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Posted by Scott Parker

The comedian Steven Wright once famously quipped, “I walked halfway across Texas looking for my dog. It turned out he was right behind me.” Wright didn’t know it, but he was describing the state of search at most corporations. We save files and forget where we put them. Our colleagues will never figure out what we did with the data. The situation can be frustrating, especially when consumer search services like Google make it all look so easy. However, search in the enterprise is a bit more complicated than looking up your favorite restaurant on Bing. Enterprise search software offers a way forward. It provides a secure, reliable search experience in the corporate setting.

A quick history of search

Search is not new, nor is it even a technology concept. Indeed, the idea of searching for information in a systematic way goes back at least to the 15th century, when printers put indexes into books. Flash forward five centuries, when the first Internet users quickly realized that it was hard to find websites because there was no organized listing of them all. Believe it or not, the first attempts to solve this problem came in the form of printed “Internet Directories” you could buy at a bookstore.

In 1994, Jerry Yang and David Filo, two Stanford graduate students, found that they were wasting a lot of time hunting around for fun websites. So, they founded Yahoo to, as they put it, “waste time more efficiently.” Around the same time, Digital Equipment Corp. (DEC) launched the Alta Vista search engine. Google debuted during this period as well. We all know what happened. Yahoo is still one of the world’s most popular websites, but it lost its lead in search. Google triumphed, though services like Bing still command some market share.

There is more to consumer search than just Google, however. Search is the essential feature on a number of other high-traffic sites, such as Amazon and LinkedIn. Amazon is, to a great extent, a shopping search engine. The products that rank on Amazon’s internal search results sell the best. LinkedIn is a search engine for people. YouTube is a search engine at its core, too, enabling people to search for videos by keyword. The videos that come up at the top of the search results get the most views.

In the corporate world, search evolved in a comparable, but different way. By the 2000s, Google and Microsoft, along with some specialized providers, offered enterprise search solutions. These tools functioned similarly to Google. They would crawl corporate data and document repositories, indexing what they found. Users could search by keyword and see matching search results from the corporate data set. It became clear fairly quickly, though, that enterprise search is much more than “Google for business,” as some observers called it at the time. Corporate search needs are more sophisticated than those in the consumer world.

Evolution of our consumption patterns

In the last few years, a new generation of enterprise search solutions has taken hold in the corporate domain. These enterprise search solutions are more than simple search engines operating behind the firewall. They are comprehensive search platforms that address evolving information consumption patterns in the business world.

For instance, when employees are searching for information, they need to see all possible data types in the search results. These might include email messages, Microsoft 365 documents, PDFs and rich media, as well as structured data from databases. The target of a search could be located in any number of places, from on-premises storage arrays to the cloud and third-party sites. The enterprise search solution must take all of this into account. And, it must deliver search results that are relevant. This kind of data search can be challenging to set up. It usually requires the use of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) to make search results relevant and well-tuned to actual employee needs.

The search experience is also moving inside applications themselves. Enterprise search queries don’t exist in a vacuum. It’s not like Google, where anyone can search for anything for any reason. In a business, people might want to know the terms of a contract, view a customer order or look at last year’s product promotions or planning documents. Thus, search interfaces are appearing inside applications like Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) and Customer Relationship Management (CRM) solutions.

Throughout, enterprise search must remain secure. This is a multifaceted challenge. For one thing, the search engine needs to know what data to avoid. Not every employee should be able to see all corporate data. The search tool itself presents an attractive target for hackers, too. It’s a convenient listing of data that might be good to breach—if one were so inclined. An enterprise search solution must have security countermeasures built in, with the ability to enforce corporate security policies around privacy and confidentiality.

Search software will become essential to large business

As it matures, search software is becoming essential to the formation of information-driven businesses. With a secure search application, an organization gains the power to transform its data into useful information. Employees can discover information that helps them do their jobs better. Collaboration improves. Making this happen means integrating enterprise search into other solutions in the organization. Examples include data lifecycle management platforms and data classification solutions, along with security solutions and Identity and Access Management (IAM) solutions.

Search software has grown more sophisticated and powerful over the years. It can now deliver user experiences and business value that far outpace consumer equivalents. An effective enterprise search solution must achieve a high degree of relevance in the business context. This might take AI and ML for continuous improvement. The solution should also be highly secure. With these elements in place, the enterprise search application can become a key success factor in the development of an information-centric corporate culture.

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