For the last few months I have been working on a project for the Institute for Prospective Technological Studies (an agency of the European Commission) to prepare a techno-economic assessment of the enterprise search industry and market in Europe. I’m not in a position to disclose the outcomes of the project, but in the course of the research I did examine how organizations went about selecting an enterprise search solution, and looked at the websites of around 60 vendors. At the same time I was working on an intranet strategy project for a European company with over 40,000 employees world-wide and no enterprise search capability!In this column I’ve summarized some of my conclusions from these two projects.

Enterprise Search Vendor Listings

IT managers find it very difficult to find enterprise search vendors. I have a list of around 60, the list on Wikipedia has just over 30, Ovum list 25, the Real Story Group 22, and both Gartner and Forrester cover 12. There is a list of over 100 on the Searchtools site, but many are not enterprise search products and others are no longer available.

Using Google or Bing to find enterprise search vendors is not easy, especially since the HP/Autonomy acquisition kicked off, pushing the Wikipedia list some way down the results. Organizations with a budget to subscribe to the major analyst reports may not appreciate that the search universe is somewhat larger than a dozen companies. Gartner and Forrester make it perfectly clear that their vendor coverage is limited, but there is a certain comfort factor in reporting back up the chain that the short list of vendors is based on the reports from these companies.

Enterprise Search Vendor Websites

The first point of contact between an organization and a prospective search vendor will almost certainly be the vendor website.Many of these come in the “very disappointing” category.You would expect the site search on a vendor’s site to exemplify good practice in search management, but most do not. Sinequa does not have a search feature; Recommind has a search box on the bottom right of the homepage; and Exalead has poor summarization, and the relevance and presentation of the facets leave much to be desired.

More of a concern is that most vendors are selling by feature and not by benefit. Someone has to make a business case for enterprise search, and few of the vendors seem to know what to do to help the process.There is also a tendency to focus on products without a clear description of their comparative benefits. Go to the Autonomy site, count the number of scrolling sections and then go to the drop-down tab for Products. You get a listing of over 50 products in one tab!

Overall, I can’t cite one vendor that takes a site visitor through a logical journey through the site. The view seems to be that the optimum approach is to present a homepage in multiple windows with a long scroll (Attivio is just one example) and wait for the phone to ring.The ultimate challenge is finding information about FAST ESP on the Microsoft site. Is the company trying to tell us something about its commitment to this platform?

Search Integrators and Developers

There is rightly a lot of interest in open-source search, but where would an IT manager start to find a development team, and how could they (and the software) be evaluated? The launch of a certification program by Lucid Imagination is to be welcomed. Even in the UK, tracking down people with open-source development skills is not at all easy.

Learning Opportunities

If you are looking for a larger systems integrator to support the implementation of a high-end enterprise application, it is no easier. If you put “enterprise search” into the search box of Capgemini, you will be surprised to find that there are 8,840 results.Really!The first page on 7 October had the same article listed six times and the second article four times. I’ll leave you to draw your own conclusions.

But What is Enterprise Search?

It is highly likely that most organizations will be implementing enterprise search for the first time, and will have little experience in writing an RFP, evaluating the responses and preparing for not just installation and implementation, but also the long-term support for the application. I have not been able to find any vendor who comes clean on the both the benefits and challenges of implementing enterprise search, and who sets their search solution within a business context.

If I were writing a school report on the overall performance of the search business with regard to marketing the benefits of both search and their own products, my comment would be “Will have to do much better in the future to stay in the class.”

Editor's Note: You may also be interested in reading: