Curated for content, computing, and digital experience professionals

Day: February 1, 2008

Search Behind the Firewall aka Enterprise Search

Called to account for the nomenclature “enterprise search,” which is my area of practice for The Gilbane Group, I will confess that the term has become as tiresome as any other category to which the marketplace gives full attention. But what is in a name, anyway? It is just a label and should not be expected to fully express every attribute it embodies. A year ago I defined it to mean any search done within the enterprise with a primary focus of internal content. “Enterprise” can be an entire organization, division, or group with a corpus of content it wants to have searched comprehensively with a single search engine.

A search engine does not need to be exclusive of all other search engines, nor must it be deployed to crawl and index every single repository in its path to be referred to as enterprise search. There are good and justifiable reasons to leave select repositories un-indexed that go beyond even security concerns, implied by the label “search behind the firewall.” I happen to believe that you can deploy enterprise search for enterprises that are quite open with their content and do not keep it behind a firewall (e.g. government agencies, or not-for-profits). You may also have enterprise search deployed with a set of content for the public you serve and for the internal audience. If the content being searched is substantively authored by the members of the organization or procured for their internal use, enterprise search engines are the appropriate class of products to consider. As you will learn from my forthcoming study, Enterprise Search Markets and Applications: Capitalizing on Emerging Demand, and that of Steve Arnold (Beyond Search) there are more than a lot of flavors out there, so you’ll need to move down the food chain of options to get it right for the application or problem you are trying to solve.

OK! Are you yet convinced that Microsoft is pitting itself squarely against Google? The Yahoo announcement of an offer to purchase for something north of $44 billion makes the previous acquisition of FAST for $1.2 billion pale. But I want to know how this squares with IBM, which has a partnership with Yahoo in the Yahoo edition of IBM’s OmniFind. This keeps the attorneys busy. Or may-be Microsoft will buy IBM, too.

Finally, this dog fight exposed in the Washington Post caught my eye, or did one of the dogs walk away with his tail between his legs? Google slams Autonomy – now, why would they do that?

I had other plans for this week’s blog but all the Patriots Super Bowl talk puts me in the mode for looking at other competitions. It is kind of fun.

So What is this New Blog (and Practice) About?

Well as the name of the blog suggests, the focus is on both technology and strategy. We have been at this long enough to come to the stunning conclusion that technology adoptions minus well-thought-out and sound business strategies are doomed to failure. (Now you know why we get paid the big bucks!) While obvious, the conclusion is also true. I have had the luxury of consulting with several clients over a long period of time. I like to think they are successful because they listen to me (and they do), but the bigger reason they are successful is that they use my input to inform well thought out business strategies. Sometimes these are operational (they want to save money, improve efficiency), but more often they are about the top line. They want to drive more revenue.

For commercial publishers this means bringing more product to market more quickly, customizing products, and developing derivative products (think of offerings like SafariU). For enterprises, this is also tied to bringing more product to market more quickly; think of a company like Autodesk using XML-based publishing and globalization to bring more products to more markets simultaneously. These are world-class projects based on XML that are bringing incredible value to their organizations, but–even more significantly–these are not the only efforts of their kind. Whereas in the early days of SGML the community could count projects of this type in perhaps the low double digits, I have long ago given up on trying to remember or catalog how many of these projects are out there backed by XML technology.

But not every project is as successful as the ones I have cited. Indeed these stand out as case studies of the best practices. Projects do fail and projects do falter, and I will reveal my bias here in saying that, especially in the recent few years, few projects fail because of the chosen technology. (All complex systems require significant customization! Who would have thunk it?) Much more often they fail because of problems with project management, lack of sufficient staffing, and shifting plans and execution when the inevitable problems arise. And these kinds of failures come right back to a failure in strategy, or at least a failure in realistically planning for a complex undertaking that is critical to organizational success.
So content strategies are indeed a critical half of this practice, but technology is the other half. Here as well a comparison to SGML is in order. Whereas in the days of SGML there were few vendors at the table, now there are literally scores. Even more importantly, none of the major vendors are missing, and one can make the argument that the major vendors are–or soon will be–the dominant players in the market. XML is central to the product and development platform strategies of Microsoft, Oracle, IBM, Sun, Adobe, and EMC. One can only speculate at the level of R&D dedicated to XML at these companies, but it is safe to say it is a lot. Just as impressive is the community of developers who work in XML daily. Most programmers working in contemporary languages like Java and C# use XML for all kinds of routine tasks, and XML data mapping and modeling tools are built into Visual Studio and many other development tools.

To be more specific, we intend to cover what we categorize as the range of XML products of most interest to business and IT professionals responsible for content management initiatives. These include:

  • XML Repositories
  • XML Content Management Platforms
  • XML Editors
  • XML Transformation and Publishing Tools
  • XML Utilities, Middleware, and IDEs
  • XML Forms

Among other things, we will be developing an online directory of these product lines (more on that in a future post). I have been informally cataloging the companies over the recent few weeks and I already have 60 to 70 companies without trying very hard. We expect to interact with these vendors, get details of the products and product roadmaps, and also work with them when appropriate on product strategy and projects like white papers and case studies.

So that’s the news so far from here. Do get in touch if you have any questions, ideas, or complaints!

Beyond Search and Search

As many of you know from our press release at Gilbane Boston, two of the reports we will be publishing in the next few of months have to do with search. Lynda Moulton, who runs our Enterprise Search consulting practice is working on Enterprise Search Markets and Applications: Capitalizing on Emerging Demand, and our colleague Steve Arnold is writing Beyond Search: What to do When you’re Enterprise Search System Doesn’t Work. Lynda’s report covers the “Enterprise Search” market, what organizations are doing with the variety of technologies considered to be enterprise search products, and what their experiences have been. By the way Lynda is collecting experiences about implementations and would love to hear about yours.

Steve’s report is a look at what is coming next, and is largely, but not only, based on an analysis of what Google is doing, what they are planning on doing, and the emerging ecosystem they are creating. This is fascinating stuff. Steve has recently launched a must-read blog, Beyond Search, where you can get a peek at some of what will be in our report. For example, see his thoughts on enterprise search terminology.

Both reports will be important tools for enterprise IT strategists and executives. We’ll keep you posted on their progress.

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