May 31, 2016

The Findwise Enterprise Search and Findability Survey 2016 is open for business

Would you find it helpful to benchmark your Enterprise Search operations against hundreds of corporations, organizations and government agencies worldwide? Before you answer, would you find that information useful enough that you’re spend a few minutes answering a survey about your enterprise search practices? It seems like a pretty good deal to me to have real-world data from people just like yourself worldwide.

This survey, the results of which are useful, insightful, and actionable for search managers everywhere, provides the insight into many of the critical areas of search.

Findwise, the Swedish company with offices there and in Denmark, Norway Poland, Norway and London, is gathering data now for the 2016 version of their annual Enterprise Search and Findability Survey at http://bit.ly/1sY9qiE.

What sorts of things will you learn?

Past surveys give insight into the difference between companies will happy search users versus those whose employees prefer to avoid using internal search. One particularly interesting finding last year was that there are three levels of ‘search maturity’, identifiable by how search is implemented across content.

The least mature search organizations, roughly 25% of respondents, have search for specific repositories (siloes), but they generally treat search as ‘fire and forget’, and once installed, there is no ongoing oversight.

More mature search organizations that represent about 60% of respondents, have one search for all silos; but maintaining and improving search technology has very little staff attention.

The remaining 15% of organizations answering the survey invest in search technology and staff, and continuously attempt to improve search and findability. These organizations often have multiple search instances tailored for specific users and repositories.

One of my favorite findings a few years back was that a majority of enterprises have “one or less” full time staff responsible for search; and yet a similar majority of employees reported that search just didn’t work. The good news? Subsequent surveys have shown that staffing search with as few as 2 FTEs improves overall search satisfactions; and 3 FTEs seem to strongly improve overall satisfaction. And even more good news: Over the years, the trend in enterprise search shows that more and more organizations are taking search and findability seriously.

You can participate in the 2016 Findwise Enterprise Search and Findability Survey in just 10 or 15 minutes and you’ll be among the first to know what this year brings. Again, you’ll find the 2016 survey at http://bit.ly/1sY9qiE.

January 20, 2015

Your enterprise search is like your teenager

During a seminar a while back, I made this spontaneous claim. Recently, I made the comment again, and decided to back up my claim - which I’ll do here.

No, really – it’s true. Consider:

You can give your search platform detailed instructions, but it may or may not do things the way you meant:

Modern search platforms provide a console where you, as the one responsible for search, can enter all of the information needed to index content and serve up results. You tell it what repositories to index; what security applies to the various repositories; and how you want the results to look.  But did it? Does it give you a full report of what it did, what it was unable to do, and why?

You really have no idea what it’s doing – especially on weekends:

 Search platforms are notorious for the lack of operational information they provide.

Does your platform give you a useful report of what content was indexed successfully, and which were not – and why? And some platforms stop indexing files when they reach a certain size: do you know what content was not completely indexed?

When it does tell you, sometimes the information is incomplete: 

Your crawler tells you there were a bunch of ‘404’ errors because of a bad or missing URL; but will it tell you which page(s) had the bad link? Chances are it does not. 

They can be moody, and malfunction without any notice:

You schedule a full update of you index every weekend, and it has always worked flawlessly – as far as you know. Then, usually on a 3-day weekend, it fails. Why? See above.

When you talk to others who have search, theirs always sounds much better than yours:

As a conscientious search manager, you read about search, you attend webinars and conferences, and you always want to learn more. But you wonder why other search mangers seem to describe their platform in glowing terms, and never seem to have any of the behavioral issues you live with every day. It kind of makes you wonder what you’re doing wrong with yours.

It costs more to maintain than you thought and it always needs updates:

When you first got the platform you knew there we ongoing expenses you’d have to budget – support, training, updates, consulting. But just like your kid who needs books, a computer, soccer coaching, and tuition, it’s always more than you budgeted. Sometimes way more!

You can buy insurance, but it never seems to cover what you really need:

Bear with me here: you get insurance for your kids in case they get sick or cause an accident, and you buy support and maintenance for your search platform.  But in the same way that you end up surprised that orthodontics are not fully covered, you may find out that help tuning the search platform, or making it work better, isn’t covered by the plan you purchased – in fact, it wasn’t even offered. QED.

It speaks a different vocabulary:

You want to talk with your kid and understand what’s going on; you certainly don’t want to look uncool. But like your kid, your search platform has a vocabulary that only barely makes sense to you. You know rows and columns, and thought you understood ‘fields’; but the search platform uses words you know but that don’t seem to be the same definition you’ve known from databases or CMS systems.

It's hard for one person to manage, especially when it's new:

Many surveys show that most companies have one (or less) full-time staff responsible for running the search engine – while the same companies claim search is ‘critical’ to their mission.  Search is hard to run, especially in the first few years when everything needs attention. You can always get outside help – not unlike day care and babysitters – but it just seems so much better if you could have a team to help manage and maintain search to make it behave better.

How it behaves reflects on you:

You’re the search manager and you’ve got the job to make search work “just like Google”.  You spent more than $250K to get this search engine, and the fact that it just doesn’t work well reflects badly on you and your career. You may be worried about a divorce.

It doesn’t behave like the last one:

People tend to be nostalgic, as are many search managers I know. They learned how to take care of the previous one, but this new one – well, it’s NOTHING like the earlier one. You need to learn its habits and behaviors, and often adjust your behavior to insure peace at work.

You know if it messes up badly late at night, even on a weekend or a holiday, you’ll hear about it:

If customers or employees around the world use your search platform, there is no ‘down time’: when it’s having an issue, you’ll hear about it, and will be expected to solve the issue – NOW. You may even have IT staff monitoring the platform; but when it breaks in some odd and unanticipated way, you get the call. (And when does search ever fail in an expected way?)

 You may be legally responsible if it messes up:

Depending on what your search application is used for, you may find yourself legally responsible for a problem. Fortunately, the chances of you personally being at fault are slim, but if your company takes a hit for a problem that you hadn’t anticipated, you may have some ‘career risk’ of your own. Was secure content about the upcoming merger accidentally made public? Was content to be served only to your Swiss employees when they search from Switzerland exposed outside of the country? And you can’t even buy liability insurance for that kind of error.

When it’s good, you rarely hear about it; when it's bad, you’ll hear about it:

Seriously, how many of you have gotten a call from your CIO to tell you what a great experience he or she had on the new search platform? Do people want to take you to lunch because search works so well? If you answered ‘yes’ to either of these, I’d like to hear from you!

In my experience, people only go out of their way to give feedback on search when it’s not working well. It’s not “like Google”. Even though Google has hundreds or people and ‘bots’ examining every search query to try to make the result better, and you have only yourself and an IT guy.

You’ll hear. 

The work of managing it is never done:

The wonderful southern writer Ferrol Sams wrote :

“He's a good boy… I just can't think of enough things to tell him not to do.” Sound like your search platform? It will misbehave (or fail outright) in ways you never considered, and your search vendor will tell you “We’ve never seen a problem like that before”. Who has to get it fixed? You have to ask?

Once it moves away, you sometimes feel nostalgic:

Either you toss it out, or a major upgrade from your vendor comes alone and the old search platform gets replaced. Soon, you’re wishing for the “Good old days” when you knew how cute and quirky the old one was, and you find yourself feeling nostalgic for it and wishing that it didn’t have to move out.

Do you agree with my premise? What  have I missed?

November 25, 2014

The Search Whisperer

A few years ago, Toyota ran an ad in the San Francisco Bay Area featuring the then recently retired Steve Young of 49ers fame. In the advert, he is chatting with a woman at a party and the woman asks, "What do you do for a living Steve?" Rather than answer directly, Young replies with a question: "Do you follow sports? Football?” When the woman answers that she doesn't, Young's (truthful) reply? "I'm a lawyer."

I'm not a lawyer, so when people ask me what I do, I have trouble answering in a precise way. Usually I’ll say “I help companies get the right search platform for their requirements” or "I help companies tune their search platform”. Both are true, but people outside of the narrow field either have no idea what I do, or they think I do SEO for pubic web sites. I also add "I fly small airplanes" and that's usually where the conversation goes. 

It's tough being a "search whisperer", because even people with an enterprise search problem often don't realize that anyone but the vendor can help fix it. Even worse, they don't know that you can avoid problems in the first place by picking a platform that meets the need, then managing it relentlessly. 

Now that the commercial market is down to a handful of players, it may get easier because most of the newer platforms don’t have the rich feature sets that seemed so promising in the old expensive brands. It’s easier to justify a bare bones platform and hope then to buy yet another expensive platform that may or may not work as expected.

Do you have an obsolete platform (FAST ESP, Verity, Vivisimo, Endeca,...) and want to make it work better? Are you going to go with a powerful search API with no real management capabilities? Do you want to future-proof your search? That’s what I do. 

 

November 05, 2014

Search Owner's Dilemma

In my session today at Enterprise Search & Discovery, I finished up with a rendition of the old rhyme called "The Engineer's Dilemma", updated for the folks who manage enterprise search in large organizations. Folks seemed to like it, so I'll share it here for those who were unable to be at the conference. I call it "The Search Manger's Dilemma"

It's not my job to pick our search
The call's not up to me.
It's not my place to say how much
The cost of search should be.
It's not my place to tune the thing, not even do it well,
But let the damn thing miss a page And see who catches hell!

Enjoy!

September 18, 2014

Lucidworks ships Fusion 1.0 - Pretty exciting next gen platform.

OK, I've known about this coming for a while, just didn't know when until this afternoon - so I stayed up late to get the download started after midnight.

Fusion is more than an updated release of Lucidworks Search. It is Solr based, but it's a re-write from top to bottom. And it's not a bare bones search API only a developer can love. Connectors? Check. Security? Check. Analytics? Check. Entity extraction? Check. All included. 

But what it adds is where the real capabilities and contributions are. Machine learning? Check. Admin console? Check. Machine learning? Check. Log analytics? Check. A document pre-processing pipeline? Check. Deep signal processing (think 'automated context processing')? Check. 

Even if you think these new unique capabilities are not your style, then you can buy Solr support and still get licenses for connectors, entity extraction, and a handful of other formerly 'premium' products. Want it all? License the full product at a per-node price I always thought was underpriced. I'm sure you'll be hearing alot more in the coming days and weeks, but go - download - try - and see what it does for your sites. Your developers will love it, your business owners will love it, your users will love it, and I bet even your CFO will love it.  

Full disclosure: I am a former employee of Lucidworks; but I'd be just as excited even if I were not. Go download it for sure and try it on your content. But be sure to check out the  'search as killer app' video on Lucid's home page www.lucidworks.com

s/ Miles

 

 

September 09, 2014

Sometimes you're just wrong! (Maybe).

OK, this one falls into the 'eat your own words' category, so I have to come clean. Well, partly clean. Let me explain.

I was out of town last week, but just before I left I wrote an article asserting that Elasticsearch really isn't 'enterprise' search. The article drew alot of attention and comments from both sides of the argument. I have to say I still think that's the case, but an announcement by Microsoft seems to differ, and end up a net positive for Elasticsearch. Microsoft tells us that Elasticsearch is the platform under the covers of Microsoft's Azure search offering. It looks like you have a couple of options - as long as you're on Azure:

a) You can download and use the open source Elasticsearch platform available on GitHub; or

b) Use Microsoft's managed service 'Facetflow Elasticsearch' which incorporates (some of) the open source code in various places.

Microsoft calls this "a fully-managed real-time search and analytics service" while, according to ZDNet, it is for 'web and mobile application developers looking to incorporate full-text search into their applications'. 

Either way, it's certainly yet another step forward for Elasticsearch, and is a big step forward in visibility for the company. It's not clear what kind of revenue they will receive from the deal - Microsoft being relatively famous for being quite frugal. And after all, smart search folks like Kevin Green of Spantree Technology Group talk about its strengths and liabilities, saying it *is* fast ('wicked fast'); fault-tolerant; distributed and more. But it is not a crawler; a machine learner; a user-facing front end, and it is not secure. 

So I'll agree a partial 'mea culpa' is in order; adding capabilities to an open source project can make it more enterprise ready. But I think the jury may still be out on the rest of my piece. Stay tuned!

August 25, 2014

Is Elasticsearch really enterprise search?

Not too long ago, Gartner released it's the 2014 Magic Quadrant which I’ve written about here and which has generated a lively discussion on the Enterprise Search Engine Professionals group over on LinkedIn.

Much of the discussions I’ve seen about this year's MQ deals with the omission of several platforms that most people think of as 'enterprise search’. Consider that MQ alumni Endeca, Exalead, Vivisimo, Microsoft FAST, and others don’t even appear this year. Over the last few years larger companies acquired most of these players, but in the MQ it's as if they simply ceased to exist.

The name I've heard mentioned besides these previous MQ alumni is Elasticsearch, a relatively new start-up. Elasticsearch, based on Apache Lucene, recently had a huge round of investment by some A-List VCs. What's the deal, Gartner?

Before I share my opinion, I have to reiterate that, until recently, I was an employee of Lucidworks, which many people see as a competitor to Elasticsearch. I believe my opinions are valid here, and I believe I’m known for being vendor-neutral. I think the best search platform for a given environment is a function of the platform and the environment – what data source, security, management and budget apply for any given company or department. “Search engine mismatch’ is a real problem and we’ve written about it for years.

Given that caveat, I believe I’m accurately describing the situation, and I encourage you to leave a comment if you think I've lost my objectivity!

OK, here goes. I don't believe Elasticsearch is in the enterprise search space. For that reason, if for no other, it doesn’t belong on the Gartner Magic Quadrant for search.

You heard it here. It's not that I don't think Elasticsearch isn’t a powerful, cool, and valuable tool. It is all that, and more. As I mentioned, it’s based on Apache Lucene, a fantastic embedded search tool. In fact, it's the same tool Solr (and therefore Lucidworks' commercial products) are based on.  But Lucene by itself is a tool more than a solution for enterprise search.

Let me start by addressing what I think Elasticsearch is great for: search-enabled data visualization. The first time I attended an Elasticsearch meet-up, they were showing the product in conjunction with two other open source projects: Logstash and Kibana. The total effect was great and made for a fantastic demo! I was fully and completely impressed, and saw the value immediately - search driving a visualization tool that was engaging, interactive, and exciting! 

Since then, Elasticsearch has apparently hired the guys who created those two respective open source projects, and has now morphed into a log analytics company - more like Splunk with great presentation capability, and less like traditional enterprise search. Their product is ELK - Elasticsearch Logstash Kibana. You can download all of these from GitHub, by the way.

(Lucidworks has also seen the value of Kibana to enterprise search, and has released their own version of Logstash and Kibana integrated with Solr called SiLK (Solr-Integrated Logstash and Kibana).

Now let me tell you why I do not think of Elasticsearch as an enterprise search solution. First, in my time at Lucid, I'm not aware of any enterprise opportunities that Lucidworks lost to ELK. I could be wrong, and maybe the Elastic guys know of many deals we never saw at Lucid. But with no crawler and other components I consider ‘required’ as part of an enterprise search product, I'm not sure they're interested - yet, at least.

Next, check the title of their home page: "Open Source Distributed Real Time Search". Doesn't scream 'Google Search Appliance replacement', does it? Read Elasticsearch founder Shay Banon on the GSA.

Finally, Wired Magazine has an even more interesting quote: Shay Banon on SharePoint. “We're not doing enterprise search in the traditional sense. We're not going to index SharePoint documents”.

Now, with the growth and the money Elasticsearch has, they may change their tune. But with over $100M in venture capital now, I think their investors are valuing Elasticsearch as a Splunk competitor, and perhaps a NoSQL search product for Hadoop - not a traditional enterprise search engine. 

So the real question is: which space are you in? Enterprise Search with SharePoint and other legacy data sources? Web content and file shares you need a crawler for? Is LDAP or Active Directory security important to you? Well - I won't say 'no way' - but I'd want to see it before I buy.

Do you use Elasticsearch for your enterprise search? Let me hear from you!

 

 

 

August 21, 2014

More on the Gartner MQ: Fact or fiction?

There is a lively discussion going on over in the LinkedIn ‘Enterprise Search Engine Professionals’ group about the recent Gartner Magic Quadrant report on Enterprise Search. Whit Andrews, a Gartner Research VP, has replied that the Gartner MQ is not a 'pay to play'. I confess guilt to have been the one who brought the topic up in these threads, at least, and I certainly thank Whit for clarifying the misunderstanding directly.

That said, two of my colleagues who are true search experts have raised some questions I thought should be addressed.

Charlie Hull of UK-based Flax says he's “unconvinced of the value of the MQ to anyone wanting a comprehensive … view of the options available in the search market'. And Otis Gospodnetić of New York-based Sematext asks "why (would) anyone bother with Gartner's reports. We all know they don't necessarily match the reality". I want to try to address those two very good points.

First, I'm not sure Gartner claims to be a comprehensive overview of the search market. Perhaps there are more thorough lists- my friends and colleagues Avi Rappoport and Steve Arnold both have more complete coverage. Avi, now at Search Technologies, still maintains   

www.searchtools.com with a list that is as much a history of search as a list of vendors. And Steve Arnold has a great deal of free content on his site as well as high quality technology overviews by subscription. Find links to both at arnoldit.com.

Nonetheless, Gartner does have published criterion, and being a paid subscriber is not one of them. His fellow Gartner analyst French Caldwell calls that out on his blog. By the way, I have first-hand experience that Gartner is willing to cut some slack to companies that don't quite meet all of their guidelines for inclusion, and I think that adds credence to the claim that everything.

A more interesting question is one that Otis raises: “why would anyone bother with Gartner's reports”?

To answer that, let me paraphrase a well-known quote from the early days of computers: "No one ever got fired for following Gartner's advice". They are well known for having good if not perfect advice - and I'd suspect that in the fine print, Gartner even acknowledges the fallibility of their recommendations. And all of us know that in real life, you can't select software as complex as an enterprise search platform without a proof of concept in your environment and on your content.

The industry is full of examples where the *best* technology loses pretty consistently to 'pretty good' stuff backed by a major firm/analyst/expert. Otis, I know you're an expert, and I'd take what you say as gospel. A VP at a big corporation who is not familiar with search (or his company's detailed search requirements) may not do so. And any one on that VP's staff who picks a platform based solely on what someone like you or I say probably faces some amount of career risk. That said, I think I speak for Otis and Charlie and others when I say I am glad that a number of folks have listened to our advice and are still fully employed!]

So - in summary, I think we're all right. Whit Andrews and Gartner provide advice that large organizations trust because of the overall methodology of their evaluation. Everyone does know it's not infallible, so a smart company will use the 'trust but verify' approach. And they continue to trust you and I, but more so when Gartner or Forrester or one of the large national consulting companies conforms our recommendation. And of not, we have to provide a compelling reason why something else is better for them. And the longer we're successful with out clients, the more credible we become.

 

 

August 05, 2014

The unspoken "search user contract"

Search usability is a major difference between search that works and search that sucks. If you want a free one-hour usability consultation, let me know.

I recently had lunch with my long time friend and associate Avi Rappoport from Search Technologies. We had a great time exchanging stories about some of the search problems our clients have. She mentioned one customer who she was explaining what best practices to follow when laying out a result list. That brought to mind what I've called the search user contract, which users tacitly expect when they use your search on all of your sites, internally and externally.

If you are responsible for an instance of search running inside a firewall, even if it's outward facing, you have a problem your predecessors of 15 to 20 years ago* didn't have. Back then, most users didn't have experience with search except the one you provided - so they didn't have expectations of what it could be like.

Fast forward to 2014. In addition to your intranet search, virtually everyone in your organization knows, uses, and often loves Amazon, Facebook, Google, Apple, eBay and others. They know what really great search looks like. They expect you to suggest searches (or even products) on the fly! Search today knows misspelled words and what other products you might like.

But most importantly, almost all of these sites follow the same unspoken user contract:

  • On the result list, the search box goes at the top, either across a wide swath of the browser window, or in a smaller box on the left hand side, near the top.
  • There is more than one search box on the results page.
  • Search results, numbered or not, show a page title and a meaningful summary of the document. Sometimes the summary is just a snippet. Words that cause the document to be returned are sometimes bolded in the summary.
  • Suggestions for the words and phrases you type show up just below the search box (or up in the URL field)
  • Facets, when available, go along the left hand side and/or across the top, just under the search box. Occasionally they can be on the right of the result list.
  • When facets are displayed own the left or right side of the screen, the numbers next to each facet indicate how many results show when you click that facet.
  • Best bets, boosted results, or promoted results show up at the top of the result list.
  • Advertisements or special announcements appear on the right side of the result list.
  • Links to the 'next’ or ‘previous' results page appear at the bottom and possibly at the top of the results.

Now it's time to look your web sites - public facing as well as behind your firewall. Things we often see include:

  • Spelling suggestions in small, dark font very close to the site background color, at the left edge of the content, just above facets. Users don't expect to look there for suggestions, and even if they do look, make the color stand out so users see it** [Don't make the user think]
  • An extra search form on the page; one at the top as 'part of our standard header block'; and one right above the result list to enable drill down. The results you see will different depending on which field to type in. [The visitor is confused: which search button should be pressed to do a 'drill down' search. Again, don't make the user think]
  • Tabs for drilling into different content areas seem to be facets; but some of the tabs ('News") have no results. [Facets should only display if, by clicking on a facet, the user can see more content]
  • As I said at the top, we’ve found poor search user experience is a major reason employees and site visitors report that ‘search sucks’. One of the standard engagements we do is a Search Audit, which includes search usability in addition to a review of user requirement and expectations.  If you want a free consult on your usability, let me know.

 

/s/Miles

 

*Yes, Virginia, there was enterprise search 20 or more years ago. Virtually none of those names still exist, but their technology is still touching you every day. Fulcrum, Verity, Excalibur and others were solving problems for corporations and government agencies; and of course Yahoo was founded in 1994.

**True story, with names omitted to protect the innocent. On a site where I was asked to deliver a search quality audit, ‘spelling suggestions’ was a top requested feature. They actually had spell suggestions, in grey letters in a dark black field with a dark green background, far to the left of the browser window. No one noticed them. You know you are; you’re welcome!

 

August 04, 2014

Explaining the 2014 Gartner Enterprise Search MQ

The recent release of the Gartner 2014 MQ for Enterprise Search held a number of surprises, some of which I mentioned in my original post last week. My initial reaction was that at least a couple of the companies new to the MQ this year don't really strike me as 'enterprise search' companies. But as I dig into the MQ text, I can see some logic to their call. I can also see something else in the 2010 Enterprise search MQ: Search is going into a somewhat boring mid-life crisis.

Just a handful of years ago the field was vibrant. We had leaders FAST, Exalead, Endeca, ISYS, Open text, Omniture and more, none of which have survived to the 2014 MQ. Some were acquired; some faded away into different industries. But of the big names of the recent past, only Coveo, Autonomy and Google survive as 'Leaders'. Mark Logic, Lucidworks, Attivio, IBM and Mark Logic fall into the lower half of the 'Ability to Execute' axis.

What's going on here? "Big data" is the new kid on the block, a new toy to play with, and search is struggling with an uphill battle with the Apache Zoo-related tools (as well as new ones that seem to be announced daily.) Some companies, notably Lucidworks, are doing quite a bit to optimize search of content stored in Hadoop repositories with the natural language interface you expect from web search engines. They also have focused on tools to speed indexing currently in their Lucidworks Search commercial product but which will likely find it way into open source. 

My take? Don't schedule the wake for enterprise search just yet. Its newer, younger and fresher cousins in big data are getting all the hype for now; but eventually, users have to be able to find content in a way they understand - not SQL, but natural language queries typed by mere mortals on the 9 to 5 shift.

Need advice on your search solution? I'm happy to provide a one-hour consult on your enterprise search questions. Let me know.