SharePoint As Your Enterprise Search App?

More than a dozen enterprise customers are already using SingleView, a Microsoft-BearingPoint collaboration.

Denver—Microsoft Corporate Vice President Chris Capossela announced a new search product developed in partnership with consulting giant BearingPoint at Microsofts Worldwide Partner Conference here on July 10.

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The product, called SingleView, is built on top of Microsofts SharePoint 2007 collaboration portal and is already being used by dozens of large enterprise customers, according to Chris Weitz, managing director and global practice leader of search solutions at McLean, Va.-based BearingPoint.

SingleView augments SharePoint through a series of data "connectors" that enable SharePoint to act as a master search index for all kinds of enterprise data, including data that isnt stored on any Microsoft-related servers such as Oracle databases, document management archives, SAP and other CRM (customer relationship management) repositories, e-mails and other sources of information.

"We have written literally hundreds of them, and they can tap into a wide range of data sources across the enterprise," Weitz said.

SingleView is one of the results of a new "QuickStart" program that Microsoft has developed to energize its partners to sell more search-related products. According to the company, more than 3,500 partners have enrolled in the program, which was introduced earlier this year.

"Enterprise search is a very attractive business for us and our partners," said Jared Spataro, the group product manager for enterprise search at Redmond, Wash.-based Microsoft. The software company says SharePoint has more than 85 million seats sold to date, and continues to experience a strong demand for future growth. "This is a great opportunity for partners because we are seeing a shortage of people with experience in selling SharePoint solutions and a huge unrealized demand out there," Spataro said.

"Search can be an entry point into more composite applications," Spataro said. Enterprise search is also more complex because unlike general Web search, it isnt just looking for keywords in a massive pile of data. The difference is that most enterprise searches are looking at the relationships among different—and disparate—pieces of data, such as the invoices and e-mail memos from a single customer or work product on a specific topic that are created in several applications.

This is much harder to do, said Bill Cave, strategic solutions manager for the Engenium search product line at Kroll Ontrack, a data recovery company based in Eden Prairie, Minn.

"You can try to search for all the colors of the rainbow but a better idea is to look for red, blue and indigo—with enterprise search, context is more important that being able to find a few keywords," Cave said.

BearingPoint developed SingleView after a series of high-profile failures with several of its consulting clients, Weitz said.

"It is a nightmare to try to solve search in the enterprise," Weitz said. "We learned from our mistakes in a series of engagements, and built something that can deliver a great deal of value without a lot of expense and pain and suffering." Typical costs for implementation are between $50,000 and $200,000, he said. "There is some customization, but what SingleView enables us to do is to start with a basic set of services that is 60 to 80 percent pre-baked for most of our clients."

Weitz said that SingleView is the result of a new way of developing software, using more lightweight development tools rather than implementing a big middleware software layer.

"Search, document management and Web portals are all merging together and it is getting harder to really distinguish them apart anymore," he said. "The idea is to translate everything into XML and bring everything into one place. You need to promote some application as the single index. The best indexes are being put out by the search vendors, so that is why we decided to go with SharePoint."

Microsoft isnt alone in seeing the opportunities in enterprise search. Companies such as Autonomy, Google, FAST, Coveo, Kroll and others have been selling search applications and appliances in this market.

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"Search is still very hard to do, and you have to design search with so much intent and purpose, and you have to do it from the beginning of a Web project, not at the end," said Eric Negler, executive vice president of business development at Coveo, which has U.S. headquarters in Palo Alto, Calif. The company has been selling a similar application to SingleView that can provide a Web-based view of multiple SharePoint libraries. They have 500 large enterprise customers and have been a Microsoft partner for the past three years.

"We have a high win rate getting business when we go up against Googles appliance," he said. "We try not to frankensearch something by cobbling together a lot of different parts, or put search on at the end of a Web project. Instead, we try to build in search from the ground up and at the beginning."

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