The business of search – an Intranet Focus Research Note

We have just published our latest Research Note, entitled The business of search. The recent furore over the acquistion of Autonomy by HP has focused attention on the current state and future direction of the enterprise search market. In reality  defining what is meant by the ‘enterprise search market’ is not easy and providing an overview in 6000 words proved to be quite a challenge. The Research Note opens with a very brief history of the development of search technology, which arguably dates back to around 1963. The potential use of Bayesian statistical probability to information retrieval dates back to research undertaken by the RAND Corporation in the late 1950s. It was not invented by Autonomy.

The search industry has an interesting structure. There is a group of diversified IT companies who have either built or recently acquired reasonably mature middle-market search companies. These are Dassault, HP,  IBM, Lexmark, Microsoft and Oracle. The rest of the industry consists of perhaps no more than 50 smaller (probably no more than $20 million revenue) businesses providing search software and appliances, a number of specialised components companies such as Basis Technologies and Documill, and some very capable search integration businesses. A fairly simplistic assessment of the market potential indicates that there are significant opportunities for search applications, but the question is whether this potential is going to be seized by open-source applications or by commercial vendors. The distinction is blurred by an increasing number of companies offering commercial search solutions based on (usually) Apache Lucene and Solr code.

2013 is going to be an interesting year for search. Big data hype is certainly raising the awareness of the benefits of being able to find corporate data, information and knowledge assets, though companies still seem very reluctant to invest in the skills and experience needed to support the applications once the vendors, developers and integrators leave the building.  When an IT manager or business manager does decide to pay attention to search they will quickly find that the search business does not seem very adroit at marketing what by any measure are complex and novel applications to most prospective customers.

Martin White