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Enterprise Search: Fee Versus Free

I read a pretty darned amazing article “Is Free Enterprise Search a Game Changer?” My initial reaction was, “Didn’t the game change with the failures of flagship enterprise search systems?” And “Didn’t the cost and complexity of many enterprise search deployments fuel the emergence of the free and open source information retrieval systems?”

Many proprietary vendors are struggling to generate sustainable revenues and pay back increasingly impatient stakeholders. The reality is that the proprietary enterprise search “survivors” fear meeting the fate of  Convera, Delphes, Entopia, Perfect Search, Siderean Software, TREX, and other proprietary vendors. These outfits went away.

image

Many vendors of proprietary enterprise search systems have left behind an environment in which revenues are simply not sustainable. Customers learned some painful lessons after licensing brand name enterprise search systems and discovering the reality of their costs and functionality. A happy quack to http://bit.ly/1AMHBL6 for this image of desolation.

Other vendors, faced with mounting costs and zero growth in revenues, sold their enterprise search companies. The spate of sell outs that began in the mid 2000s were stark evidence that delivering information retrieval systems to commercial and governmental organizations was difficult to make work.

Consider these milestones:

Autonomy sold to Hewlett Packard. HP promptly wrote off billions of dollars and launched a fascinating lawsuit that blamed Autonomy for the deal. HP quickly discovered that Autonomy, like other complex content processing companies, was difficult to sell, difficult to support, and difficult to turn into a billion dollar baby.

Convera, the product of Excalibur’s scanning legacy and ConQuest Software, captured some big deals in the US government and with outfits like the NBA. When the system did not perform like a circus dog, the company wound down. One upside for Convera alums was that they were able to set up a consulting firm to keep other companies from making the Convera-type mistakes. The losses were measured in the tens of millions.

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Interviews

Elasticsearch: A Platform for Third Party Revenue

Making money from search and content processing is difficult. One company has made a breakthrough. You can learn how Mark Brandon, one of the founders of QBox, is using the darling of the open source search world to craft a robust findability business.

I interviewed Mr. Brandon, a graduate of the University of Texas as Austin, shortly after my return from a short trip to Europe. Compared with the state of European search businesses, Elasticsearch and QBox are on to what diamond miners call a “pipe.”

In the interview, which is part of the Search Wizards Speak series, Mr. Brandon said:

We offer solutions that work and deliver the benefits of open source technology in a cost-effective way. Customers are looking for search solutions that actually work.

Simple enough, but I have ample evidence that dozens and dozens of search and content  processing vendors are unable to generate sufficient revenue to stay in business. Many well known firms would go belly up without continual infusions of cash from addled folks with little knowledge of search’s history and a severe case of spreadsheet fever.

Qbox’s approach pivots on Elasticsearch. Mr. Brandon said:

When our previous search product proved to be too cumbersome, we looked for an alternative to our initial system. We tested Elasticsearch and built a cluster of Elasticsearch servers. We could tell immediately that the Elasticsearch system was fast, stable, and customizable. But we love the technology because of its built-in distributed nature, and we felt like there was room for a hosted provider, just as Cloudant is for CouchDB, Mongolab and MongoHQ are for MongoDB, Redis Labs is for Redis, and so on. Qbox is a strong advocate for Elasticsearch because we can tailor the system to customer requirements, confident the system makes information more findable for users.

When I asked where Mr. Brandon’s vision for functional findablity came from, he told me about an experience he had at Oracle. Oracle owns numerous search systems, ranging from the late 1980s Artificial Linguistics’ system to somewhat newer systems like the late 1990s Endeca system, and the newer technologies from Triple Hop. Combine these with the SES technology and the hybrid InQuira formed from two faltering NLP systems, and Oracle has some hefty investments.

Here’s Mr. Brandon’s moment of insight:

During my first week at Oracle, I asked one of my colleagues if they could share with me the names of the middleware buyer contacts at my 50 or so named accounts. One colleague said, “certainly”, and moments later an Excel spreadsheet popped into my inbox. I was stunned. I asked him if he was aware that “Excel is a Microsoft technology and we are Oracle.” He said, “Yes, of course.” I responded, “Why don’t you just share it with me in the CRM System?” (the CRM was, of course, Siebel, an Oracle product). He chortled and said, “Nobody uses the CRM here.” My head exploded. I gathered my wits to reply back, “Let me get this straight. We make the CRM software and we sell it to others. Are you telling me we don’t use it in-house?” He shot back, “It’s slow and unusable, so nobody uses it.” As it turned out, with around 10 million corporate clients and about 50 million individual names, if I had to filter for “just middleware buyers”, “just at my accounts”, “in the Northeast”, I could literally go get a cup of coffee and come back before the query was finished. If I added a fourth facet, forget it. The CRM system would crash. If it is that bad at the one of the world’s biggest software companies, how bad is it throughout the enterprise?

You can read the full interview at http://bit.ly/1mADZ29. Information about QBox is at www.qbox.com.

Stephen E Arnold, July 2, 2014

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