As a rule, corporate search strategies assume a steady-state situation: the business will grow, it will employ more people and it will introduce new products and services.
Rarely do they include a contingency plan, a plan for when the norm is no longer the norm.
I have yet to see a search strategy make explicit reference to how it would handle an acquisition of another business, especially where that acquisition entails moving into a new business sector, market or location.
A 100-day rule of thumb applies to any acquisition, which means achieving a significant level of integration and synergy within that time frame.
The good news is search integration will be much easier than system or intranet integration.
Acquisition, Through an Enterprise Search Lens
Many issues should be considered in the case of an acquisition. Remember that in the first few months, search will be the only way that employees of the two companies can find and share the information and expertise that was the basis for the acquisition.
Which Vendor Stays?
While some might assume that the search vendor of the acquired company would be phased out, compare the two before you decide. Which offers enhanced functionality and/or is architected in a way that will facilitate the rapid provision of search across the new corporate entity?
Make this decision after considering the business roadmap, not just the technology roadmap.
BAInsight has a good schematic of the three possible approaches to federated search. All are difficult to implement.
Leaving aside indexing issues for a moment, the main challenge is how to offer a ranked list of results when they come from different repositories and applications. Should the results be interlaced into a single results set or presented as individual windows, leaving it to the user to visually integrate.
A substantial amount of research has examined results merging and federated search in general. If any vendor claims to have the perfect solution, ask to speak to at least three customers who have implemented it.
Crawling and Indexing
The crawling and indexing process is very server intensive, which is an argument for considering a cloud search application.
If you intend to create a unified index, the scale of the effort required needs to be computed with care and previous experience. It might take several days, or longer, and problems may arise that require starting the indexing again from the beginning.
Let's say you are a law firm that has recently merged with another firm. One of the first problems would be establishing what information from each firm (for example partner remuneration policies) is still valid for the merged firm.
This is an extreme case of content migration. Senior management will pressure you to merge everything, but consider the business and legal implications first.
Merging content is easy compared with matching security tagging, especially if one company is using early binding and the other late binding, or worse, both are using a mixture. The combined company will inevitably land staff in new positions, responsibilities and lines of management requiring major changes to security mapping. Bulk integration of the two master security databases will not solve this problem.
Acquiring a company in a business sector or market that is new to your company will almost certainly introduce filter and facet terms which are novel to your taxonomy. Integration of these terms into the federated search's user interface must be consistent across the entire company.
As with security mapping, it is highly unlikely that a bulk integration will provide value here. Many instances will call for the creation of an entirely new business taxonomy rather than bolting the existing taxonomies together.
The Search Team
Sometimes the acquired search team will have a much greater depth of knowledge of the technology and the business than the incumbent team. Navigating the politics of acquisition will require a high degree of tact.
Overcoming the technical problems of the initial integration of indexes will require the good will of both teams, and you'll want to do anything possible to prevent members of either team moving on at this point (as there are certainly plenty of jobs to go to).
Ideally you should create a ‘business as usual’ team and an ‘acquisition team,’ each with staff from the two companies.
Preparation is Your Best Defense
Needless to say, this article only touched on a few of the issues that arise in an acquisition.
Acquisitions, by their nature (and especially with a publicly traded company), will rarely give any notice of the change in business scope. Planning is everything.
My recommendation: prepare for a few possible scenarios, setting out the resources and timescales needed for implementation and then review it every three months.