I had a briefing from a vendor that is a strong contender for a piece of the enterprise search market this week. The offering is impressive, other reviews have given it high technical marks and the pricing model is reasonable. But because I am currently immersed in the deployment of another enterprise search engine with a client, the issue of vendor client relationship is foremost in my focus.

I asked the CEO of this relatively new offering, what are the fundamental assumptions his company makes about customer technology environments (e.g. the mix of software applications, hardware environment) and the competencies required to integrate his software with that environment. His answer was given strictly in terms of what the IT staff needs to know to bring the product online. My question did have several levels of complexity and was probably badly phrased but I was trying to make a point by asking it.

There are three specific elements missing from search vendors:

  • Documentation or explicit models for deployment in environments where there are numerous technological variables to be considered
  • Availability of training that takes into consideration the context for enterprise search in a specific customer’s organization
  • Frank discussions with customers that set expectations about deployment and implementation, potential bottlenecks, and the need for experienced searchers, search analysts and subject matter experts on the team with the IT group

Downloading software and using automatic installers has become routine; with the launch of a menu and a few simple clicks on boxes on an administrative screen, vendors can claim “out-of-the-box” functionality. Never mind that what you find when you first search your targeted domain is nonsensical, the software finds “stuff.”

The IT guys are happy because it was easy to install, met their architecture requirement and, knowing little about the actual corpus of content, they are satisfied that everything works.

I am in a bit of a pickle with the current project, software from another vendor, because:

  • What the documentation says will happen when I make certain choices in the set-up does not, in fact, happen when a search is executed
  • My attempts through email and phone to schedule training have gone unanswered
  • My messages to the support service citing problems also get no response

I’ve only spent two weeks trying to get this software working but three weeks ago, on a holiday, I got a briefing from two executives from this firm because they were “going to be in the area” and wanted face time with a search analyst. Knowing my role as an analyst and as a client you would think they’d answer my phone calls.
What is it that makes the customer experience so easily ignored? All these products look great in demos; what is under the hood is often technologically wonderful but, boy, getting them to work in my environment always seems to be one long nightmare. I wish I could find out what I really need to know. A terrific search engine might help.