Study of Enterprise Search

March 12, 2011

Research vendors, magazines owned by consulting firms, and dozens of “experts” just keep explaining why search is an issue. I find these reports fascinating because each purports to explain what enterprise search is, provide profiles to six, 12 or in this case more than 30 vendors’ products. The information involves opinion, surveys, and rehashes of previous reports. I am old enough (66) and jaded from more than three decades of laboring in the online vineyards to view these reports with a curious frame of mind and amusement.

You can get a synopsis of a longer report in the Information Week story “Go Rogue with Enterprise Search.” What? “Go Rogue?” Before I read the four part article I wondered how a key function like finding an electronic document or other information object is “rogue.” My understanding of rogue is “a deceitful or unreliable scoundrel” or the Australian horror film about tourists who are pursued by a giant crocodile.


Source: Graph Jam, where consultants often get their graphs.

Search or finding needed information is too important to be slapped with the “rogue” moniker. But that is my opinion, and you may well find that “rogue” is the perfect description for what enterprise search has become in today’s marketing-centric world. Like other enterprise applications, the software system may be difficult to put under a simple, clear explanation of what happens upon installation.

Please, read the Information Week story and sign up for the full report.

Here’s my view of three key points in the write up.

First, here’s a factoid that I don’t understand.

Despite more than a decade of product development aimed at helping companies find information across their networks, a paltry 22% of the 433 business technology professionals polled in InformationWeek Analytics’ Search 2011 survey have purchased the technology. That’s down from 24% in our 2008 survey.

In a sample of about 600, if the research my team has conducted over the years is accurate, search is available in virtually every organization. The trick, of course, is the word “enterprise.” Instead of one search system, most organizations have five or more. Our work reveals that search is embedded in:

  1. Desktop operating systems which can index or retrieve information on certain network devices. In a small office, that’s enterprise search.
  2. Most enterprise applications—whether cloud centric like, enterprise applications like a legacy Ironside for the old AS/400 or more modern systems from SAP, and specialized solutions that perform sentiment analysis or data fusion—perform search and retrieval. One cannot escape search, and our research suggests that is one of the problems. Users have to figure out where information is and then make the provided search function deliver what’s needed. Needless to say, dissatisfaction runs anywhere from 50 to 75 percent among users of “search”. No surprise because search is ubiquitous in the enterprise: any size enterprise!
  3. Search has been around for more than a decade. In fact, the present big dog Autonomy opened up for business in 1995. Let’s see. That is 16 years ago, but the surprise is that Autonomy was not the first enterprise search service. There was the STAIRS III system (now called SearchManager/370 as I seem to recall)which dates from the late 1970s, and there were demonstration systems running under US government grants in the late 1960s. Enterprise search has been around a long time and there have been changes, but these innovations have served to cause search system and search application proliferation. There is tremendous confusion among licensees. The result is that vendors have morphed into providers of solutions that are easier to describe and sell. Yep, still search, just dressed up in different clothes.


Information Week’s advice won’t extricate most organizations from the search maze in which each employee is now caught. Search is ubiquitous, not unavailable. Source:

Second, the article points out that there is dissatisfaction. The causes of the dissatisfaction are interesting because no single point of dissatisfaction irritates more than 25 percent of the sample. The big annoyance is that a system returns “irrelevant data.” Interesting. Our research suggests that the problem is not with the search system. The problem is often with the information available to the search system. Here’s the situation. An employee updates a document in a content management system like Documentum. The employee uses the enterprise search system—say, SharePoint Fast or the relative newcomer Sophia Search. The user cannot find the document. The user can find the document in Documentum, but not in the enterprise search system. What’s up? The organization has not put in place a reliable method for taking the most current instance of the Documentum document, pushing it into the search system’s content processing subsystems, and then building a sufficiently robust search infrastructure to get the index updated in near real time. As a result, search sucks for this employee’s query, but is it the search vendors’ fault? Nope. The problem is the specification, the plumbing, and the implementation. Great software like the Pulse reader on the iPad works because of close integration of the many parts. Enterprise search rarely gets this type of attention. How do you fix “irrelevant data”? Well, you don’t. You get the necessary data into the search system, deploy the plumbing, and make certain the search system meets the specification. When these steps are taken, any of the modern search systems will deliver on point information. I know this is a shocking statement to most people, including so called experts. But the fault in a complex system resides from specification to upgrades. Get a step wrong and the system will not just output irrelevant information. The system will output missing or incorrect data. Every get involved in a redo of a financial statement because the “wrong numbers” were picked up from the “wrong” Excel sheet? Sure, why not blame search vendors. Easy.

Third, here’s a passage that shows what is “state of the art” in information about enterprise search:

Bottom line, lack of search is quietly sapping productivity, and that problem could get worse. So now that we’ve offered an action plan, we’ll leave you with this point: The real problem with enterprise search isn’t the technology or the end users; it’s IT’s willingness to tackle the issue.

Yikes. Notice that the “research” report now shifts the burden to the information technology professionals in an organization. The problem has zero to do with information technology. The problem has to do with a general failure among management and the individuals responsible for the specifications, the procurement, and the day to day involvement with the deployment of the “findability” system. In most firms, the information technology department works with a vendor and probably a professional services team. The IT department can do little to correct a search deployment that gets off on a flawed statement of the problem that is being solved. That’s why next generation vendors like Exalead and a handful of others talk about a search enabled application. The successful firms define a problem and then solve the problem. Search is there, but it is an enabler, not the one size fits all solution that seems to influence the Information Week analysis.

A final observation. I did not see any information about open source search, data fusion, semantics, or other next generation content processing and access methods. I think I must have missed something in the Information Week write up. My hunch is that 30 somethings have no such discomfort. So, three points. There were others, so I will make a suggestion. Read the interviews with search engine executives at Free and useful information. There are about 50 interviews about enterprise and related “findability” challenges.

PS. Charlie Hull was quoted in the Information Week write up but the Information Week production team was too busy to include the url for FLAX. It is But “real” journalists and “real” consultants don’t have time for links.

Stephen E Arnold, March 12, 2011



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