In Google's shadow

Google's recent foray into the enterprise search market may have raised the profile of the technology, but the tools are nothing new to Jeff Watts and National Instruments's 3,500 employees and 25,000 customers.

"We use our enterprise search engine everywhere throughout the company," says Watts, search and syndication manager at the Austin-based company. "We've had enterprise search since before the dot-com era and outgrown many different tools along the way."

The company uses an engine from Fast Search & Transfer ASA (FAST) in Oslo to index a half-million internal documents and several hundred thousand more on its customer-facing sites. It's also in the process of indexing 100 million records in its data warehouse as part of a business intelligence project. On top of that index lie about 30 interfaces designed for specific applications.

"If you are using a Web search engine like Google or Yahoo or MSN, you have one interface into a variety of different types of documents," Watts says. "But with enterprise search, you can tailor it to your business needs."

One such interface is designed for tech support, an area where National Instruments spares no expense -- it hires engineers for front-line support. There is a special portal interface providing quick access to the information those engineers need to quickly answer customer questions. The search system also serves its customers in 35 languages.

"When we make these technologies -- like a fully searchable product catalog in a new language -- sales trend up dramatically in those regions," says Watts. "FAST enables us to put that kind of e-commerce information in front of the users."

Google and, to some extent, its rival Yahoo are, of course, the search engines dominating the news. Business sections track Google's stock fluctuations, and the February congressional hearings on its China operations were front-page material.

"Google has created a lot of visibility around search on the consumer side," says Matthew Brown, an analyst at Forrester Research. "Companies are very excited about that and see that search can be a mission-critical application for the enterprise."

But what works well in Internet search doesn't always meet enterprise needs. So although Google does offer enterprise search appliances and just released two new low-cost versions in January, it's not necessarily where the news lies in terms of cutting-edge technology.

"In the basic information-retrieval area, Google is being very disruptive," says Brown. "It has come in at a very compelling price point, but they are not a product leader and are not differentiating themselves in terms of features and functionality."

Brown breaks down search into three main categories. There is the traditional function of simply locating and retrieving documents. Next comes the ability to do a deeper analysis of the data to locate patterns and trends, and to meet specific needs for business intelligence, regulatory compliance, discovery in legal cases or other areas. Finally, there is real-time monitoring and analysis of data, particularly for security and financial applications.

Google is strong in retrieval, but not in the other areas. Instead, companies such as Autonomy Inc., Endeca Technologies Inc. and FAST are leading the way by providing deeper analysis and the ability to integrate with other enterprise applications to improve employee productivity, meet compliance needs or drive business initiatives.

"These search engines have more analytic abilities to discover relationships among documents by picking up common terms," says Rita E. Knox, an analyst at Gartner. "Many enterprises also need augmented capabilities beyond standard search, such as identifying what is a company name, a person's name or a geographical location."

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