Web search engine powerhouse Google Inc. is more aggressively pursuing efforts to bring its consumer Internet technologies to the enterprise, including hiring for the first time a general manager for its enterprise business.
After introducing its Google Search Appliance two years ago, the company has more than 500 customers using the hardware-software-support solution, according to Dave Girouard, the new general manager of Google Enterprise.
But with Google branching off into new technology directions, including Weblogs, news and online shopping portals, personalized search and its new Gmail Webmail service, Girouard, who joined the company in early March, has been entrusted with speeding adoption in the enterprise of technologies that have been developed and tested with the consumer market in mind.
“My goal is to move the technology we develop for our Web site to the enterprise and get it in front of people at their desktops,” Girouard said in Mountain View, Calif.
“Its too early to say what well be bringing to the appliance, but we definitely have some things under consideration,” added Girouard, who came to Google from rich-media software developer Virage Inc. The company, where he was senior vice president of marketing and business development, was acquired by knowledge-management software developer Autonomy Corp. last year.
Girouard said Googles enterprise business is growing in revenue and in customers. “Its becoming an important part of our business.”
Google Enterprise customers use the search appliance for public Web sites and for private intranets, often offering an integrated search experience with Googles Web search engine, Girouard said. The search appliances interface is similar to the Web sites.
“It has a lot of familiarity from the end-user perspective,” Girouard said. “From the administrators perspective, its fast and easy to deploy and monitor.”
The search appliance was built with technology developed at Googles Web site, a model that the company plans to continue as it expands its enterprise business, Girouard said. Some technologies have trickled back the other way, such as support for searching different file formats on Google.com, a feature originally developed for the enterprise product.
“The general modus operandi of our company is that most of the development is done in Google.com, and we take advantage of that, so that it can immediately become part of our product,” Girouard said.
Google began testing a personalized search capability at its Google Labs site late last month. Such a technology could someday make its way to the enterprise appliance, Girouard said.
“We definitely look at technologies on Google, and were looking at that, but I wouldnt expect anything soon,” he said. “We vet new technologies with a lot of people on the public site before we build it into the appliance.”
Gmail, Googles new Web-based e-mail service, which has enflamed privacy advocates since its rollout last month, also could have enterprise implications, though Girouard wouldnt tip his hat there, either.
“There are still some really hard problems with enterprise search yet to be solved,” he said. “So, search is our No. 1 priority. E-mail is interesting to us, but its not something were planning right now. Well evaluate it over time.
“Enterprise search still does not work that well today. We understand the problem and are uniquely qualified to solve it. Well do that first.”
Girouard said enterprise search technology has not kept up with Web search technology, which he blamed on enterprise search vendors trying to diversify into other areas.
“Search results in most cases arent all that good,” he said. “The traditional vendors arent doing anything to fix that because theyve diversified into 10 other things. So, while Web search has improved a ton, enterprise search hasnt.
“Its easier to find box scores from a baseball game in 1957 than it is to find last quarters sales presentation. Employees and Web site visitors cant find the information theyre looking for, so the adoption and usage rates of search are low.”
Enterprise search is mainly sold today as part of larger document and knowledge management or customer service offerings. Web search engine companies that tried to bring their technologies to the enterprise have a spotty record. Inktomi Corp. sold its unprofitable enterprise search business to Verity Inc. late in 2002, a month before selling its Web search business to Yahoo Inc. for more than nine times as much.
AskJeeves Inc. discarded its money-losing enterprise search business to customer service software developer Kanisa Inc. last year to focus on its profitable Web search business. NorthernLight Technology LLC eliminated its Web search service to focus on enterprise search in January 2002. Weeks later, it was acquired by doomed e-business consolidator Divine Inc., which declared bankruptcy and liquidated its assets last year.
NorthernLight of Cambridge, Mass., has since re-emerged as an independent company focusing on enterprise search, portal and content integration technologies mainly geared to market and business research.
Dealing with Content
Girouard said enterprise search products have tended to be too difficult to implement and maintain.
“Because the search results are so poor, a ton of effort is poured into prepping the content for search,” Girouard said. “Our approach is that the software ought to be able to deal with the content as it exists. Our appliance approach means you plug it in, set a few configurations, and youre off and running.
“Many companies have a dozen or more IT staffers who deal just with search. Our belief is that a lot of that time is wasted and would be unnecessary if only the software was better. Our system typically requires a small fraction of one persons time to maintain.”
Girouard said Google expects to release a new version of the search appliance later this year, though he gave no further specifics on the time. He said much of the release would focus on improved “speeds and feeds” and that the company is constantly looking for ways to improve the end-user experience for both Web and enterprise search.
“Were trying to be smart about getting from here to there,” he said. “Most likely, what you see on Google.com, well rationalize for the enterprise. Well deliver capabilities to the enterprise that make sense for the enterprise.
“Finding what youre looking for is still a hard problem in the consumer world or the enterprise. Were still mainly focused on solving that problem.”
Though Google has grown through acquisition, buying such companies as Deja.com; Kaltix, a personalized search tool developer; and Pyra Labs, the developer of the Blogger Web publishing tool, Girouard said the company would likely not acquire new technology for its enterprise business.
“There are so many great technologies at Google right now, I think well look at them and see what we can deliver to the enterprise before we look outside the company,” he said.
Googles enterprise customers use the technology to search documents ranging from 20,000 pages to 10 million, Girouard said. Pricing, which is based on number of documents searched, starts at $30,000, including two years of support.