Over the last 10 years of enterprise search procurement engagements, I've found clients focus on what software they should purchase and rarely on the integration partner needed to turn the software into a search solution. Very few search vendors provide implementation services, or if they do, it may only be in specific countries or vertical markets.
When it comes to choosing a search solution, the range of options can inspire the question "What is enterprise search" — but that's a question for another article, another day. Many enterprise search solutions can be downloaded onto a server for immediate implementation following completion of the initial crawl and index. An example is dTSearch, which has been on the market since the late 1980s, but there are at least a dozen more.
At the other end of the spectrum there are large-scale implementations working across multiple applications and languages and indexing millions of documents. Companies like Sinequa land in this market, and again, there are a dozen or more to choose from. (Of course if you are using SharePoint and Office 365 the decision was made for you.)
Whichever option you choose, an integration partner is a necessary part of creating a smooth implementation.
Related Article:What 2019 Holds for Enterprise Search
Integration Partners: Specialist or Generalist?
Broadly speaking, integration services companies fall into two different classes. On the one hand, there are specialist companies who only work on enterprise search projects. My listing of them is slightly out-of-date, but is a good place to start. Some of these (Findwise for example) also have open source framework products. There are fewer of these than you might imagine, which puts them in high demand, so slotting a client in at short notice may be difficult.
At the other end of the spectrum are integration services companies that work across the entire enterprise application range, from SAP to PeopleSoft. Enterprise search is not a huge market opportunity for these firms, so the range of skills and previous experience on offer may be limited to a few specialized systems engineers. However if a key element of the enterprise search integration is to optimize the performance of connectors to SAP or Salesforce, then a good business case could be made for using one of them.
Many larger organizations have call-off arrangements with these companies, so it can be a challenge to persuade them to consider a specialist vendor for an enterprise search project. The search vendor may also have a number of preferred vendors who've committed to understanding and training specialists in the implementation options for the product. A benefit here is that communications between the vendor and the integrator are usually very good indeed.
When planning integrations, remember you'll need integration support in different locations or even different countries, because each of your subsidiaries will have substantially different expectations.
Related Article: Diagnosing Enterprise Search Failures
Planning the Search Implementation Project
When writing your Request for Information, you must consider the extent of support your organization will need. How much search expertise and business knowledge will your search team be able to contribute to the implementation? Search integration companies have a very good knowledge of the technology, but won't know anything about user search requirements.
The availability of external advice and support will have an impact on the overall project plan. While the early stages of a vendor selection process tend to stay on schedule, as you close in on the final two, the conversations can get more protracted. This is also the stage when you'll decide whether or not you need to hold a Proof of Concept bake-off. I question the value of these as a way of comparing solutions as it is virtually impossible to scale enterprise performance from a proof-of-concept, but procurement departments may want to do it by the book. If you move forward with the PoC, you'll need to decide who will manage it. You could end up with not only two vendors in the house, but also two potential search integrators — and that can get crowded quickly.
Once the implementation gets underway, then the vendor's and integrator's collective teams will change membership over time to meet not only the optimum mix of skills, but also because team members will be working on other projects at the same time. Managing an implementation project will require one of your very best project managers and they are always in short supply.
Related Article: Proof of Concept for Enterprise Search: Good Idea or Time Drain?
A Final Word on SharePoint Implementations
The support needed to implement the core functionality of SharePoint and Office 365 is readily available. When it comes to search, many Microsoft partners have limited expertise because far too many organizations think that search in SharePoint and Office 365 is plug-and-play. If you think this is the case, then have a word with Agnes Molnar at Search Explained, who will explain everything.