Customers of The 451 Group would have seen my report on the enterprise search market published September 15. If you are a client, you can view it here. I thought it would be useful to provide a condensed version of the report to a wider audience as I think the market is at an important point it in its development and it merits a broader discussion.
The enterprise search market is morphing before our eyes into something new. Portions of it are disappearing, and others are moving into adjacent markets, but a core part of it will remain intact. A few key factors have caused this, we think. Some are historical, by which we mean they had their largest effect in the past, but the ongoing effect is still being felt, whereas the contemporary factors are the ones that we think are having their largest impact now, and will continue to do so in the short-term future (12-18 months).
- Over-promising and under-delivery of intranet search between the last two US recessions, roughly between 2002 and 2007, resulting in a lot of failed projects.
- A lack of market awareness and understanding of the value and risk inherent in unstructured data.
- The entrance of Google into the market in 2002.
- The lack of vision by certain closely related players in enterprise content management (ECM) and business intelligence (BI).
- The lack of a clear value proposition for enterprise search.
- The rise of open source, in particular Apache Lucene/Solr.
- The emergence of big data, or total data.
- The social media explosion.
- The rapid spread of SharePoint.
- The acquisitive growth of Autonomy Corp.
- Acquisition of fast-growing players by major software vendors, notably Dassault Systemes, Hewlett-Packard and Microsoft.
The result of all this has been a split into roughly four markets, which we refer to as low-end, midmarket, OEM and high-end search-based applications.
The low-end, or entry-level, enterprise search market has become, if not commodified, then pretty close to it. It is dominated by Google and open source. Other commercial vendors that once played in it have mostly left the market.
The result is that potential entry-level enterprise search customers are left with a dichotomy of choices: Google’s yellow search appliances that have two-year-term licenses and somewhat limited configurability (but are truly plug-and-play options) on the one hand, and open source on the other. It is a closed versus a very open box, and they have different and equally enthusiastic customer bases. Google is a very popular department-level choice, often purchased by line-of-business knowledge workers frustrated at obsolete and over-engineered search engines. Open source is, of course, popular with those that want to configure their search engine themselves or have a service provider do it and, thus, have a lot of control over how the engine works, as well as the results it delivers. Apache Lucene is also part of many commercial, high-end enterprise search products, including those of IBM.
Mid-market search is a somewhat vague area, where vendors are succeeding in deals of roughly $75,000-250,000 selling intranet search. This area has thinned out as some vendors have tried to move upmarket into the world of search-based applications, but there are still many vendors making a decent living here. However, SharePoint has had a major effect on this part of the market, and if enterprises already have SharePoint – and Microsoft reckons more than 70% have at least bought a license at some point already – then it can be tough to offer a viable alternative. However, if SharePoint isn’t the main focus, then there is still a decent business to be had offering effective enterprise search, often in specific verticals, albeit without a huge amount of vertical customization.
The OEM search business has become a lot more interesting recently, in part due to which vendors have left it, leaving space for others. Microsoft’s acquisition of FAST in early 2008 meant one of the two major vendors at the time had essentially left the market entirely, since its focus moved almost entirely to SharePoint, as we recently documented. The other major OEM vendor at the time was Autonomy, and while it would still consider itself to be so, we think much of its OEM business, in fact, comes from document filters, rather than the OEMing of the IDOL search engine. Autonomy would strongly dispute that, but it might be moot soon anyway – it now looks as if it will end up as part of Hewlett-Packard following the announcement of its acquisition at a huge valuation, on August 18.
Those exits have left room for the rise of other vendors in the space. Key markets here include archiving, data-loss prevention and e-discovery. Many tools in these areas have old or quite basic search and text analysis functionality embedded in them, and vendors are looking for more powerful alternatives.
The high end of the enterprise search market has become, in effect, the market for search-based applications (SBA) – that is, applications that are built on top of a search engine, rather than solely a relational database (although they often work alongside a database). These were touted back in the early 2000s by FAST, but it was too early, and FAST was too complex a set of tools to give the notion widespread acceptance. But in the latter part of the last decade and this one, SBAs have emerged as an answer to the problem of generic intranet search engines getting short shrift from users dissatisfied that the search engines don’t deliver what they want, when they want it.
Until recently, SBAs have mainly been a case of the vendors and their implementation partners building one-off custom applications for customers. But they are now moving to the stage where out-of-the-box user interfaces are being supplied for common tasks. In other words, it’s maturing in a similar way to the application software industry 20 years ago, which was built on top of the explosion in the use of relational databases.
We’ve seen examples in manufacturing, banking and customer service, and one of the key characteristics of SBAs is their ability to combine structured and unstructured data together in a single interface. That was also the goal of earlier efforts to combine search with business-intelligence tools, which often simply took the form of adding a search engine to a BI tool. That was too simplistic, and the idea didn’t really take off, in part because search vendors hadn’t paid enough attention to structure data.
But SBAs, which put much more focus on the indexing process than earlier efforts, appear to be gaining traction. If we were to get to the situation where search indexes are considered a better way of manipulating disparate data types than relational databases, that would be a major shift (see big data). Another key element of successful SBAs is that they don’t look like traditional search engines, with a large amount of white space and a search bar in the middle of the screen. Rather, they make use of facets and other navigation techniques to guide users through information, or often simply to present the relevant information to them.
As I mentioned, there’s more in the full report, including more about specific vendors, total (or big) data and the impact of social media. If you’d like to know more about it, please get in touch with me.