Enterprise Search Crisis

Check out this blog post on ZDnet, entitled “Enterprise Search: Why it’s a Crisis and Googzilla will Strike,” which is a series of takeaways from Stephen Arnold’s recent presentation at Enterprise Search Summit in New York.

The parts I agree with are:

  • It’s a crisis. I continue to believe there is generally low customer satisfaction with enterprise search and it seems to come from a combination of expectations management and post-sale delivery. As one enterprise search alumnus I know says: “At [enterprise search vendor X], we sold a Ferrari. However, we just dumped the pieces on your driveway and you had to assemble it.”
  • Over-positioning enterprise search as a silver bullet. I see a lot of this. Enterprise search vendors claim today that they can do everything from finding documents (the original purpose) to detecting money laundering to BI reporting to merchandising so you can sell more polo shirts to data warehousing to legal compliance and beyond. One vendor pitches 30 different solutions, each as a silver bullet, I’d suppose.
  • Complexity and cost. Enterprise search vendors charge a lot of money for their wares and they are certainly complex to configure, use — and in some cases — understand. (Think Bayesian inferencing.)
  • That all this creates a great opportunity for Google to step in and sweep up some serious market share.

However, I think I have different take at the macro level. Simply put, I think enterprise search is stuck between a rock and a hard place.

  • The rock is database management systems. Many search solutions are integrations of relational databases with search engines along with templates for specific applications. While many search vendors are trying to reposition their products as application platforms, they’re not. Tying together MySQL, search engine X, and some pre-processing logic so you can properly feed the search engine indexer is not a great “platform” on which to build applications. Databases are much better application platforms and the real problem has been that databases, until recently, didn’t do content. But as new generations of database management systems — like MarkLogic — emerge, it will become increasingly clear that the platform for content applications should not be an enterprise search engine (bolted to other things), but instead a database management system built to natively handle content.
  • The hard place is the Google Appliance. There will always be a need for “Google inside your company” type search. I call this the “crawl and index” value proposition. Given cost and complexity, I can’t see why Google won’t sweep up most of the market here. (I just wish they could do better with PDFs and email.)

You can find the full text of Stephen’s speech here.

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