Curated content for content, computing, and digital experience professionsals

Month: May 2013

Search: a Term for the Long Haul, But…

There is no question that language influences marketing success; positioning software products has been a game of out-shining competitors with clever slogans and crafty coined terminology. Having been engaged with search technologies since 1974, and as the architect of a software application for enterprise content indexing and retrieval, I’ve observed how product positioning has played out in the enterprise search market over the years. When there is a new call for re-labeling “search,” the noun defining software designed for retrieving electronic content, I reflect on why and whether a different term would suffice.

Here is why a new term is not needed and the reasons why. For the definition of software algorithms that are the underpinning of finding and retrieving electronic content, regardless of native format, the noun search is efficient, to-the-point, unambiguous and direct.

We need a term that covers this category of software that will stand the test of time, as has automobile, which originated after terms too numerous to fully list had been tested: horseless buggy, self-contained power plant, car, motor vehicle, motor buggy, road engine, steam-powered wheeled vehicles, electric carriage, and motor wagon to name a few. Finally a term defined as a self-powered vehicle, was coined, “automobile.” It covered all types of self-powered “cars,” not just those pulled by another form of locomotive as is a rail car. Like the term “search,” automobiles are often qualified by modifiers, such as “electric,” “hybrid” or “sedan” versus “station wagon.” Search may be coupled with “Web” versus “Enterprise,” or “embedded” versus “stand-alone.” In the field of software technology we need and generally understand the distinctions.

So, I continue to be mystified by rhetoric that demands a new label but I am willing to concede where we need to be more precise, and that may be what the crowd is really saying. When and where the term is applied deserves reconsideration. Technologists who build and customize search software should be able to continue with the long established lingo, but marketers and conferences or meetings to educate a great variety of search users could probably do a better job of expressing what is available to non-techies. As one speaker at Enterprise Search Europe 2013 (ESEu2013) stated and others affirmed, “search” is not a project and to that I will add, nor is it a single product. Instead it is core to a very large and diverse range of products.

Packaging Software that includes Search Technology

Vendors are obviously aware of where they need to be marketing and the need to package for their target audience. There are three key elements that have contributed to ambiguity and resulted in a lethargic reaction in the so-called enterprise search marketplace in recent years: overly complex and diffuse categorization, poor product labeling and definition, and usability and product interface design that does not reflect an understanding of the true audience for a product. What can be done to mitigate confusion?

  1. Categorizing what is being offered has to speak to the buyer and potential user. When a single product is pitched to a dozen different market categories (text mining, analytics, content management, metadata management, enterprise search, big data management, etc.) buyers are skeptical and wary of all-in-one claims. While there are software packages that incorporate many or elements of a variety of software applications, diffusion ends up fracturing the buying audience into such minute numbers that a vendor does not gain real traction across the different types of needs. Recommendation: a product must be categorized to its greatest technical strengths and the largest audience to which it will appeal. The goal is to be a strong presence in the specific marketplaces where those buyers go to seek products. When a product has outstanding capabilities for that audience, buyers will be delighted to also find additional ancillary functions and features that are already built in.
  2. Software that is built on search algorithms or that embeds search must be packaged with labeling that pays attention to a functional domain and the target audience. Clear messaging that speaks to the defined audience is the wrapper for the product. It must state what and why you have a presence in this marketplace, the role the product plays and the professional functions that will benefit from its use. Messaging is how you let the audience know that you have created tools for them.
  3. Product design requires a deep understanding of professional users and their modes of pursuing business goals. At ESEu2013 several presentations and one workshop focused on usability and design; speakers all shared a deep understanding of differences across professional users. They recognized behavioral, cultural, geographic and mode preferences as key considerations without stating explicitly that different professional groups each work in unique ways. I assert that this is where so many applications break-down in design and implementation. Workflow design, look-and-feel, and product features must be very different for someone in accounting or finance versus an engineer or attorney. Highly successful software applications are generally initiated and development is sustained by professionals who need these tools to do their work, their way. Without deep professional knowledge embedded in product design teams, products often miss the market’s demands. Professionals bring know-how, methods and practices to their jobs and it is not the role of software developers to change the way they go about their business by forcing new models that are counter to what is intuitive in a market segment.

Attention to better software definition leads to the next topic.

Conference and meeting themes: Search technology versus business problems to be solved

Attention to conference and meeting content was the reason for this post. Having given an argument for keeping the noun search in our vocabulary, I have also acknowledged that it is probably a failed market strategy to label and attach messaging to every software product with search as either, enterprise search or web search. Because search is everywhere in almost every software application, we need conferences with exhibits that target more differentiated (and selective) audiences.

The days of generic all-in-one meetings like AIIM, the former National Online Meeting (Information Today’s original conference), E2, and so on may have run their course. As a failed conference attendee, my attention span lasts for about one hour maximum, and results in me listening to no more than a half dozen exhibitor pitches before I become a wandering zombie, interested in nothing in particular because there is nothing specific to be drawn to at these mega-conferences.

I am proposing a return to professionally oriented programs that focus on audience and business needs. ESEu2013 had among its largest cohort, developers and software implementers. There were few potential users, buyers, content or metadata managers, or professional search experts but these groups seek a place to learn about products without slides showing snippets of programming code. There is still a need for meetings that include the technologists but it is difficult to attract them to a meeting that only offers programming sessions for users, the people for whom they will develop products. How do we get them into a dialogue with the very people for whom they are developing and designing products? How can vendors exhibit and communicate their capabilities for solving a professional problem when their target professional audience is not in the room.

At Enterprise Search Europe 2013, the sessions were both diverse and enlightening but, as I noted at the conference wrap-up, each track spoke to a unique set of enterprise needs and variety of professional interests. The underlying technology, search, was the common thread and yet each track might have been presented in a totally different meeting environment. One topic, Big Data, presents challenges that need explaining and information seekers come to learn about products for effectively leveraging it in a number of enterprise environments. These cases need to be understood as business problems, which call for unique software applications not just some generic search technology. Big data can and is already being offered as a theme for an entire conference where the emphasis on aspects of search technology is included. As previously noted topics related to big data problems vary: data and text mining, analytics, semantic processing aka natural language processing, and federation. However, data and text mining for finance has a totally different contextual relevance than for scientists engaged in genomics or targeted drug therapy research, and each audience looks for solutions in its field.

So, let’s rethink what each meeting is about, who needs to be in the room for each business category, what products are clearly packaged for the audience and the need, and schedule programs that bring developers, implementers, buyers and users into a forum around specially packaged software applications for meaningful dialogue. All of this is said with sincere respect for my colleagues who have suggested terms that range from “beyond search” to “discovery” and “findability” as alternative to “search. Maybe the predominant theme of the next Enterprise Search conference should be Information Seeking: Needs, Behaviors and Applications with tracks organized accordingly.

[NOTE: Enterprise Search Europe had excellent sessions and practical guidance. Having given a “top of mind” reaction to what we need to gain a more diverse audience in the future, my next post will be a litany of the best observations, recommendations and insights from the speakers.]

Federal government to spend $1.4 billion on web content management and infrastructure

Before we get to the spending mentioned in the title, there is some important background to cover. In an email to the Presidential Innovation Fellows program mailing list yesterday and a blog post with Small Business Administration Administrator Karen G. Mills last week, White House CTO Todd Park reported on the progress of a pilot program, RFP-EZ, to make federal government RFPs accessible to small businesses.

In addition to making it easier for small businesses to win federal contracts, a key goal is to save the government money since small business bids are typically lower than larger organizations’. Another significant benefit is that it makes it easier for agencies to purchase from innovative small businesses (since more are bidding). In the technology space especially, small businesses provide the lion’s share of innovation.

So how is this program doing so far? From Park and Mills post:

Applying agile development principles, the Fellows team designed RFP-EZ over a six-month period, publishing the platform’s code openly on GitHub. The team then launched the pilot by posting five relatively simple website development and database contract offerings, four of which were also announced via the standard government portal, FedBizOps. On a per-project basis, bids received through RFP-EZ were consistently lower than those received through FedBizOps—19% to 41% lower, and over 30% lower on average. Bids made through RFP-EZ also showed less overall variation. In addition, during the pilot period, RFP-EZ attracted more than 270 businesses that until now had never approached the world of Federal contracting.

Graph of RFP-EZ pilot progress

Ok, now for the spending. First of all, note that the OMB says the total 2014 Federal IT budget is $77 billion. If you haven’t seen it yet the OMB IT Dashboard yet it is worth a look, and you can download a spreadsheet that has details on spending by agency and project. Park and Mills also said in their post that:

According to Office of Management and Budget’s IT Dashboard, the Federal Government will spend more than $1.4 billion on Web Infrastructure and Web Content Management Systems in FY 2014. Based on 2011 and 2012 results, we can expect about half of these projects to be under the $150,000 “Simplified Acquisition Threshold” that would make them eligible for contracting through RFP-EZ.

This may not seem like a lot at first glance, but at $150,000 each it would mean 4,666 web content management systems or web infrastructure projects it would be fairly easy for small vendors and consultants to bid on in 2014.

Presumably the numbers came from the OMB IT spending spreadsheet, but since software category definitions are fluid, to say the least, doing your own analysis would be a good idea. While our community knows that, for example, “web content management” can include or be a component of a collection of digital marketing tools for engagement or experience management, marketing automation, etc. we can’t assume all federal budgeteers do – or did when the budgets were developed.

All of this is excellent news for a substantial number of the vendors, integrators, and consultants who participate in the Gilbane Conference. It is also great news for federal government conference attendees who can more realistically do business with smaller companies who have the latest technology.

To participate in the RFP-EZ program sign-up using the very simple web form.

The Marketing Technology Landscape

It’s no secret that marketing continues to increase spending on technology, which raises the question of which technologies they are spending on. The answer is “lots” – the marketing technology landscape has become much larger, more varied, and more complex. One sign is the evolution of some web content management systems to solutions for web experience management, web engagement management, digital experience management, etc., which involves integrating with marketing automation, predictive analytics, social and many other marketing tools and back end systems.

Not all this is new. In 1999 more advanced businesses were already integrating e-commerce, web analytics, personalization, and marketing automation, but it was much harder then and there were far fewer options. I hesitate to say it is easier now, but it is in many ways – the technology is much better and we have much more experience with it. What is certainly not easier is navigating the technology landscape which is extremely dynamic, and contains categories with too many vendors. Both CMOs and CIOs need a marketing technologist function in some form, and would certainly benefit from input from analysts, and a <plug> vendor and analyst neutral conference </plug>. The illustration below may be scary, but should be very useful. Thanks to Scott Brinker for first pointing this landscape out. Scott also has his own similar graphic.

Marketing Technology Landscape

 

 

The Gilbane Conference is growing!

Gilbane Conference 2013, Banner, Content and the Digital Experience

 

 

 

 

Some of you may have heard there is some exciting news with regard to The Gilbane Conference.

We have entered into a partnership with Information Today, Inc. to organize and manage future conferences in this 12-year-old series. As you may know, Information Today is the publisher of KMWorld and EContent magazines along with a host of other publications and websites. Information Today also organizes the KMWorld and Enterprise Search Summit conferences, so they are on familiar ground with respect to web content management, content marketing, social media, and many other related technologies.

Information Today also publishes CRM magazine and produces the CRM Evolution conference and exhibition, which will enable us to reach out to marketers and other customer-focused professionals.

We believe the synergies between The Gilbane Conference and Information Today will assist us in producing even better and more innovative conferences in the years to come.

The resources of a larger enterprise and the personal care and attention you’ve come to know at The Gilbane Conference are what you can expect this fall.

The next Gilbane Conference will be at the Westin Boston Waterfront, December 3 – 5, 2013. We will be announcing the Boston venue and dates in the next week or two and See the new Gilbane Conference website for more information where we will be posting additional details very soon. If you are not already on our mailing list for advance information you can signup using the quick form below.

Our theme this year is Content and the Digital Experience: Manage, Measure, Mobilize, Monetize, and we’ll be continuing our vendor and analyst neutral coverage of content, marketing, and digital experience technologies for enhancing both customer and employee engagement and collaboration.

We look forward to seeing you in Boston this fall.

We would love to hear more about your interests. You can tell us more by using our more complete form. Or send us a message.