Not coming clean about Enterprise Search

  • 26-Oct-2011

I have just spent two days at the inaugural European Enterprise Search Summit in London, and left with much to think and rant about.  For I listened to a series of consultants and vendors telling the audience that enterprise search was an imperative, and (this was brought up in some form by almost everyone in some form or other) that according to IDC 20% of the working week is spent finding information, ergo reduce that 20% to 5% using Enterprise Search and then we will have World Peace. 

In short the business case for Enterprise Search made at the event boiled down to a series of hackneyed statements, that can be summarized as follows:

  • Any investment you make in Search technology will be quickly returned, as your workers will have so much more time on their hands and therefore be so much more productive
  • You will be miraculously saved from multi-million dollar lawsuits due to your ability to prove without a doubt how innocent you are of any such allegations

I'm sure you get the drift, and like most potential buyers of Enterprise Search technology, you don't believe a word of it, nor should you. It's naive nonsense. End users may indeed spend time looking for things, but what they might actually do with any time saved is as much your guess as mine. Moreover, and more importantly, I don't know about you but if I do spend 20% of my week looking for information, it is by using a Search Engine -- and has been for over a decade now. As for that pending lawsuit, the reality is most organizations would rather not know exactly what is lurking on their network, thank you very much.

The Search pitch is further weakened by the argument that there is no point in cleaning up your dirty data. The line goes like this: Why bother actually trying to manage information at all? It's only going to get into a mess again, and anyway a Search engine can work with whatever you throw at it! Again this is nonsense as everyone in the Search industry knows full well that bad data equals bad search results, and that this simple fact will never change. Put this altogether and it's not really all that surprising that Enterprise Search is stuck in a deep rut that it doesn't know how to get out of. The best it seems to be able to come up with right now is to not to call it Enterprise Search at all, and instead fob it off as some kind of exotic analytical engine, or even as an "SBA" because nonsense acronyms will fool anyone.....

The bottom line is, in the words of conference Chairman and friend Martin White, "Fundamentally, we have an information management problem." Indeed we have, until organizations start to manage unstructured data with the same care they do structured data, we will continue to have a problem. The fact that we have a problem should hardly come as a surprise for where an organization will employ a veritable army of Database Administrators to manage the 20% of their data that is structured, they will employ almost no-one to manage the remaining 80%. That amounts to a huge volume of bad data. 

Search has a role to play, and a very important one at that. But until the Search industry itself starts to come clean about just how difficult and expensive Search is to leverage, and how much it is dependent on other factors outside of its control, it's role and value will always be minimalized. Buyers are right to be dismissive of widely optimistic claims. Best to come clean I say.

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