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.

September 3, 2009

4 Min Read
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Companies,large and small, have collected oodles of information nowsitting in Storage Area Networks (SANs). The challenge many face isenabling employees to find a specific piece of information in a timelymanner. 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 themarket in a constant state of flux.

Enterprisesearch systems have become quite common in business: "Nine out often companies have deployed an enterprise search system," stated WhitAndrews, vice president at Gartner. Businesses use the products in awide range of ways, from enabling employees to find the company cafeteria'sopening and closing times to helping them locate coworkers who may beable to open the door to a new sales lead.

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

Problemsstart with expectations. Though typically compared to Internet search,enterprise search is a much more difficult nut to crack. Corporationsstore data in a variety of places: Enterprise Resource Planning systems,email messages, text documents, and spreadsheets. Information may resideon central servers, department systems, or employee machines, whichcan be PCs, laptops, or handheld devices. To help users find desiredinformation, a company needs a tool that can consolidate all of thepossible information sources.

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

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

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

Googlewas the first vendor to shake up product pricing. The company made amajor push into enterprise search in June 2004 and focused on two attributesthat helped it gain a top position in the Internet search market: lowpricing and simplicity. Pricing for the Google Search Appliance startsat about $30,000 and scaled-down systems geared to departments or smallcompanies sell for a few thousand dollars. The company tried to maintainthe ease of use functions found with its Web search system: corporationscan complete product installation in a few hours compared to the weeks- sometimes months - typically associated with traditional enterprisesearch systems.

Ratherthan compete on price, the traditional vendors have tried to positiontheir technology in new ways. In some cases, suppliers are making searchthe focal point in new application thrusts. Autonomy has focused oncompliance tools, and Recommind has positioned its system as an eDiscoverytool. In other cases, suppliers are OEMing their software, so othervendors can incorporate it into their products. Autodesk, EMC, and HP,are three companies who use the ISYS search systems in their products.Thechanging business plans underscore the market's volatility. Even thoughvendors have been trying to deliver robust enterprise search systemsfor more than two decades, they still have not found a formula thatmakes it as easy and comprehensive as Internet search.

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