Making Sense of Enterprise Search

Why is it so much easier to find things on the web than within corporate applications? With the web being so vast and unruly, shouldn’t the opposite be true?

Not necessarily. The web has a few things working in its favor, such as the knowledge of crowds, the motivations of marketers, and the evolution of consumer-facing search engines that has culminated in Google (

Corporate data, on the other hand, has just as many factors working against it, such as proprietary applications, security concerns, and the fact that until recently most enterprise search platforms were prohibitively expensive for all but the largest organizations.

For many mid-tier organizations, the biggest obstacle to a workable search strategy is the last item in that list: price. According to Timothy Hickernell, a senior research analyst with Info-Tech Research Group, this is starting to change. Competition among the major vendors is driving down prices, while at the same time new vendors seeking to crack this market are basing their search technology on open-source search projects like Lucene. The end result is even more downward pressure on cost.

Even if the price is right, though, there will still be the struggle to make search work across disparate data sets and applications. “There’s an entrenched misconception in the enterprise that corporate information is chaotic,” said Matt Eichner, VP of Strategic Development and Strategic Marketing at enterprise search vendor Endeca. “If it doesn’t conform to my needs, it must be a mess.”

Getting to Authoritative Data

However, Eichner argues, there is a lot of information in any given data repository. While the web may have links and crowd wisdom, corporate data has vastly more inherent authority than what is on the web, and it often carries with it information from a parent application.

“Take email, for instance,” Eichner said. “It’s unstructured, but you have a bunch of information at your disposal – subject lines, attachments, the sender, and even domain information.” He noted that this kind of information, or metadata, will vary from search to search. “If you’re doing a financial audit, for instance, you might look for specific transactions. An organization that requires approval over a certain financial threshold, such as $10,000, will want to flag any $9,999 transactions.” In this case, organizational policy adds meaning to a specific set of data.

Most end users, however, won’t care much about audit trails, which is something more specific to legal tangles associated with e-discovery. What end users do care about, though, is having an enterprise search platform that can help them with their day-to-day workflows. However, those workflows, and the data requirements associated with them, vary greatly from role to role.