CRM Searches for Search
Oz Benamram, director of knowledge management at Morrison & Foerster, an international law firm with more than 3,000 employees and 17 offices worldwide, describes the latest iteration of the CRM applications it's using as "CRM on steroids." The company had struggled to make sense of the data that it had collected, such as which areas of expertise its lawyers had, which companies they had worked with, and which employees knew individuals working for potential clients. Now whenever someone types in a name, that information pops up, saving the company time and making it better able to market and deliver its services.
The key to this transformation has been the integration of the firm's CRM system, LexisNexis' Interaction, with Recommind, an enterprise search system. With the two coupled, Benamram says employees are able to access information quickly and effectively, so servicing customers becomes simpler and searching for new prospects more effective.
However, Benamram's experiences are exceptional -- at least for the moment. "Among our several hundred customers, we have not seen many integrate CRM into enterprise search," admits Raul Valdes-Perez, chief executive officer at enterprise search supplier Vivisimo. Issues -- such as the complexity of taking that step, securing search information, and the packaging of enterprise search systems -- have prevented widespread adoption. While observers expect such barriers to fall eventually, the transformation appears to be a long-term process rather than a short-term fix.
Search has been growing in importance in the enterprise for a variety of reasons. With companies collecting and keeping more and more information -- remember when a terabyte was a lot of data?"they now must provide users with a quick and easy way to find relevant items. The need to locate such data swiftly is paramount in contact centers where customer service representatives must sift through oodles of information to answer inquiries ASAP. [See "In Search of...," March 2008, for more on search inside and outside the contact center.]
Also, users and customers have become quite comfortable with search technology; in fact, it's become so familiar that Google has evolved from the name of a company to a verb used by executives and consumers. Because search has gained such widespread acceptance, IT managers are being pressured to bring it into the enterprise. Many are often asked: "Why isn"t our internal search as simple to use as when we look for something on the Web?"
Historically, there has been a wide gap between the functionality provided by internal and external searches. While a Web user can type in a few words and regularly come back with desired information, that ability has typically not been found with enterprise searches. Corporate users sometimes enter keywords several times, do not find what they desire, and end up so frustrated that they simply stop using their companies' enterprise search systems.
Looking for Reasons
There are many reasons why search systems have not taken off in the enterprise. Vendors have delivered a variety of products that store data in various places: CRM systems, enterprise resource planning systems, email messages, text documents, and spreadsheets, to name just a few. This data is stored in many different formats, such as word processing documents, database management system files, and imaging records. Also, information resides on central servers, department systems, or employee machines, which can be PCs, laptops, or handheld devices. To help users find desired enterprise information, a company needs a tool that can examine all of those information sources, something that no product was originally designed to do. Internet search is much simpler. These systems are able to easily pinpoint information sources, which usually are individual or company Web servers. Also, data is often limited to HTML Web pages.
Compounding the challenge, the process of how users enter information for Web and enterprise searches is similar, but the desired results are much different. With Internet searches, users often have broad search goals -- many times they don"t know exactly what they're looking for -- and are really only looking for places where they can find needed information. After they type in a word, such as "phones," users frequently are satisfied with being brought to a comparison Web site where information about several phones is listed.
Enterprise searches usually have a much narrower focus. If users type in a key phrase -- "Joseph Smith's address," for example -- they expect a specific piece of information to appear and are disappointed if that does not happen. One implication from this requirement is that companies need to put procedures in place to make sure that their data is clean, basically accurate, and up-to-date. While Web users have become accustomed to hitting dead links, it is something that can infuriate employees.
High prices have also slowed the adoption of enterprise search systems. These products, selling for anywhere between $50,000 and $1 million, often require a lot of customization, which usually means hiring a systems integration team. Many firms have been unable to justify such significant expenditures.
Security requirements are also different with the two types of searches. The basic goal of Internet search engines is to scour and index all of the information on the public Web. They were never designed to interpret that information and map it to security models and user permissions. Enterprise search systems do need to make such distinctions. They must differentiate between sensitive data, such as an employee's annual pay or Social Security number, and nonsensitive data, such as the date the company was founded.
These distinctions are especially important when a company opens up its search functions to clients and suppliers. "When customers access our search engine, we want to supply them with all of the content available to all clients as well as their own specific data," explains Derek Matthews, lead knowledge architect at Ariba, which offers spend management software and services. "They should be able to generate a benchmark report but not be allowed to look at another customer's benchmark report."
Looking for Improvements
Consequently, corporations have begun clamoring for improvements in enterprise search systems. In response, a regiment of vendors has emerged to try and address the various problems. (See sidebar, "Searching for Search," below, for a partial list.) Recently, these small niche vendors have been joined by industry goliaths Google, Microsoft, and Oracle, prompting search to become more common in the enterprise. In June 2004, Google shook up the market: Pricing for the Google Search Appliance started at $30,000, and the Google Mini, a scaled-down search system geared to departments or small companies, sold for $2,995. Since then, there has been pressure on enterprise search vendors to lower product pricing.
Stratus Technologies, a 27-year-old company that makes fault-tolerant computers for financial institutions, 911 applications, stock exchanges, manufacturers, and telecommunications companies, outgrew its Thunderstone search system two years ago. That product could only index about 6,000 pieces of data, but the company's requirements had increased to more than 100,000 pieces of information, according to Joe Graves, the company's chief information officer. The Google Search Appliance's simple deployment and familiar user interface appealed to Stratus, which has been using the system since the fall of 2006.
Once a company purchases an enterprise search system, it has to decide what information to index. The usual starting point is applications generating the most data and therefore creating the most fruitless searches in the enterprise.
Morrison & Foerster, for example, first used its enterprise search system to sift through email messages. At Ariba, which sells spend management software and services to help companies track their goods as they move through the supply chain, information is at the core of operations. At the turn of the millennium, Ariba sought an enterprise search system for use with its Vignette content management system and selected Thunderstone's Texis product. Stratus started off by indexing information on its intranet, such as company policies and product documentation. Larochelle Groupe Conseil, a 60-person technology consultancy, purchased the Exalead system to help its human resources department, where employees used a mix of manual and automated techniques to sift through piles of resumes from potential full-time and part-time employees, according to Luc Landreville, Larochelle's vice president of business intelligence.
Although it is usually not at the top of the list of concerns when search products are purchased, CRM quickly rises to a prominent position, often in the top two to three, because such integration offers companies so many potential benefits.
Coupling enterprise search and CRM can improve productivity. "Many individuals outside of the contact center are interested in using CRM data," notes Rebecca Wettemann, vice president of research at Nucleus Research.
Also, according to Dave Haucke, vice president of global marketing at Isys Search Software, employees can pose much more targeted questions than those typically feasible with a plain CRM system: Do our field salespeople run into technology/repository X? What links have we had with partner Y? What contact has our company had with individual Z? There can also be performance improvements. A CRM system's search function may be slow"especially if it's hosted in a software-as-a-service model. Faster speeds are achieved when the content is indexed in one's own search engine.
Because of the potential benefits, a growing number of companies are now moving to integrate their enterprise search and CRM applications, with most at an early stage of the process. Stratus is ready to take the next step and plans to integrate its search and CRM systems. The company has been using an internally developed CRM system but plans to move to a packaged offering, with Salesforce.com as the likely solution.
A few firms are well down the path toward the kind of "CRM on steroids' enjoyed by Morrison & Foerster, which integrated its CRM and enterprise search systems in 2006. Larochelle Groupe Conseil connected its enterprise search solution to its open-source CRM solution, SugarCRM, so employees can match contractors' skills and availability to new and potential projects. Ariba's enterprise search has been a boon to its professional services organization, a group of 400 customer service specialists. Initially, the group used the search system to find information about the company's products and services. In 2004, the company connected Thunderstone's Texis enterprise search system to Ariba's Siebel CRM system.
"We had a pretty basic implementation at first, basically tracking user names and addresses," Ariba's Matthews recalls. Additions were gradually made. A self-service component enables clients to search for information on the status of any outstanding fix requests. Over time, Ariba built up its current knowledge base so employees can determine all of the previous dealings a customer had with Ariba and the nature of these relationships. Now, with every engagement they learn more about the customer, capture that information, and make it available for future use.
As companies pump up their CRM systems, the packaging of enterprise search systems is changing. "CRM vendors are trying to improve their products' search functionality because they understand its growing importance," said Nucleus Research's Wettemann. The Siebel 8 CRM product"now offered by Oracle"includes new, refined search capabilities based on Oracle's Secure Enterprise Search, which has been available since the spring of 2006. Search vendors have also been enhancing their integration with CRM systems: Endeca for Customer Service, to name just one, locates and integrates information from disparate systems such as Oracle's Siebel, Salesforce.com, and content management system Documentum.
Rather than being packaged as a standalone product, search is also being assimilated into other functions. Microsoft has been pushing its search functionality into its Windows operating system. Google has been weaving search into its enterprise applications. Fast Search & Transfer, which was purchased by Microsoft in January 2008, has been selling its search engine to software companies, such as Business Objects, now owned by SAP; Cognos, an IBM company; and Web analytics firm WebTrends'all of which have incorporated it into their products.
While everyone agrees that search is growing in importance, vendors are taking many different routes toward delivering that functionality to users. As a result, enterprises will have to sift through a confusing and dynamic hodgepodge of options as they attempt to add search functionality to their CRM solutions. This process will typically require walking through a series of incremental changes but eventually will have the potential to produce a CRM system on steroids, one capable of delivering many of the technology's long-standing promises.
SIDEBAR: Searching for Search
The enterprise search market bears all the signs of exploding growth -- including a teeming horde of tiny (but growing) vendors that will likely not all survive any coming shakeout. Already, we"ve seen Fast Search & Transfer get gobbled up by mighty Microsoft, for $1.2 billion in January 2008. Here's a look, in alphabetical order, of some vendors, the year each was founded, and its main search product.
Vendor Year Primary Search
Founded Product Offering
Autonomy 1996 IDOL
Coveo Solutions 2004 G2B
Dieselpoint 1999 Dieselpoint Search
dtSearch 1991 dtsearch
Endeca Technologies 1999 Endeca Information Access Platform
Exalead 2002 Exalead
Fast Search & Transfer 1975 FAST
Funnelback 2005 Funnelback
Groxis 2001 Grokker
Isys Search Software 1988 Isys 8
Northern Light Group 1996 Northern Light Enterprise Search Engine
Omniture 1998 Omniture Site Search
Recommind 2000 MindServer Enterprise Search
SearchBlox Software 2003 SearchBlox
SearchInform Technologies 1995 SearchInform
Siderean Software 2001 Seamark
Surfray 2000 MondoSearch
Synomia 2000 Site Search
Thunderstone Software 1981 Texis
Vivisimo 2000 Velocity
Paul Korzeniowski is a Sudbury, Mass.-based freelance writer who focuses on CRM issues.
You can contact the editors at editor@destinationCRM.com.
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