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Search market finds its way to consolidation

Two recent acquisitions in the enterprise search market signal a new trend. Will everyone find what they're looking for?

Two recent announcements in the enterprise search market usher in a move toward unstructured text mining and enhanced business intelligence (BI) applications on the part of some big-time vendors.

Last week, IBM announced it will  acquire Bedford, Mass.-based iPhrase Systems Inc. for an undisclosed sum. Then, Autonomy Corp. plc, based in Cambridge, U.K., signed a deal to acquire Verity Inc., of Sunnyvale, Calif.

"I think it's very significant," said Matt Brown, senior analyst from Cambridge, Mass.-based Forrester Research Inc., of the Autonomy-Verity deal. "We're talking about the two biggest and most well-known enterprise search vendors coming together."

At the same time, Brown sees IBM collecting "all of the building blocks" for a full enterprise search application, including its recently announced partnership with Mountain View, Calif.-based Google Inc. for desktop searches. But all this consolidation is not about competing with Google, Brown said.

"On the low end, Google is commoditizing basic keyword search functions," Brown said. The new enterprise search applications are focused on a high-end market niche, addressing the unstructured information management architecture, or UIMA.

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"UIMA adds the ability to add workflow to unstructured content," Brown explained.

Unstructured content is information that might not be neatly contained in database fields. Sources of unstructured information include documents, Web pages, forms and even transcribed phone conversations from call centers. And, ultimately, Brown said, the goal is to be able to include this unstructured information in sophisticated BI applications.

"Verity and Autonomy will continue to try to differentiate and carve out a top tier of the market that's very much more about analytics and dynamic dashboards that show what's happening in a very large set of information," Brown said. But, he added, "IBM has the most check boxes as far as what they control: database, workplace, integration with analytics …Verity and Autonomy don't have the infrastructure pieces."

Despite that, Brown called the Verity-Autonomy deal a "compelling proposition," citing the potential ability for the combination to offer very advanced functions and next generation applications.

However, Brown and other analysts caution that this might take time.

"Verity and Autonomy certainly have complementary holdings that can be mixed and matched to create attractive new products. But integrating existing products, especially such technically complex and inherently different search engines, will not be so easy, and it will take time," wrote Susan Feldman, a research vice president of IDC, in a recent release.

In the meantime, expect to hear more about enterprise search. Feldman forecasts that the search market in five years will be "vastly different."

"I'd be surprised if there weren't more consolidation," Feldman said later in a phone interview. "Large players are entering the market and search is a very necessary piece of any information architecture … for reasons of compliance, efficiency and risk mitigation -- any of the large infrastructure players are going to have to have a search module as part of their platforms."

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