Search Coincidence in a Comic Strip

October 28, 2008

I received a telephone call early this morning. The caller asked me, “Have you seen the Dilbert comic strip in this morning’s paper?” It was 6 45 am on October 28, 2008. I hadn’t seen anything except the blinking of the mobile phone next to my nest of reeds in Harrod’s Creek, Kentucky. You can view the strip at the official site here. The set up is a meeting with an employee suggesting that the company make a plan. Then a policeman arrives with the picture of the employee who made the suggestion. The punch line is “Sigh. There goes another employee of the month.” The humor is that an employee is wanted by the police. Imagination or reality? Sadly, I think it is a reality and in the business sector known as enterprise search.

My early morning caller asked me, “Do you think that the Dilbert comic strip was about the Microsoft Fast police raid?” I said, “Nope.”

I thought about this question and realized that I was not amused with the suggestion. Enterprise search–despite efforts to sidestep the user dissatisfaction issue–has fallen on hard times. Mercado recently sold for a bit more than its 2007 revenues and what appears to be less than its seed money from investors. seems to be struggling. Entopia and Delphes have encountered sales friction. Rumors abound about other search and content processing companies gasping for oxygen. One US company tallied $6.0 million in sales in the July, August, September quarter with more than 30 sales people beating the bushes. The $6.0 figure is less than 10 percent of the company’s 2007 annual revenue, which may or may not be indicative of a problem to the owners. The $6.0 million just looks modest from my hollow in Kentucky. That $6.0 million in revenue may not cover the cost of the sales team’s salaries, benefits, and expenses. Anther vendor in the UK is allegedly losing half of its sales staff every few months due to punishing sales quotas which cannot be met. Instead of adjusting the prices or the offer, the company gets a new batch of peddlers. Conferences devoted to the subject are superficial, leaving attendees and exhibitors disgruntled. One conference is alleged to have attracted 60 paying attendees. That’s okay for a shindig in Louisville, Kentucky, but not in a major city. In fact, a weekday business conference rural Kentucky attracts nearly as many attendees. Efforts to revivify the subject of “enterprise search” end up showcasing isolated examples of a search success.

And one major vendor of search appliances is now using a major consumer products company as a sales vehicle, glossing over the time and technical challenges required to make the system deliver jaw dropping cost savings the system allegedly delivers. I wonder if that consumer product company’s legal counsel knows about this interesting marketing tactic? Most large firms don’t talk about their software systems to keep competitors from finding out what’s in use and some vendors’ license agreements stipulate that the customer cannot talk about the vendor’s system.

Search is a utility, and a search success is often an isolated example in the midst of many problematic installations. As long as the pipes don’t leak, the plumbing is declared okay. My hunch is that high profile vendors will enter 2009 without a backward glance at slow payments, legal actions, and annoyed licensees. The October 28, 2008, Dilbert cartoon is a reminder that vendor impropriety is now a matter for the comics.

Stephen Arnold, October 28, 2008,


8 Responses to “Search Coincidence in a Comic Strip”

  1. Martin Griffies on October 28th, 2008 3:49 pm

    Having been a victim of unmeetable sales quotas from an enterprise search provider in the past, I can only sympathise with the poor guys who are having their careers wrecked by overoptimistic & short-sighted management.

    But the Dilbert cartoon is more likely about the madness of multiple-level planning “plan the plan’s planny plan” instead of execution, and the new employee is being taken away by a psychiatric nurse rather than policeman.

  2. Shaun Ryan on October 28th, 2008 3:56 pm

    Stephen – I thought you’d like to hear from one enterprise search company that is thriving at the moment. Here at SLI we had our best quarter ever last quarter – both in terms of revenue and new customers. We are closer in size to Mercado than Endeca or Fast and they were one of our closest competitors. Unlike Mercado we are cashflow positive. Their demise, along with poor execution from one of our other competitors has helped us. Even in this tumultuous month we are signing up customers every week (3 so far this week). These are small but profitable deals.

    One of the reasons for our success is our pure SaaS model – where we install and run the search for all of our customers and let them try it before they start paying. This means that we ensure that the customers’ searches works well and that they are happy.

  3. Stephen E. Arnold on October 28th, 2008 7:46 pm

    Shaun Ryan,

    Thanks for the post. I am thrilled you are doing well. I’m tired of bad news, comic strips about crooks in companies, and financial fast dancing. Must be the influence of the lambs?

    Stephen Arnold, October 28, 2008

  4. Stephen E. Arnold on October 28th, 2008 7:47 pm


    Thanks for your post. I wish there were a way to extend support to sales professionals who get crushed by nutso quotas.

    Stephen Arnold, October 28, 2008

  5. Charlie Hull on October 29th, 2008 5:22 am

    We’re also doing pretty well, with our best quarter just gone, and we’re also using a novel business model like SLI – ours is open source.

    I think we’re seeing a huge change in how customers regard search. Talking to people at the E-commerce Expo show in London yesterday there was a distinct lack of tolerance for vendors who can’t scale, who cost too much or lack features.

  6. Stephen E. Arnold on October 29th, 2008 8:58 am

    Charlie Hull,

    Yes, i know you are. Your model is a good one. But I write the Web log as a way to capture my thoughts. I’m not a journalist, nor do I pretend to operate as a real publication. That’s why I use the addled goose as my mouthpiece. I realize now that this Web log is marketing and some people (thousands, surprisingly) turn to it for real information. What’s the world coming to?

    Stephen Arnold, October 29, 2008

  7. SLI is in a strong position : SLI Systems Blog on November 5th, 2008 4:18 pm

    […] Even in these difficult financial times we are growing strongly. Last quarter was the best quarter we’ve ever had in terms of new customers and the first month of this quarter was the best month we’ve had in over a year. We expect that most of our customers’ business will continue to grow and we are still hiring staff and investing in improving our service. Our situation has been helped by the demise of one of our competitors, Mercado and by the extremely poor attention to customer service of some of our other competitors. There is speculation that other search companies are struggling. […]

  8. ThanxMedia - a word of warning : SLI Systems Blog on November 9th, 2008 10:06 pm

    […] It smells a little of desperation to me. Endeca may be one of the enterprise search companies that Stephen Arnold suggested was in trouble – they did have to raise more capital earlier this […]

  • Archives

  • Recent Posts

  • Meta