Enterprise search is one of those tools that sounds like a no-brainer at first but actually proves to be quite complicated, on both a technology and admin level.
Google gets the lion's share of attention with anything to do with search, and it wasted little time leveraging its Internet capabilities for the enterprise with its Google Search Appliance. However, there are those who question whether the company's Web-centric technology is really the best thing for a corporate infrastructure.
A recent report from CMS Watch claimed that even the latest version of the Google software is much less effective at tracking down non-Web related documentation, particularly SharePoint data (not surprisingly), than competing systems, and lacks some of the more advanced tuning controls available elsewhere.
And the other players in the search game aren't exactly standing still. Microsoft, for one, is offering free betas of Search Server 2008 Express, which does away with things like document limits and other restrictions and offers interoperability with third-party content management systems like EMC's Documentum and IBM's FileNet.
Smaller firms like Exalead also see an opportunity in a market crowded by giants. The newest version of its One:Enterprise system offers a new set of APIs designed to let users customize their searches for targeted interests or applications. For instance, the Push API offers custom connectors with linguistic and semantic processing, while an alert function pulls results from RSS readers.
But even with the right technology, enterprise search tools can become a source of trouble without the right administrative policies in place. As this article in CBR points out, the ability to search through corporate data is a big plus when it comes to analyzing last quarter's sales figures or inventory records. But unless you want the entire staff to learn their co-workers' annual salaries or that the executive strategy conference is in Honolulu this year, you'll need to specify in advance exactly what data should be made available and what is to remain private.
Nevertheless, enterprise search is already becoming a vital tool for medium and large businesses. There's a treasure trove of institutional knowledge out there on the intranet, and those who can make the best use of it will find the rewards to be very enriching indeed.