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What's Next In Enterprise Search?

Companies, large and small, have collected oodles of information now sitting in Storage Area Networks (SANs). The challenge many face is enabling employees to find a specific piece of information in a timely manner. Enterprise search products have emerged to help meet that need, but their impact has been mixed. While most companies use these products, they seldom meet all of an enterprise's search needs, leaving the market in a constant state of flux.

Companies, large and small, have collected oodles of information now sitting in Storage Area Networks (SANs). The challenge many face is enabling employees to find a specific piece of information in a timely manner. Enterprise search products have emerged to help meet that need, but their impact has been mixed. While most companies use these products, they seldom meet all of an enterprise's search needs, leaving the market in a constant state of flux.

Enterprise search systems have become quite common in business: "Nine out of ten companies have deployed an enterprise search system," stated Whit Andrews, vice president at Gartner. Businesses use the products in a wide range of ways, from enabling employees to find the company cafeteria's opening and closing times to helping them locate coworkers who may be able to open the door to a new sales lead.

Initially, businesses thought that deployment of one enterprise search system would solve all of information needs. Yet, the products have not proven to be silver bullets; in many cases, companies run two or more enterprise search systems. Consumers rely on one search engine when trying to find information on the Web, so, why isn't one system enough in the enterprise?

Problems start with expectations. Though typically compared to Internet search, enterprise search is a much more difficult nut to crack. Corporations store data in a variety of places: Enterprise Resource Planning systems, email messages, text documents, and spreadsheets. Information may reside on central servers, department systems, or employee machines, which can be PCs, laptops, or handheld devices. To help users find desired information, a company needs a tool that can consolidate all of the possible information sources.

In addition, enterprise search usually has a much narrower focus than Web searches. With Internet searches, users often have broad search goals - many times they don't even know exactly what they are looking for-- and are really only looking for places where they might find desired information. After they type in a word, such as cell phones, users frequently are satisfied with being brought to a comparison Web site where information about several phones is listed. That is not usually the case when employees search for corporate data. After they type in a key phrase, say Joseph Smith's address, they expect a specific piece of information to appear and are disappointed if that does not happen.

A large number of vendors have tried to address enterprise search shortcomings. Autonomy Corp. Coveo Solutions, Inc., Dieselpoint Inc., Endeca Technologies Inc., Exalead, Google, Groxis, ISYS Search Software, Northern Light Group, LLC, Microsoft, Recommind, SearchInform Technologies, SearchBlox Software Inc., Synomia, and Thunderstone Software LLC specialize in search. In addition, industry Behemoths, such as Google, IBM, Microsoft, and Oracle, have deemed search an important component in their product lines.

The hodgepodge of suppliers has attacked the market in different ways. Historically, companies spent a lot of time and exerted a great deal of effort first identifying where information is located and then making it available to enterprise search engines. Consequently, these products were high priced, usually starting in the six figure range and making its way past the $1 million mark. "Today, vendors no longer find that a $1 million search system is an easy sale," said Gartner's Andrews.

Google was the first vendor to shake up product pricing. The company made a major push into enterprise search in June 2004 and focused on two attributes that helped it gain a top position in the Internet search market: low pricing and simplicity. Pricing for the Google Search Appliance starts at about $30,000 and scaled-down systems geared to departments or small companies sell for a few thousand dollars. The company tried to maintain the ease of use functions found with its Web search system: corporations can complete product installation in a few hours compared to the weeks - sometimes months - typically associated with traditional enterprise search systems.

Rather than compete on price, the traditional vendors have tried to position their technology in new ways. In some cases, suppliers are making search the focal point in new application thrusts. Autonomy has focused on compliance tools, and Recommind has positioned its system as an eDiscovery tool. In other cases, suppliers are OEMing their software, so other vendors can incorporate it into their products. Autodesk, EMC, and HP, are three companies who use the ISYS search systems in their products.The changing business plans underscore the market's volatility. Even though vendors have been trying to deliver robust enterprise search systems for more than two decades, they still have not found a formula that makes it as easy and comprehensive as Internet search.

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