Exalead Acquired by Dassault

June 11, 2010

I have done some work for Exalead over the last five years, and I have gone down in history as one of the few people from Kentucky to talk my way into the Exalead offices in Paris without an appointment. L’horreur. I had a bucket of KY Fry in my hand and was guzzling a Coca Lite.

Out of that exciting moment in American courtesy, I met François Bourdoncle, a former AltaVista.com wizard. He watched in horror as I gobbled a crispy leg and asked him about the origins of Exalead, his work with then-Googler Louis Monier, and his vision for 64 bit computing. I wrote up some of the information in the first edition of the Enterprise Search Report, a publication now shaped into a quasi-New Age Cliff’s Notes for the under 30 crowd. I followed up with M. Bourdoncle in February 2008, and published that interview as part of the ArnoldIT.com Search Wizards Speak series. The last time I was in Paris, I dropped by the Exalead offices and had a nice chat. I even made a video. Several Exaleaders took me to dinner, pointing out that McDo was not an option. Rats.


So what’s with the sale of Exalead to Dassault Systèmes?

The azure chip crowd has weighed in, and I will ignore those observations. There is some spectacular baloney being converted into expensive consulting burgers, and I will leave you and them to your intellectual picnic.

Here’s my take:


There are lots of outfits asserting that their search and content processing system will work wonders. I don’t want to list these companies, but you can find them by navigating either to Google.com or Exalead.com/search and running a query for enterprise search. The problem is that most of these outfits come with what I call an “interesting history.” Examples range from natural language processing companies that have been created from the ashes of not-so-successful search vendors to Frankenstein companies created with “no cash mergers.” I know. Wild, right. Other companies have on going investigations snapping like cocker spaniels at their heels. A few are giant roll ups, in effect, 21st century Ling Temco Vought clones. A few are delivering solid value for specific applications. I can cite examples in XML search, eDiscovery, and enhancements for the Google constructs. (Okay, I will mention my son’s company, Adhere Solutions, a leader in this Google space.)

The point for me is that Exalead combined a number of working functions into a platform. The platform delivers search enabled applications; that is, the licensee has an information problem and doesn’t know how to cope with costs, data flows, and the need for continuous index updating. The Exalead technology makes it easy to suck in information and give different users access to the information they need to do their job. For some Exalead customers, the solution allows people to track packages and shipments. For other licensees, the Exalead technology sucks in information and generates reports in the form of restaurant reviews or competitive profiles. The terminology is less important than solving the problem.

That’s a key differentiator.


Google and Exalead were two outfits able to learn from the mistakes at AltaVista.com. Early on I learned that the founder of Exalead could have become a Googler. The reason Exalead exists is that M. Bourdoncle wanted to build a French company in France without the wackiness that goes along with tackling this mission in the US of A. Americans don’t fully understand the French, and I can’t do much more than remind you, gentle reader, that French waiters behave a certain way because of the “approach” many Americans make to the task of getting a jambon sandwich and a bottle of water.

I understood that M. Bourdoncle wanted to do the job his way, and he focused on coding for a 64 bit world when there were few 64 bit processors in the paws of enterprise information technology departments. He tackled a number of tough technical problems in order to make possible high performance, low cost scaling, and mostly painless tailoring of the system to information problems, not just search. Sure, search is part of the DNA, but Exalead has connectors, text to voice, image recognition, etc. And, happily, Exalead’s approach plays well with other enterprise systems. Exalead can add value with less engineering hassles than some of the firm’s competitors can. Implementation can be done in days or weeks, and sometimes months, not years like some vendors require.

So the plumbing is good.

That’s a high value asset.


Exalead has some interesting customers. These range from IBM’s PriceWaterhouseCoopers operation worldwide to the French postal service. In between are Web sites, shipping companies, and hundreds of other organizations who have found that the Exalead technology delivers at a price point that makes sense.

These customers, however, are getting payoffs from the Exalead system. I spoke with one UK client whom I thought worked for Exalead. At the Online Meeting in December 2009, the cheer leader ran a real estate site. After listening to his pitch, I asked, “Who is your boss at Exalead?” The fellow looked confused and replied, “I am a customer.”

There you have it.

That’s a heck of a lot better than learning from Martin White and me that most enterprise search and content processing systems disappoint their users. Exalead seems to turn frowns into happy faces.

Bottom Line

It is no secret that outfits like Oracle, SAP (including the Sybase search functionality), and Symantec – to name three – lack a next-generation search system. Each of these outfits has been kicking tires. Autonomy is rumored to be too expensive. Endeca has the problem of hitting a revenue “glass ceiling”. ISYS Search is too small. IBM has allegedly embraced open source search and, therefore, has its solution along with partnerships with most vendors of substance. Microsoft nuked $1.2 billion with its purchase of the Fast Search & Transfer search system. (Microsoft is now working like a beaver to make this expenditure pay off. To make life interesting for Microsoft, it has to watch a stampeding herd of SharePoint search competitors choking the aisles at Microsoft’s customer conferences.)

In short, if a big outfit wants to control its information processing destiny, buy a player.


A screenshot from my SLA talk about real time content. This is the iPhone app for the Exalead powered Urbanizer.com site in Canada. Image provided to ArnoldIT.com by Exalead. Not for reproduction or reuse without the permission of Exalead.

Dassault bought Exalead for a somewhere between US$150 and US$200 million. Was this a good move?

Yep, and for three reasons:

  1. Dassault was fed up with its existing search solutions. Out goes the old system which I heard was Autonomy IDOL and in comes the Exalead engine. I think this is a smart move and gives Dassault control over its search, content processing, and search enable applications for itself. Self interest is a useful trait I suggest.
  2. Dassault can use the Exalead technology in lots of places. Exalead is cloud centric, and that’s going to pay big dividends to Dassault and its existing customers.
  3. Dassault can develop new solutions around the Exalead framework. With Exalead’s method, application and user experience customization becomes much easier and quicker.


Can the deal go south? Sure. Will this happen? I suppose it could but because I know the players at Exalead, I can say with confidence that the Exalead team will make an effort to deliver. The French engineers and a few rocket scientists from other countries are a focused group of problem solvers. M. Bourdoncle himself is human laser beam when it illuminates a target.

And what about Dassault’s competitors?

Well, those outfits need to get their search and content processing house in order. There are some potential winners for sale. What about Oracle, SAP, and other enterprise outfits with solutions that have a bit of rust inside the fenders? These outfits will have to address search and content processing because Google is going to make life tough for these companies.

Is Exalead the perfect search system?


No system is perfect because the problems of human language create a moving target for information retrieval as a discipline. Is Exalead going to be a factor in the search and content processing market? Yes. I think that Dassault will keep the brand alive and add muscle to the Exalead sales and marketing team.

Will the addled goose get a demo and meal from Dassault Exalead next time he is in Paris? Who knows. I hope so.

Related blog posts:

Sinequa: http://jean-ferre-blog.blogspot.com/2010/06/exalead-bought-by-dassault-systemes-for.html

Mark Logic: http://www.kellblog.com/2010/06/09/quick-take-on-the-dassault-acquisition-of-exalead/

Stephen E Arnold, June 11, 2010

Freebie but I want a McDo next time I am at La Madeleine.


2 Responses to “Exalead Acquired by Dassault”

  1. Podcast Interview with Paul Doscher, Part 3: Exalead and User Experience : Beyond Search on June 28th, 2010 12:03 am

    […] services company Dassault, is entering a new phase of growth. (You can read about this tie up in “Exalead Acquired by Dassault” and “Exalead and Dassault Tie Up, Users […]

  2. Exalead and Mobile Search : Beyond Search on July 5th, 2010 12:02 am

    […] engineering firms acquired Exalead earlier this year. You can read about the acquisition in “Exalead Acquired by Dassault” and “Exalead and Dassault Tie Up, Users […]

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