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Forrester: Enterprise search software limited by user strategy

A Forrester report says organizations looking for an enterprise search tool have plenty of options, but until management considers search fundamental, vendors will continue limiting product focus.

Organizations looking for the right enterprise search software have plenty of options in a mature marketplace, but information and knowledge workers continue to be stymied in their ability to find what they need because of a lack of company strategy and a market that develops increasingly specialized products.

In fact, that lack of strategy or C-level enthusiasm, is what is helping drive vendors to market niche products. Without executive buy-in that enterprise search will lead to greater efficiency, vendors can’t expect to sell a product based on simply making knowledge workers more effective in their day-to-day tasks. And yet, that’s what those workers want.

That’s the thrust of Market Overview: Enterprise Search, a new report from Forrester Research Inc. of Cambridge, Mass. The report is a detailed evaluation of the enterprise search space and concentrates on 12 vendors that vary widely in brand awareness, cost and ease of use. Among them, the report says that Google, Autonomy and Microsoft are the best known brands that, combined, own a large portion of the market.

Few CIOs actually view enterprise search “as a fundamental service to deploy to their workforce,” says the report. So to make sales, vendors are “guilty of over-intellectualizing what search can do.” Because of this, workers often can’t get basic enterprise search.

“It remains a fundamental need,” said Leslie Owens, lead author of the report and a senior analyst in the content and collaboration markets with Forrester. “The repository types people want to get at are mostly text, so it’s the document management system, collaborative workspaces, document files, the content management system.”

Although each of these has search and retrieval capabilities, the repositories represent heterogeneous sources, making enterprise search that ties them together a valuable aspect of a sound information management strategy.

Instead, however, search is often conducted piecemeal or in increasingly compartmentalized fashion.

In its year-long review, Forrester evaluated the vendors according to 10 criteria that included everything from mobile support to text analytics capabilities and from security options to how ready each platform is for language-specific APIs, Web services and customization. The review found that enterprise search products fall into three categories. The first, “specialized search,” includes those niche-focused capabilities that aim to access a particular line of business like HR or a sales department and includes vendors such as Attivio, Coveo, Endeca, Exalead, Sinequa and Vivisimo. The next is referred to as “integrated search” and includes Autonomy, IBM and Microsoft, who fit the category because they have merged search with such things as enterprise content management, analytics and collaboration capabilities. Finally, there’s the “detached search” category of vendors, which includes Google, ISYS and Fabasoft, which have focused on ease of deployment and flexibility.

“Several vendors are developing custom applications for customer service that are interesting because they look at customer service in real time,” Owens said, highlighting one focus among that first group. “Another trend is a regulatory dashboard for financial services companies to mine and analyze all the different regulations that are constantly changing.”

The report has a handful of recommendations for enterprises looking for an enterprise search product: Be firm in search requirements, conduct a proof of concept, hammer out a support and services agreement, meet with the vendor semiannually to update the organization’s plan and understand that technology is just one piece of the search puzzle. It explains that the quality of the “search experience reflects the discipline” with which a group manages its information assets.

According to Owens, a proof of concept for an enterprise search tool need not be complicated.

“Do something very simple,” she said. “Connect to three or five different sources of content and ask the system to query the systems and then evaluate the results.”

The point is to discover whether the information can be sourced, the content enriched by the discoveries, how quickly it happens and whether the product provides strong ranking algorithms.

“There’s a wide range of tools available, everything from straightforward search to more customized approaches, so I tell clients they need to consider how much they want to invest in search and how determined are they to do it well,” Owens said, explaining Forrester’s directive to find a vendor whose approach aligns with a company’s “information management enthusiasm.”

Effective enterprise search “takes time and money and people, and it takes a holistic approach to information management,” Owens added. “Don’t buy a heavy, major solution, if you don’t have the people to deploy it.”

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