The New Lingo of Enterprise Search

August 28, 2019

Enterprise search is back. My Google Alert has been delivering market research reports which tell me that finding information is huge. Plus, there have been some announcements about funding which have surprised me. Examples include:

  • Capacity raised $13.2 million. Source: DarkCyber
  • LucidWorks snagged an additional $100 million. Source: Globe News Wire
  • Squirro pulled in additional funds, but the timing of the Salesforce investment and additional funding of this Zurich based company remains a bit of a mystery. Source: Venture Lab

These are just three examples plucked from my box of note cards about search vendors.

What’s interesting is the lingo, the jargon, and the argot these outfits are using. Frankly the plumbing is usually open source, a fact which the companies bury beneath the blizzard of buzzwords.

Here are some examples:

AI powered

actionable insights

artificial intelligence



connect the dots

data mining


information mining

machine learning

natural language

pattern detection


self learning


The problem with the vendors collecting investment funds are easy to identify:

  1. The content processed is text. The unstructured information in videos, podcasts, messaging apps like WhatsApp, images like chemical structures and engineering drawings, etc. are not included.
  2. Indexing content residing on cloud platforms may work today, but as market dynamics shift, access to that content my be blocked or prohibited by regulations in certain countries
  3. Federation, on-the-fly so that real time information is available remains a challenge which typically requires script fiddling or new content filters
  4. Configuration of “smart” systems is not significantly different from the complex, time consuming, and expensive procedures which added friction to some Autonomy, Convera, Fast Search & Transfer, and similar systems’ deployment
  5. Maintenance is an issue, micro services work well in a low latency environment. Under loads, the magic of sub three second response can disappear
  6. Search remains an idiosyncratic solution. Many departments require specific features. As a result, enterprise search — regardless of the wrappers around open source information retrieval systems — is a series of customizations.

To sum up, enterprise search has failed to deliver for more than 50 years. Despite the optimism that investors have for “finding the next Google”, enterprise search vendors will find themselves hitting a revenue ceiling just as Autonomy, Fast Search, and similar firms did.

The fix was acquisitions and allegations of financial fancy dancing. If we assume that investors still dream of a 10x or higher return, is it possible that LucidWorks can generate sufficient revenue to pull off an IPO or a sale like Exalead, Vivisimo, and other search vendors were able to complete before the hammer fell?

This is an important question because new enterprise search vendors are popping up like mushrooms. The incumbents like Attivio, Coveo, Mindbreeze, and Sinequa are also trying to smash a ball over the fence.

Net net: Enterprise search appears to be putting on the worn slippers last used by the founders of Fast Search & Transfer. Maybe Microsoft will buy another enterprise search vendor? The problem is that enterprise search is easy to make visible with marketing LED lights. Delivering sustainable revenues is a far greater challenge when Amazon is a competitor and a platform enabler.

What happens when Amazon competes more aggressively, raises its prices, or bundles text search into another of its services?

Answer: Nothing particularly beneficial for the investors in new and improved enterprise search solutions based on Lucene/Solr and dusted with disco glitter.

Stephen E Arnold, August 28, 2019


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