Enterprise Search Europe 2011 – conference report

As Chairman of the conference it is difficult for me to be neutral about whether or not it was a success beyond the fact that there were over 100 people in the room. However I’ve received quite a number of emails from delegates commenting favourably on the event, and throughout the two days there were  animated discussions during and between the presentations.  One of my objectives in working with the Programme Committee was to bring together the information retrieval and enterprise search communities, and the keynote from David Hawking (Funnelback) set the scene very well.  I’m not going to try to summarise all 20 papers but at the end of the conference the key themes and issues seemed to be the following, in no particular order.

  • Just what do we mean by the term ‘enterprise search’?  Certainly whatever it meant in the past is now changing rapidly as search-based applications and unified information access approaches emerge from many of the vendors.
  • There was a concensus that the recent HP/Autonomy and Oracle/Endeca deals will have raised the visibility of enterprise search in the IT community, but are other vendors in a position to capitalise on this?
  • Search satisfaction seems to be as low now as it was a few years ago. One of the main reasons for this is that organisations do not realise the need for a search support team, and vendors tend to gloss over this as it might make their solutions look more expensive and risky to implement.
  • Another reason is that organisations pay little or no attention to information quality, and hope that the search application will be able to make sense of the mess. It won’t.
  • Even when organisations do recognise the need for a search support team it it very difficult for them to find and evaluate potential candidates
  • Making a convincing business case for search is a challenge, and this is because organisations fail to place any value on effective access to unstructured information.
  • Vendors don’t help the situation by selling on functionality and technology to organisations who have no prior experience of search outside perhaps a search application for their intranet
  • Big Data could be a very important catalyst in increasing the awareness of organisations about the need to pay serious and immediate attention to information discovery
  • Open source search is on the ascendancy. It is not free; there will still be development costs, but overall the solutions are likely to represent good value for the investment
  • There is a lot of research on information retrieval going on, but connections between the academic and corporate communities are poor
  • In the EU public sector procurement policies may be inhibiting search implementation

Alan Pelz-Sharpe has blogged his own take on the conference, with which I am in total agreement.

Planning has started on the 2012 event, and I hope to be able to announce the date and location towards the end of November. Until then I would like to thank Information Today for supporting my vision for a European enterprise search event. 2011 in the UK is not the best of times to start a new conference where there has never been anything like it in the past. Kat Allen, the Event Director, the Information Today team in the UK and the Programme Committee all worked very hard on the planning and event organisation, and the support of the sponsors was crucial in managing the commercial risk inherent in any conference. Tyler Tate and Charlie Hull brought members of the London and Cambridge Enterprise Search Meetups to the evening social session and devised a most enjoyable discussion session somewhat along the lines of high-speed dating. The presentations will be published on the conference web site during November and I will Twitter their availability.

Martin White