RESEARCH & RESOURCES

Why Search-Based Applications are Set to Thrive

The enterprise search industry and search-based application space will see major steps forward in 2012 as recent acquisitions are sorted out.

By Eric Rogge, North American Marketing, Exalead

Enterprise search is a term we are all familiar with. It appeared in the late 1990s and grew through the 2000s as organizations looked for new ways to find data in multiple sources of corporate data. Scores of enterprise search vendors looked for faster, more efficient ways to access data.

In the last few years, the notion of enterprise search evolved into something bigger: search-based applications (SBAs). Examples are faceted catalogs for e-commerce and e-discovery for pre-litigation evidence gathering. It is these and other SBAs that now take search into its next growth period.

SBAs, along with Big Data technologies, break with the 25-year tradition of database-centered application development by providing information access via powerful search and indexing technologies coupled with standard Web technologies. The result is a single, scalable platform for information presentation, reporting, and search. SBAs have an infinite range of uses, touching on every mission-critical business application including BI, CRM, database offloading, and supply chain management.

Sue Feldman, Distinguished IDC Analyst for Information Technology, described SBAs in her 2010 report: "They deliver a purpose-designed user interface tailored to support a particular task or workflow. Examples of such search-based applications include e-discovery applications, search marketing/advertising dashboards, government intelligence analysts' workstations, specialized life sciences research software, e-commerce merchandising workbenches, and premium publishing subscriber portals in financial services or healthcare."

Due to the clear value proposition, interest from a wide range of industries grew and the leaders in SBAs became strategic acquisition targets. FAST was acquired by Microsoft in 2008 and in 2010 my own company, Exalead, was acquired by global Product Lifecycle Management vendor, Dassault Systemes.

Trends in 2011

Two trends this year set the stage for what I expect to happen in 2012.

First, leading software companies got serious about search. For example, Oracle acquired Endeca and HP acquired Autonomy. I’ll talk more about these acquisitions in my predictions for 2012, but certainly the seeds for some big changes were planted this year with these acquisitions.

Second, business moved on to the Web in a big way. You'd be hard pressed to find any functional area of business that has been untouched by the web.

Trends in SBAs in 2012

Based on the development of SBAs over past few years, the trends we'll see in 2012 will be quite interesting.

2012 Trend #1: Blending the old and new

Unstructured data is like shale oil -- difficult to extract value until the right technology is available. That right technology for unstructured data now comes from companies that focused on the Web at their outset -- Google, Yahoo, and Exalead, among others. From social media and other Web data sources now emerge hugely important unstructured data about how brands, products, and companies are perceived and experienced by their customers. Enterprise software companies don’t want to be left behind, hence the acquisitions by Oracle, HP, and previously Microsoft (which acquired FAST).

The big trend for 2012 will be the blending of old and new: mainstream BI and analytics with alternative big data/unstructured data/Web data analysis tools. The challenge will be to "frac" useful insight from unstructured data and then cross-correlate it with the data from behind the firewall.

2012 Trend #2: The importance of commerce grows

As e-commerce now is now completely intertwined with social media, analytic tools will continue to evolve to assess and predict the results of that relationship.

Of course, one can’t talk about social media without talking about big data, and this leads to a discussion of Web technologies used to analyze the relationship between ecommerce and social media. Enter Hadoop and other search-derived tools (not necessarily search-based) to perform those analytics.

With the leading software companies now launching or announcing technologies in these areas, the grand scrum will begin and customers will need to time their purchases carefully to balance early mover advantages with mature product advantages.

2012 Trend #3: The Changing Face of BI

Leading analysts (such as Mike Davis at Ovum) understand that the world of business intelligence is changing. The user community is demanding new forms of business intelligence. Together, these new forms are what Davis calls “The New BI.”

There are two interesting directions that BI is taking. The first is described above -- the use of unstructured data analytic tools to derive quantitative metrics from unstructured data.

The other interesting direction is non-numeric business intelligence. The idea is to gather a variety of descriptive information to create a composite picture about a topic: a customer, a production run, a new pharmaceutical, etc. The challenge is to overcome manual gathering of information from diverse, hard-to-use information sources quickly. Basically, it’s the application of technology for the purpose of automation.

Now, this concept for this isn’t revolutionary. It is a game of inches. Nevertheless, the idea is to make in-the-trenches employees more productive and effective. With today’s world-wide economy placing ever-greater pressures on employee productivity, tools that automate mundane data consolidation tasks are critical to extract further gains in employee value.

Conclusion

The enterprise search industry and search-based application space will see major steps forward in 2012 as the acquisitions of Endeca and Autonomy are sorted out. These consolidations will continue to raise the visibility of Web-derived technology (such as big data analytic tools and search-based applications) with large corporate buyers and that best-of-breed, vertical-focused solutions will do well.

Eric Rogge manages North American marketing for Exalead, a company that specializes in search and information access software for the enterprise and the web. You can contact the author at eric.rogge@3ds.com

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