How to select an enterprise search engine
May 21, 2020
May 21, 2020
In the first part of this blog series, we visualized in detail our journey to smarter enterprise search: our starting point, the landmarks to visit, and an envisioned destination. This follow-up blog post is about navigating to one of the landmarks we previously defined: selecting an enterprise search engine.
It’s tempting to think that search engine selection is a technical task: Which engine is better than the rest? Yet, you’d likely find that the differences across search engines tend to be minimal when purely considering search engine functionality. The differences are more noticeable though, when comparing the added AI-powered cognitive functionality offered by intelligent search engines. Still, there are multiple variables to think about throughout this leg of our journey.
I’ll describe the steps that have worked well for our clients when selecting their new search engines.
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STEP 1: Identify potential search engines
Let’s start with a list of all search engines that might work for your needs.
The first source for the list would be your current vendors. Chances are that you already have two or more search engines functioning somewhere in your organization. Any currently deployed search engine maintained and supported by a vendor or an active open source community should be considered a candidate. It’s fine if your search engine hasn’t been upgraded to the latest stable version. In such case, add the search engine’s latest release to your list for consideration so that you’ll eventually compare the latest version with other options.
The second source could be analyst reports, such as Gartner’s Magic Quadrant for Insight Engines or the Forrester Wave™ Cognitive Search report. Be sure to look for the latest ones. These sources provide good overview information for your research.
If you’re in e-commerce or other specific areas, you might want to look for reports around targeted applications with a strong embedded search, in addition to specialized functionality for your industry. In this case, you may not be looking for an enterprise search engine but a more use case focused search solution. This blog still applies for selecting such search platform.
Industry analysts often create their lists based on certain conditions and may not produce an exhaustive list. Thus, your third source to complete your list would be any search engine that you might have read or heard about. It could be an offering you haven’t used from your existing vendor. Or perhaps something you saw in a marketing email, a conference, a webinar, etc.
STEP 2: Narrow your long list of candidate search engines
If your list has over a dozen search engines, I suggest you narrow it down to a few candidates – meaning five or fewer. For the types of evaluation that we typically do, I prefer to work with three engines maximum.
To remove some candidates from the list, I like to start by checking each candidate against the major deal breakers. Usually, I’m able to disqualify some with little work. The list below illustrates some of the potential showstoppers I’ve seen in the past. Each organization is different, and some may have policies or directives against or in favor of one or more of the items below. So, consider your current circumstances and future expectations when going through each one.
Depending on your organizational requirements, you may have a more specific set of items. Maybe there’s limitation based on a list of pre-approved vendors because onboarding a new one may be too time consuming or complicated. The goal is to quickly, without much analysis, cross off some search engines from the list. Remember, we’re trying to narrow our list to the most promising candidates, hopefully down to three or a manageable list, for a deeper comparison.
STEP 3: Define your evaluation criteria
In my experience, your chances of choosing a search engine that will be useful for many years increase when you engage with multiple stakeholders. Work with your current search stakeholders but don’t forget the future ones. Considering both, current and future search clients, would allow you to better evaluate the options out there.
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While some of your organization’s applications may already have search, they can benefit from an enterprise platform rather than siloed implementations.
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Below are some general categories for your evaluation criteria. I’ll drill down into each category and outline the specific elements that our clients typically require or would like to have.
You may expand the list above with other criteria, like administration user interface, software development kit (SDK), logging, monitoring, documentation, or other areas that may be of high interest to you.
STEP 4: Evaluate your candidate search engines against the criteria
You should now have your three or so candidates, along with the criteria for evaluation. My peers and I have generated multiple spreadsheets with for search engine evaluations over the years. The general process is as followed:
After step 4, you should have all criteria evaluated for all potential search engines. This step involves research of the search engines’ documentation, consulting a search engine expert, and, in some cases, reaching out to the vendors.
STEP 5: Review your score card and select the best fit
The purpose of the spreadsheet is to provide an objective evaluation of potential search engines. This step should be simple since the spreadsheet already calculates a score for each category as well as a total score for each search engine.
Often though, the total scores aren’t that different across the options. That’s when the categories come handy. You may base your final engine selection on certain categories that are more important to your needs. If you choose to focus on comparing subtotal scores from some categories, avoid having a highly subjective factor that can potentially cause biases in the final selection.
Congratulations! You have selected your next enterprise search engine after careful evaluation. The journey continues but there’s still a lot to do before the implementation begins:
It could be overwhelming… Thus, it’s essential to plan out the next leg of your journey. Remember the landmarks I described in the first part of this series? During the search engine selection process, you’d likely identify additional landmarks and figure out how to get to them.
I trust that you’d have a better idea of next steps after evaluating candidate search engines against your detailed requirements and expectations. For example, you might need to accommodate your resources to maintain the current search engine(s) while implementing the new one. You might need to decouple search from some existing applications, perhaps even develop an API layer to minimize the effect of changing search engines later. So, make sure you visit those preparation landmarks before implementing your selected search engine.
Accenture’s Search and Content Analytics can add value to your enterprise search strategy, from defining the right path to selecting, implementing, and maintaining your search engine. Connect with us to see how we can help achieve your next enterprise search vision. Happy finding!