Just in from Information Week is this article (Exclusive: IBM Reorganizes Software Group ) that prompted me to launch 2010 with some thoughts on where we are heading with enterprise search this year. When IBM does something dramatic it impacts the industry because it makes others react.
I don’t make forecasts or try to guess whether strategic changes will succeed or fail but a couple of years ago, I blogged on IBM’s introduction of Yahoo OmniFind, a free offering and then followed up with these comments just a few months ago. IBM makes their competitors change, try to outsmart, outguess, or copy, just as Microsoft or Google changes cause ripples in the industry.
Meanwhile, OpenText, another large software company with search offerings, is not going to offer search outside of its other product suites. [More is likely to come out after the scheduled analyst meetings today but I’m not there and can’t brief you on deeper intent.] We have recently seen an announcement about FAST being delivered with new SharePoint offerings, the first major release of FAST announced since Microsoft acquired them almost two years ago. While FAST is still available as a standalone product from MS, it and other search engines may be steadily moving into being embedded in suites by their acquirers.
Certainly IBM has a lot of search components that they have acquired, so continuing to bind with other content offerings is a probable strategy. Oracle and Autonomy may soon come up with similar suite offerings embedding search once again. Oracle SES (Secure Enterprise Search) does not appear to have a lot of traction and it’s possible that supporting pure search offerings may be a burden for Autonomy with its stable of many acquired content products.
All of this leads me to think that, since enterprise search has gotten such a bad reputation as a failed technology, the big software houses are going to bury it in point solutions. Personally, I believe that enterprise search is a failed strategy and SMBs can still find search engines that will serve the majority of their enterprise needs for several years to come. The same holds true for divisions or groups within large corporations.
Guidance: select and adopt one or more search solutions that fit your budget for small scale needs, point solutions and enterprise content that everyone in the organization needs to access on a regular basis. Learn how these products work, what they can and cannot deliver, making incremental adjustments as needs change and evolve. Do not install and think you are done because you will never be done. Cultivate a few search experts to stick with the evolving landscape and give them the means to keep up with changes in the search landscape. It is going to keep morphing for a long time to come.
I’m probably dating myself, but back in the day, the wave of the future was client server, where clients read/wrote SQL directly to the database.
And, it turns out there were two kinds of customers — One kind bought the ERP packages that took care of data models and workflows off the shelf; they needed no SQL access to data, because the packaged application took care of it. The other kind needed to tailor their transaction infrastructure to represent unique business processes that gave them competitive advantage. For them, data access, workflow, application modeling and the like were core competencies and competitive advantages. And their innovations delivered n-tier architectures and today’s far more powerful and flexible business logic.
There will be many companies that don’t need search to be a competitive advantage. For them, matching users quickly to data no matter where it lives is a “me-too” feature, not something they must do or die. But that preference did not make SQL a “failed technology”, any more than it will doom enterprise search.
Put another way, many companies can’t live with “close enough” results. They will continue to invest infrastructure, and the developers to go with it, to gain competitive advantage with search. When data formats, structures, and repositories cannot be managed or accessed with SQL alone, search interfaces are taking the place of SQL — and are in a position to have as much of a disruptive effect on the application landscape as the relational database did beginning 30 years ago.