Treasure Hunt

Treasure Hunt

A slew of new enterprise search options can be found at every price, including free. What do you really need to discover true value?

Who wouldn't like to outgoogle Google? Given the sophistication of today's consumer search tools, many CIOs have users (and maybe even the CEO) banging on the door asking why valuable corporate data is still locked away in various places and unsearchable. Trying to capitalize on this need, a bevy of vendors are introducing or revamping enterprise search offerings. Most recently, IBM and Yahoo teamed up to create free, downloadable enterprise search software — the OmniFind Yahoo Edition — to compete with Google's Mini device for enterprise departments and small to midsize businesses. (Mini search software comes in a preconfigured appliance, starting at $US1995.)

All the flavours of search can be overwhelming. But for enterprises hoping to improve worker efficiency and business processes, it's vital to understand what the current crop of low-cost, middle and high-end search options can and can't do.

The free OmniFind Yahoo Edition (designed by IBM to get a foothold in the enterprise search space, with the hope of selling product upgrades and services later) certainly has its limits. But Eric Brierly, CTO at Decision Critical, a company that provides online access to medical training and continuing-education programs for hospitals, nurses and doctors, was able to use it for more than just adding public search capabilities to the company's Web site (which is how many entry-level search tools are used). Still, it took some tweaking.

Decision Critical hosts training modules for its customers; each customer has access rights to different modules based on what the customer has licensed or provided. That requires Decision Critical to create and maintain separate Web-based course catalogues for each customer. Brierly has long wanted to simplify the maintenance of course pages and their HTML links to course details, and give clients better keyword searching options. When OmniFind Yahoo came along as a free tool, he decided to see if it might solve his problems.

One key limitation of tools such as OmniFind Yahoo is that they index only HTML pages and common document formats such as Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint documents, and Adobe PDF files. They can't catalogue the contents of databases, ERP systems or other corporate information resources. Brierly extended the free version's capabilities by creating hyperlinks from the HTML course "start" pages to SQL queries that returned the course details as HTML snippets. Thus, Decision Critical tricked OmniFind Yahoo into indexing its database content. One result: "There are no more broken links, since each link is based on what the search engine actually finds," Brierly says.

But this approach would not work for other corporate information stores, Brierly acknowledges. That's just one reason why many enterprises end up using a higher-end tool for mission-critical search needs, says Matt Brown, a principal analyst at Forrester Research.

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