Why Enterprise Search is not in the limelight

  • 18-Jan-2012

In the enterprise search community there has been a lot of talk recently about the lack of deep coverage by major analyst firms such as Gartner and Forrester.  Many feel slighted and believe that their industry is a large and thriving one, one that is unjustly ignored.

The reality is that search remains an important element within the information management spectrum, yet big enterprise search projects are thin on the ground.  Most buyers default to whatever search engine is bundled with their enterprise licensing deals (IBM, Microsoft, Oracle, et. al.) and few RFP/Tender documents are issued for specialist search vendors to bid upon.

Nevertheless enterprise search in its broadest sense is a multi-billion dollar industry, and pretty much every enterprise globally makes some use of search technology. So why the lack of visibility and so few major search projects?  Simply put, much of the money in enterprise search is in basic document filters.

Document filters are a core components of search systems. They parse the many different electronic document types (Word/Excel/Pages/Keynote, etc.) used within a typical organization, thus making them indexable, searchable, and more broadly viewable. It is a crucial if basic job, and one that runs in the background -- as technology embedded within other technology. 

Almost every major business software supplier makes use of such filters, and when you stop to consider the vast number of document types and how often they change, you can understand why most software suppliers don't try to built their own.  Rather they license well-maintained filters from Oracle, HP (Autonomy), or ISYS.

Indeed the licensing of filters is so pervasive and lucrative that some argued at the time of HP's $11B acquisition of Autonomy that much if not most of Autonomy's "IDOL" revenue actually came from their Keyview document filters -- rather than their flagship IDOL enterprise search systems. Oracle also retained and grew a very healthy license revenue stream when they acquired Stellent's INSO filters, and independent search specialist ISYS does a healthy trade in filters too. Taken together it is fair to say that filters make up the lion's share of enterprise search related spend. Yet frankly as a technology sector to watch and comment on there is little that is less interesting. What would you rather study and write about, the new Ferrari or the oil filters it uses?

So what ever happened to real enterprise search, those mega projects involving federated search across multiple silos of information, that normalize search sets from many different sources and types into a cohesive singularity?  Well those projects still do exist.  But they are rare, expensive, complex, and have a high failure rate.

Enterprise search will always be with us, as a critical component of any information management strategy. But there's the rub: it's just a component, typically dwarfed by other elements and playing a supporting role at best.

The danger here of course is that buyers can underestimate the importance of getting the right search technology, and the burden of maintaining and managing the search environment. When technology is simply bundled into a deal, there's a temptation to ignore it.

Don't ignore search.  Search can be labor intensive, and with a lack of skilled resources can degrade to the point of uselessness over time. Search needs to be taken seriously, and it would be good if it got more of the limelight. But the reality in 2012 is that specialized search technology options such as dtSearch, Solr, Recommind, ISYS, or Funnelback can't and shouldn't occupy the limelight.  The limelight should be on the proper practices and resources needed to manage a search environment and the difficulty most organizations face in obtaining them. Most organizations today already have search technology, it was typically thrown into a deal without any further discussion. It is the ability to fully exploit the technology that they lack.

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