Another Good Enough Challenge to Proprietary Enterprise Search

December 8, 2014

The protestations of the enterprise search vendors in hock for tens of millions to venture funders will get louder. The argument is that proprietary search solutions are just better.

Navigate to “Postgres Full-Text Search Is Good Enough!” This has been the mantra of some of the European Community academics for a number of years. I gave a talk at CeBIT a couple of years ago and noted that the proprietary vendors were struggling to deliver a coherent and compelling argument. Examples of too-much-chest-beating came from speakers representing and Exalead and a handful of consultants. See, for example,

The point of the “Postgres Good Enough” article strikes me as:

Search has became an important feature and we’ve seen a big increase in the popularity of tools like Elasticsearch and SOLR which are both based on Lucent. They are great tools but before going down the road of Weapons of Mass Search, maybe what you need is something a bit lighter which is simply good enough! What do you I mean by ‘good enough’? I mean a search engine with the following features: stemming, ranking/boost, multiple languages, fuzzy search, accent support. Luckily PostgreSQL supports all these features.

So not only are the proprietary systems dismissed, so are the open source solutions that are at the core of a number of commercialization ventures.

I don’t want to argue with the premise. What is important is that companies trying to market enterprise search solutions now have to convince a buyer why good enough is not good enough.

For decades, enterprise search vendors have been engaged in a Cold War style escalation. With each feature addition from one vendor (Autonomy), other vendors pile on more features (Endeca).

The result is that enterprise search tries to push value on customers, not delivering solutions that are valued by customers.

The “good enough” argument is one more example of a push back against the wild and crazy jumbles of code that most enterprise search vendors offer.

The good news is that good enough search is available, and it should be used. In fact, next generation information access solution vendors are including “good enough” search in robust enterprise applications.

What is interesting is that the venture funding firms seem content to move executives in and out of companies not hitting their numbers. Examples include Attivio and LucidWorks (really?). Other vendors are either really quiet or out of business like Dieselpoint and Hakia. I pointed out that the wild and crazy revenue targets for HP Autonomy and IBM Watson are examples of what happens when marketing takes precedent over what a system can do and how many customers are available to generate billions for these big outfits.

Attention needs to shift to “good enough” and to NGIA (next generation information access) vendors able to make sales, generate sustainable revenue, and solve problems that matter.

Displaying a results list is not high on the list of priorities for many organizations. And when search becomes job one, that is a signal the company may not have diagnosed its technological needs accurately. I know there are many mid tier consultants and unemployed webmasters who wish my statements were not accurate. Alas, reality can be a harsh task master or mistress.

Stephen E Arnold, December 8, 2014


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