Search industry pundit, Stephen Arnold, writes about enterprise search train wrecks in his Beyond Search blog. Arnold sees many enterprise search installations, not as train wrecks that are waiting to happen, but as those that have already happened. Federated search vendors and customers should read Arnold’s article carefully. The article leads with this bold statement:

Enterprise search may be a train wreck for more than half of the people who use today’s most popular systems. The Big Name vendors can grouse, stomp, and sneer at this assertion. Reality: Most of these systems disappoint their licensees. When a search system “goes off the rails”, the consequences can be unexpected.

Causes of train wrecks vary. Here are some that Arnold identifies:

  • Failure to deploy (lack of resources to deploy and configure, explains Arnold in a case study).

  • Too many enterprise search systems, each of which couldn’t handle the whole job. Why isn’t one system enough?

  • The bleeding edge solution has major problems.

  • Insufficient vendor resource to support the sold system.

  • Inability to solve problems quickly; impatient management replaces enterprise search with a search appliance.

We could all learn lessons from the failures of enterprise search. Are federated search vendors guilty of the same sins as enterprise search vendors? I think so.

The first consideration is that because federated search applications are complex beasts, vendors need to be nimble and available to fix bugs, provide updates, and correct broken connectors. The trend toward proliferation of search appliances should teach us something. Arnold explains this very clearly and succinctly:

Gentle reader, there’s a reason Google has more than 8,500 search appliance customers. The GOOG’s search toaster works well enough.

And, now that MuseGlobal and Adhere have teamed up to provide federated search within the Google Search Appliance, without nimble responsiveness you might find your federated search solution replaced by a search toaster. Forget the limitations of a search appliance. Management isn’t all that interested in being strung along when there’s a cheap search appliance that works “well enough.”

Another lesson from the search toaster: do what you can to make your system easy to support and require much less of that nimble responsiveness. Identify connector problems before the customer does. Provide an easy mechanism for upgrading them. Be proactive about getting bug fixes to customers.

Yet another lesson that we can learn from the enterprise search train wreck is that being one of a number of point solutions leaves you vulnerable to being discarded. The federated search vendor that can provide sufficient customization is in much better shape to deliver an enterprise-wide federated search solution, and maybe even to integrate with the existing enterprise search solution. And, the more entrenched a federated search solution becomes in an organization, the less likely it is to be tossed aside, as opposed to being one of a half dozen solutions that is suddenly disposable.

Potential customers of federated search should also take notice of the various causes of enterprise search train wrecks. Find out from potential vendors what safeguards they have in place to deliver the goods while protecting you from derailments.

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This entry was posted on Wednesday, May 7th, 2008 at 5:36 pm and is filed under viewpoints. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or TrackBack URI from your own site.

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