Bottom-up’ demand is being driven by information workers who have experienced the power of effective search technology on the Internet, through ‘big box’ search providers like MSN, Yahoo! and Google or through e-commerce sites like Amazon, and who want that same experience when they sit down to get a job done at work. ‘Top-down’ demand, on the other hand, is being driven by two groups: IT or senior line-of-business execs. The line-of-business execs generally have a top-line focus and see search as a way to drive additional revenue. E-commerce is a great example of that, but there are many others. Our research on IT execs is mixed. In some studies, IT professionals claim that compliance is overwhelmingly the driving factor for considering a search investment, but in other studies, the motivations are more varied. Regardless, the dynamic that will shape the market over the next three to five years is the explosion of ‘bottom-up’ demand.”

Michael Schmitt, CEO of Siderean, echoes Matt Glotzbach’s optimism: “There’s a massive amount of innovation going on in search. But it’s not just technological innovation; it’s what customers are doing with it. Search is clearly on the CEO agenda; a CEO has to raise revenues, manage assets and cut costs. The high degree to which search technology can help with that drives adoption.”

Jerome Pesenti agrees: “Search is spreading its wings. Search is becoming the key element in many applications. You are finding search being used to solve problems where it had not been before. Legal compliance or collaboration or business intelligence were not problems that relied on search before. Now they think of searching as the primary way to access information, and one of the key technological elements within many vertical applications.”

“Thanks to Internet search engines, users don’t want to have any restriction on how they can search,” says Dr. Johannes Scholtes, president of ZyLAB North America. “They want to key in some words and find what they’re looking for—even if the query is just one word. Nobody wants to think about key fields and possible values, let alone complex Boolean queries. The only way to implement search that is considered to be user friendly is with full-text search engines.

“As soon as such search is accepted,” continues Johannes, “tremendous amounts of time and money can be saved in all parts of the business process: data intake (no more key fielding); searching (just key in some words); maintenance (no database or DBA required); performance (full-text search on data in a file system is much faster than typical relational database search); and sharing (just copy files to another party in whatever structure you want and have them full-text index it as well).”

“Search is not just creating a database,” adds Jerome. “Search is very hard to specify in strict database terms. That makes selling search and deploying it very different than what (the infrastructure vendors) have done before.”

Toward Specialization

Which brings us to the subject of specialization among the vendor pool, versus consolidation by the Big Guys. Typically, you would expect a fundamental component such as search to long ago have been assimilated “under the covers” of either vertical business applications or into the basic technology infrastructure. But search seems to be different; it IS doing those things, but it also is holding steadfastly to its own identity. The KMWorld White Paper you’re reading is the largest we’ve produced, and is populated by more variety in the vendor base than we’ve ever encountered. What’s up with that?

“There’s nothing new here; history is repeating itself,” insists Michael Schmitt. “For example, the big MRP (manufacturing resource planning) vendors had it all wrapped up—financials, manufacturing, distribution...game over. Then all of a sudden, the world of supply chain arrived and many new vendors rose up, even though the customers’ infrastructures—database, inventory, production and financial—were already handled by the MRP system. Why did supply chain come out? Because the vendors did a better job at reducing inventories, scheduling, shipping and managing sales. The customer who bought the best-of-breed for shop-force scheduling, or planning, or transportation, warehouse, or whatever all enjoyed benefits that hit the CEO agenda. Now the big guys have entered, but there was an eight- to 10-year window where best-of-breed innovated against big customer pain, got out ahead and grew. It’s the same in search today; we have passionate customers solving complex problems.”

Michael continues: “You have to ask a question: Do I want to wait for my infrastructure player, or do I want to solve my business problems today? The best-of-breed vendors of information access are concentrating on very hard pain points and bringing unique technology to bear to solve those. They are also providing a payback, in the way of knowledge management, cost-cutting productivity or monetization.”

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