Tools for searching through oceans of corporate information have been around since the dawn of the IT industry. Initial mechanisms for extracting fixed length records from ‘flat files’ or hierarchical databases gave way in the 1980s to relational database querying through the Structured Query Language (SQL).
While that has since been the primary means of getting at structured data (ie data that can be held in tables), there have been parallel attempts to provide the ability to search through and extract data held in unstructured formats: text documents, emails, intranets and so on. Early and specialist text retrieval products, such as BASIS and STATUS, have given way to Internet-based technologies such as Autonomy and Verity.
But it is not just a matter of finding the documents: these enterprise search technologies endeavour to provide context to the mass of potentially valuable internal data, retrieving a combination of structured and unstructured data in order to address a specific business query.
Research group Ovum predicts that the enterprise search market is set to virtually double in the next five years, fuelled by a number of factors. Part of this growth will be driven by end-user dissatisfaction with current offerings. Increasingly, users want search facilities that are equivalent to Internet search services.
Indeed, Internet search engine companies are looking to move into the enterprise market. Microsoft has also been gearing up its assault; it expects to have its first products out by the end of 2004. At the same time, database vendors, such as IBM and Oracle, have been broadening their databases to handle structured and unstructured data.
A key driver behind much of this activity has been the increased regulatory pressures on organisations, requiring them to be able to search through and make sense of their vast information reserves.
Search terms glossary
- Concept search Searches for terms related conceptually to words, not the word itself.
- Fuzzy search Finds matches even if terms are misspelled.
- Keyword search Finds exact matches for search terms.
- Precision Degree to which a search engine produces documents that match a query.
- Relevance How well a result provides information the user is looking for.
Quotes: Searching for the right words
“Enterprise search technology is all about allowing the user to leverage results in a meaningful way to either discover new insights or find the best answer to their question.”
John Felahi, senior director of product marketing at FAST.
“The challenge is to get the business world to see search as something above the utility level. The capabilities of intelligence or advanced search need to become more ubiquitous in the organisation.”
Eric Woods, research director at Ovum analysts.
“The enterprise search market is relatively small, so why does Google want to get into it? They would need to spend money to get their technology ready for the enterprise. And that does not seem to make good business to me.”
Simon Atkinson, managing director of Verity UK.
“This market has tremendous potential, but it has been under-served. Businesses are reluctant to spend the effort and the money to deploy new products. Our approach is to bring to the market a product that has a much lower total cost of ownership, is faster and easier to install, and provides much more satisfaction to employees. “
Dave Girouard, general manager of Google’s enterprise business.