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Forecasting Software Product Abandonment

Given the announcement from Microsoft that it would make 2010 releases of Fast on Linux and UNIX the last for these operating systems, a lot of related comments have appeared over the past few weeks. For those of us who listened intently to early commentary on the Fast acquisition by Microsoft about its high level of commitment to dual development tracks, it only confirms what many analysts suspected would happen. Buyers rarely embrace their technology acquisitions solely (or even primarily) for the technology.

While these 2010 releases of Fast ESP on UNIX and Linux will continue to be supported for ten years, and repositories are projected to be indexable on these two platforms by future Fast releases, some customers will opt out of continuing with Fast. As newer and more advanced search technologies support preferred operating systems, they will choose to move. Microsoft probably expects to retain most current customers for the time being – inertia and long evaluation and selection processes by enterprises are on their side.

This recent announcement did include a small aside questioning whether Microsoft would continue to offer a standalone search engine outside of its SharePoint environment where the Fast product has been embedded and leveraged first. It sounds like the short term plan is to continue with standalone ESP, but certainly no long term commitment is made.

So, whatever stasis/constancy pre-Microsoft Fast customers were feeling sanguine about, it is surely being shaken around. Let’s take a look at some reasons that vendors abandon their acquisitions. First we need to consider why companies add products through acquisition in the first place. A simple list looks like this:

  1. Flat sales
  2. Need to penetrate a growth market or industry
  3. Desire to demonstrate strength to its existing customer base by acquiring a high-end brand name
  4. Need for technology, IP, and expertise
  5. Desire to expand the customer base, quickly

While item 1 probably was not a contributor to the Microsoft Fast acquisition, 2 and 3 certainly factored into their plan. Fast was “the” brand and had become synonymous in the marketplace with “enterprise search leader.” Surely Microsoft considered the technology IP and key employees that they would be acquiring, and having a ready-made customer-base and maintenance revenue stream would be considerations, too.
Customers do have reasons to be nervous in any of these big acquisitions, however. Here is what often get exposed and revealed once the onion is peeled:

  • Game changing technology is playing havoc in the marketplace; in search there are numerous smaller players with terrific technologies, more nimble and innovative development teams with rigorous code control mentalities, and the experience of having looked at gaps in older search technologies.
  • Cost of supporting multiple code bases is enormous, so the effort of developing native support on multiple platforms becomes onerous.
  • For any technology, loss of technical gurus (particularly when there has been a culture of loose IP control, poor capture of know-how, and limited documentation) will quickly drive a serious reality check as the acquirer strives to understand what it has bought.
  • Brand name customers may not stick around to find out what is going to happen, particularly if the product was on the path to being replaced anyway. Legacy software may be in place because it is irreplaceable or simply due to the neglect of enterprises using it. It may be very hard for the acquiring buyer to determine which situation is the case. A change of product ownership may be just the excuse that some customers need to seek something better. Customers understand the small probability of having a quick and smooth integration of a just-acquired product into the product mix of a large, mature organization.
  • A highly diverse customer base, in many vertical markets, with numerous license configuration requirements for hardware and operating system infrastructures will be a nightmare to support for a company that has always standardized on one platform. Providing customer support for a variety of installation, tuning and on-going administration differences is just not sustainable without a lot of advance planning and staffing.

The Microsoft/Fast circumstance is just an illustration. You might take a look at what is also going on with SAP after its acquisition of Business Objects (BO) in this lengthy analysis at Information Week. In this unfortunate upheaval, BO’s prior acquisition of Inxight has been a particular loss to those who had embraced that fine analytics and visualization engine.

The bottom line is that customers who depend on technology of any kind, for keeping their own businesses running effectively and efficiently, must be aware of what is transpiring with their most valued vendor/suppliers. When there is any changing of the guardians of best-of-breed software tools, be prepared by becoming knowledgeable about what is really under the skin of the newly harvested onion. Then, make your own plans accordingly.

Search Industry in 2010

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.

Churning in the Search Sector – Two BIG Events in One Week

Analysts having been projecting major consolidation in the enterprise search marketplace for a couple of years. What is interesting to me is how slowly this is evolving. For every merger or acquisition, whether small or large (acquisition of Mondosoft by SurfRay or FAST by Microsoft), other companies emerge or evolve with diverse and potentially competitive technologies (e.g. Attivio, Connotate, Expert System, EyeAlike, Truevert, Temis).

We have seen companies like Exalead, ISYS, and Vivisimo gain on former leaders. Microsoft is often listed as an industry leader because it acquired former leader FAST while companies with solid products for verticals, like Recommind in law and financial services, are often overlooked because they lack the total company revenues of a Microsoft that sells a lot more software than enterprise search.

This past week two industry news items caused me to reflect on the potential impact of announcements that, while not surprising, can upset the plans of buyers of search technology. The first was the announcement that Autonomy is planning to procure Interwoven. That Interwoven is being acquired is no surprise, since the company was being groomed for acquisition. However, this appears to be the first instance of a “search” company acquiring a “content management/document management” company. The norm has been that search companies get bought to fill a need by ECM or CMS vendors. For anyone planning to procure Interwoven because of its embedded Vivisimo Velocity for Universal search in its Worksite product, this does put a wrinkle in the fabric. What a shame because it is going to be a while before the actual impact is really known and could slow sales. The cost to buyers having to accept Autonomy’s IDOL instead of Velocity could be significant. The effect could be on both licensing and deployment because Velocity has been an efficient install for most enterprises. Autonomy has got a big ramp up to shift from being a search company to becoming an ECM supplier and some will take a wait and see attitude, regardless of the Idol reputation.

The second big announcement, of course, is the departure from Microsoft of John Marcus Lervik, a co-founder of FAST and recently named Executive VP in a newly created position for Enterprise Search at Microsoft. I’m sure you’ll be seeing plenty about the reasons elsewhere. However, the difficulty for those buyers who are depending on FAST‘s search technology to be integrated sooner rather than later in Microsoft‘s offerings has just been made more complicated as one of the original leaders of FAST is leaving the team.

Two years ago I commented to FAST executives about the need for vendors on a rapid growth path to make the buying, business and support experience for customers a priority, beyond technology enhancements; so, I take little consolation in seeing this turmoil. If you are a buyer, take a good hard look behind the technology to see what else you will be dealing with as you make plans to acquire software.

Enterprise Search 2008 Wrap-Up

It would be presumptuous to think that I could adequately summarize a very active year of evolution among a huge inventory of search technologies. This entry is more about what I have learned and what I opine about the state-of-the-market, than an analytical study and forecast.

The weak link in the search market is product selection methods. My first thought is that we are in a state of technological riches without clear guideposts for which search models work best in any given enterprise. Those tasked to select and purchase products are not well-educated about the marketplace but are usually not given budget or latitude to purchase expert analysis when it is available. It is a sad commentary to view how organizations grant travel budgets to attend conferences where only limited information can be gathered about products but will not spend a few hundred dollars on in-depth comparative expert analyses of a large array of products.

My sources for this observation are numerous, confirmed by speakers in our Gilbane conference search track sessions in Boston and San Francisco. As they related their personal case histories for selecting products, speakers shared no tales of actually doing literature searches or in-depth research using resources with a cost associated. This underscores another observation, those procuring search do not know how to search and operate in the belief that they can find “good enough” information using only “free stuff.” Even their review of material gathered is limited to skimming rather than a systematic reading for concrete facts. This does not make for well-reasoned selections. As noted in an earlier entry, a widely published chart stating that product X is a leader does nothing to enlighten your enterprise’s search for search. In one case, product leadership is determined primarily by the total software sales for the “leader” of which search is a miniscule portion.

Don’t expect satisfaction with search products to rise until buyers develop smarter methods for selection and better criteria for making a buy decision that suits a particular business need.

Random Thoughts. It will be a very long time before we see a universally useful, generic search function embedded in Microsoft (MS) product suites as a result of the FAST acquisition. Asked earlier in the year by a major news organization whether I though MS had paid too much for FAST, I responded “no” if what they wanted was market recognition but “yes” if they thought they were getting state-of-the-art-technology. My position holds; the financial and legal mess in Norway only complicates the road to meshing search technology from FAST with Microsoft customer needs.

I’ve wondered what has happened to the OmniFind suite of search offerings from IBM. One source tells me it makes IBM money because none of the various search products in the line-up are standalone, nor do they provide an easy transition path from one level of product to another for upward scaling and enhancements. IBM can embed any search product with any bundled platform of other options and charge for lots of services to bring it on-line with heavy customization.

Three platform vendors seem to be penetrating the market slowly but steadily by offering more cohesive solutions to retrieval. Native search solutions are bundled with complete content capture, publishing and search suites, purposed for various vertical and horizontal applications. These are Oracle, EMC, and OpenText. None of these are out-of-the-box offerings and their approach tends to appeal to larger organizations with staff for administration. At least they recognize the scope and scale of enterprise content and search demands, and customer needs.

On User Presentations at the Boston Gilbane Conference, I was very pleased with all sessions, the work and thought the speakers put into their talks. There were some noteworthy comments in those on Semantic Search and Text Technologies, Open Source and Search Appliances.

On the topic of semantic (contextual query and retrieval) search, text mining and analytics, the speakers covered the range of complexities in text retrieval, leaving the audience with a better understanding of how diverse this domain has become. Different software application solutions need to be employed based on point business problems to be solved. This will not change, and enterprises will need to discriminate about which aspects of their businesses need some form of semantically enabled retrieval and then match expectations to offerings. Large organizations will procure a number of solutions, all worthy and useful. Jeff Catlin of Lexalytics gave a clear set of definitions within this discipline, industry analyst Curt Monash provoked us with where to set expectations for various applications, and Win Carus of Information Extraction Systems illustrated the tasks extraction tools can perform to find meaning in a heap of content. The story has yet to be written on how semantic search is and will impact our use of information within organizations.

Leslie Owens of Forrester and Sid Probstein of Attivio helped to ground the discussion of when and why open source software is appropriate. The major take-way for me was an understanding of the type of organization that benefits most as a contributor and user of open source software. Simply put, you need to be heavily vested and engaged on the technical side to get out of open source what you need, to mold it to your purpose. If you do not have the developers to tackle coding, or the desire to share in a community of development, your enterprise’s expectations will not be met and disappointment is sure to follow.

Finally, several lively discussions about search appliance adoption and application (Google Search Appliance and Thunderstone) strengthen my case for doing homework and making expenditures on careful evaluations before jumping into procurement. While all the speakers seem to be making positive headway with their selected solutions, the path to success has involved more diversions and changes of course than necessary for some because the vetting and selecting process was too “quick and dirty” or dependent on too few information sources. This was revealed: true plug and play is an appliance myth.

What will 2009 bring? I’m looking forward to seeing more applications of products that interest me from companies that have impressed me with thoughtful and realistic approaches to their customers and target audiences. Here is an uncommon clustering of search products.

Multi-repository search across database applications, content collaboration stores document management systems and file shares: Coveo, Autonomy, Dieselpoint, dtSearch, Endeca, Exalead, Funnelback, Intellisearch, ISYS, Oracle, Polyspot, Recommind, Thunderstone, Vivisimo, and X1. In this list is something for every type of enterprise and budget.

Business and analytics focused software with intelligence gathering search: Attensity, Attivio, Basis Technology, ChartSearch, Lexalytics, SAS, and Temis.

Comprehensive solutions for capture, storage, metadata management and search for high quality management of content for targeted audiences: Access Innovations, Cuadra Associates, Inmagic, InQuira, Knova, Nstein, OpenText, ZyLAB.

Search engines with advanced semantic processing or natural language processing for high quality, contextually relevant retrieval when quantity of content makes human metadata indexing prohibitive: Cognition Technologies, Connotate, Expert System, Linguamatics, Semantra, and Sinequa

Content Classifier, thesaurus management, metadata server products have interplay with other search engines and a few have impressed me with their vision and thoughtful approach to the technologies: MarkLogic, MultiTes, Nstein, Schemalogic, Seaglex, and Siderean.

Search with a principal focus on SharePoint repositories: BA-Insight, Interse, Kroll Ontrack, and SurfRay.

Finally, some unique search applications are making serious inroads. These include Documill for visual and image, Eyealike for image and people, Krugle for source code, and Paglo for IT infrastructure search.

This is the list of companies that interest me because I think they are on track to provide good value and technology, many still small but with promise. As always, the proof will be in how they grow and how well they treat their customers.

That’s it for a wrap on Year 2 of the Enterprise Search Practice at the Gilbane Group. Check out our search studies at https://gilbane.com/Research-Reports.html and PLEASE let me hear your thoughts on my thoughts or any other search related topic via the contact information at https://gilbane.com/

What Determines a Leader in the Enterprise Search Market?

Let’s agree that most if not all “enterprise search” is really about point solutions within large corporations. As I have written elsewhere, the “enterprise” is almost always a federation of constituencies, each with their own solutions for content applications and that includes search. If there is any place that we find truly enterprise-wide application of search, it is in small and medium organizations (SMBs). This would include professional service firms (consultancies and law firms), NGOs, many non-profits, and young R&D companies. There are plenty of niche solutions for SMBs and they are growing.

I bring this up because the latest Gartner “magic quadrant” lists Microsoft (MS) as the “leader” in enterprise search; this is the same place Gartner has positioned Fast Search & Transfer in the past. Whether this is because Fast’s assets are now owned by MS or because Gartner really believes that Microsoft is the leader, I still beg to strongly differ.

I have been perplexed by the Microsoft/Fast deal since it was announced earlier this year because, although Fast has always offered a lot of search technology, I never found it to be a compelling solutions for any of my clients. Putting aside the huge upfront capital cost for licenses, the staggering amount of development work, and time to deployment there were other concerns. I sensed a questionable commitment to an on-going, sustainable, unified and consistent product vision with supporting services. I felt that any client of mine would need very deep pockets indeed to really make a solid value case for Fast. Most of my clients are already burned out on really big enterprise deployments of applications in the ERP and CRM space, and understand the wisdom of beginning with smaller value-achievable, short-term projects on which they can build.

Products that impress me as having much more “out-of-the-box” at a more reasonable cost are clearly leaders in their unique domains. They have important clients achieving a good deal of benefit at a reasonable cost, in a short period of time. They have products that can be installed, implemented and maintained internally without a large staff of administrators, and they have good reputations among their clients for responsiveness and a cohesive series of roll-outs. Several have as many or more clients than Fast ever had (if we ever know the real number). Coveo, Exalead, ISYS, Recommind, Vivisimo, and X1 are a few of a select group that are marking a mark in their respective niches, as products ready for action with a short implementation cycle (weeks or months not years).

Autonomy and Endeca continue to bring value to very large projects in large companies but are not plug-and-play solutions, by any means. Oracle, IBM, and Microsoft offer search solutions of a very different type with a heavy vendor or third-party service requirement. Google Search Appliance has a much larger installed base than any of these but needs serious tuning and customization to make it suitable to enterprise needs. Take the “leadership” designation with a big grain of salt because what leads on the charts may be exactly what bogs you down. There are no generic, one-suit-fits-all enterprise search solutions including those in the “leaders” quadrant.

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