Fix or Replace Your Current Technology?
Can we save you a half-million dollars?
Most analysts rank major search technologies using well-defined and clear guidelines. You've seen them - Gartner, Forrester, IDC. All are great companies, are well run, and are staffed by knowledgeable analysts. The problem is that their methodology ends up ranking all of the "leading" search technologies in the upper right, most desirable area.
Corporate search almost always falls into one of two categories: companies hope to cut expenses by enabling customer self-service and diverting customer support calls; or to directly improve the bottom line by improving marketing and selling of product via the web channel. For years, enterprise search companies and analysts have quoted figures showing the amount of time knowledge workers spend searching for information, and extrapolating to the monies that are saved by implementing great search.
There's more than just cost savings in search solutions. Martin White of Intranet Focus Ltd. suggests that companies should consider risk avoidance, not just traditional ROI, when it comes to enterprise search budgets. Consider leading search companies like Autonomy, who are now well-positioned for compliance— an almost purely risk management play.
We're all for implementing great new technology where there is a realistic expectation of a return. But do you really need to switch search technologies to get more bang for your buck?
Time to Change?
Sometimes change is good. New projects always have a certain air of excitement, and everyone is optimistic. And if things are not going well now, change offers the promise of better times ahead. But before you decide to change, make sure you're doing it for the right reasons. Your users are complaining, management is unhappy, and change is in the air. But is changing the technology the best solution?
Good reasons to Switch Search Engines
There are a number of good reasons to cut your losses and switch to a new solution.
Maybe your current technology cannot scale. Your document count has grown exponentially, and you just can't index all the content you have. A related limitation may be the raw number of queries you get: maybe it's a licensing issue, or maybe your search just can't handle the peak load. Maybe your technology just won't support distributed servers.
Another good reason may be based on capabilities and features. Users have high expectations for search given the public web sites do it so well, and your existing technology just doesn't support the things people have come to expect. For example, you cannot use best bets/recommended links; or perhaps the document summaries are poor, or even worse, not available.
Finally, if you have licensed your existing technology on a term basis, the expiration of your license may be a good reason to consider changing vendors.
Bad Reasons to Change
While change is sometimes good, there are also reason why changing your search technology may not solve the problem.
Your users are unhappy, and by extension, your management team is unhappy. But there is no budget for analyzing the problems, much less fixing them. You don't have budget for staff or outside consultants who can manage your search. You can't spend money to build expertise in-house. But you can get budget for capital expenses, and software falls into that category. Stop. Take a deep breath.
Search isn't like many enterprise software products - it's not something you install and configure and never touch again. You need periodic activity reviews and updates to your synonym list and perhaps to your relevancy algorithms. If you don't have the time and money to fix the search you use now, why do you think you'll have time to take care of the new engine?
Sometimes we see "compatibility issues" between customers and vendor staff. Maybe there is a long and mixed history between your company and the current vendor, or you're just not feeling the love from your new sales person. Again, stop. Think.
I once participated in a sales call on a company when I was a young impressionable System Engineer. The first words out of the customer's mouth were ones I'll never forget: "Don't you think when two companies are talking about suing each other both sides are at fault for not trying hard enough to solve the problem?" We went on to solve the problems, and I suspect if you are creative enough you can overcome any issues you may have with your current vendor.
Finally, sometimes you'll be in the position where your vendor has obsoleted the product you use and no support is available. Or maybe your vendor has gone out of business. Even these extreme cases may not be great reasons to switch vendors. Does the solution work now? Can you find workarounds to any existing problems, or third party products to enhance the capabilities? Are there consultants who know your existing product well who can help you if you run into an issue? They may not have access to code fixes, but a good consultant can help identify a workaround and keep you going.
So the question is: What to do now?
We suggest you focus on "smart" change. If you don't regularly review your search activity, start a two week project to do so now. Talk to your users - you don't need a huge base of people to start seeing a pattern. And of course you can bring in New Idea Engineering to review your current technology and provide insight into ways to improve your current methodology. If it really looks like it's time to move on, we can recommend the best few vendors who may be able to meet your needs and help you plan the switch.