Coming second in a one-horse race

While writing reviews for the new Enterprise Search Report, I found myself frequently saying you should test the effectiveness of a given product against your own corpus of content, which is reiterated in the Report’s “Advice” section. But I can’t help but wonder how often an actual bake-off between vendors on a shortlist is organized.

I was giving a presentation on the “enterprise search technology landscape” at cmf2007, along with practitioner’s cases presented by Brian Schurmann Michels (Novo Nordisk) and Carsten Suhr (DSB, Danish Rail). Both were using search engines to sift through their intranets, but circumstances and solutions were on the opposite ends of the spectrum: Novo Nordisk has a Google Appliance index their relatively structured content (most of which is tagged with keywords), while DSB uses Autonomy to federate disparate content sources (and to allow for their ambitious future plans). This made sense and they both seemed quite content with the technology they were working with in their respective settings.

Both companies were thorough in their implementation. Brian (who has the official job title of “searchmaster”) described the detailed comparison they had made of the results of the Google Appliance vs. Microsoft’s SharePoint at Novo Nordisk. Carsten talked about the search scenarios and personas DSB had developed: how could the search engine effectively help employees perform their daily tasks? Both were excellent examples of how I would suggest you’d go about selecting and implementing search technology.

Of course, the $100,000 question (putting the estimate at the low end) for me was how they had arrived at the choice for their respective vendors. Why would Novo Nordisk consider trading in their Google Appliance — which by all accounts they were rather content with — for SharePoint search? Well, because “SharePoint is being rolled out anyway, whether we want it or not.” And why did DSB shell out for Autonomy licenses? Well, because “people in our IT department had experience with Verity’s products” (and Verity was acquired by Autonomy).

So, for all their intensive testing and planning — and DSB did perform a thorough PoC with Autonomy before committing — the main question remains: what do you do if the only entry in your bake-off wins second prize? When the race is run, it’s too late to enter a new horse — which is why I’ll stick to my mantra of investigating the alternatives in the early stages of any search project.

This post was previously published on the blog of my former employer, the Real Story Group, an industry analyst firm specializing in vendor neutral reviews and advice. 

photo by: Paolo Camera

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