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Google unveils enterprise applications search with big-name backing

Posted by iTech - 2006-04-21

Consumer search darling Google will share the stage with a gaggle of prominent enterprise application vendors Wednesday to announce Google OneBox for Enterprise, a new feature that will enable the company's Google Search Appliances to do real-time searches on business applications.
The OneBox feature will allow Google Search Appliances to find and present business data from applications by Oracle, Cisco Systems, Salesforce.com, SAS, and Cognos, which announced extensions for OneBox.

The news will shore up Google's enterprise bona fides just one day before the company's first quarter earnings announcement. Brand and buzz aside, experts say Google still has a long way to go before it can compete head-to-head with pure-play enterprise search vendors.

The OneBox announcement will be part of a slew of enterprise-focused news Wednesday, including a new Enterprise Developer Community with SDKs, documentation and a forum for partners and developers to build applications around Google's enterprise search technology, and incremental feature and performance enhancements.

“OneBox” is a concept that is well established in Google's consumer search services. It refers to the ability of the search engine to highlight specific types of dynamic information, like weather or stock prices, in the search results, along with static search results. For example, a search for "Boston weather" will return a high-level link with the forecast for Boston, Massachusetts.

Coupled with Google Search Appliance, OneBox allows information from business applications, such as contacts, calendar entries, sales leads or purchase orders to be searched and returned in a way that is easily grasped by the user, said David Girouard, vice president and general manager of Google's Enterprise business unit.

"We're tapping into information inside the business application. It's not just documents, but facts and trends," Girouard said.

Google's partnership announcements are at least as important as the OneBox feature, he said.

Customers using Cisco's Unified Communications System will be able to use the Google OneBox for Enterprise to find rich media conference information, including calendar events and missed call logs, said Joe Burton, director of engineering for Cisco's Unified Communications Business Unit.

The business intelligence software vendor Cognos will unveil Cognos Go!, a module for Cognos 8 and for IBM's OmniFind enterprise search. Go! has modules for displaying report data like graphs and charts, visual representations of metrics stored in Cognos and business intelligence reports, analysis and dashboards relevant to a search, the company said.

OneBox gives Cognos customers the ability to search unstructured business intelligence data, said Paul Hulford, senior product marketing manager at Cognos.

Previous versions of Google's Search Appliance did a fine job of indexing Cognos data, but couldn't understand the business intelligence that gave context and meaning to that data, he said.

"It's not just the data point, it's how it's laid out -- the titles and descriptions. Without business intelligence, if you're just accessing the raw data, you lose those elements and your ability to turn the information into something that has value is limited," he said.

Google also worked with Salesforce.com to build a module technology that will allow users to search various elements of the Salesforce.com solution.

Salesforce will have 10 modules for OneBox, include ones for opportunities, contacts, accounts, campaigns, and customer support cases.

Users can specify the name of a module followed by a colon what element of the Salesforce solution they want to search on or if unspecified it will search across all modules.

The module approach for searches, developed by Google with Salesforce, will also be made available to AppExchange solution providers so that they can create their own search modules. For the most part the existence of the modules is transparent to users unless they choose to narrow a search to a particular module.

Chris Framel, a systems analyst for the City of Albuquerque, New Mexico, said his employer is using the Google Search Appliance to index content on the city's public facing Web site and will soon deploy it internally. Framel has seen a demonstration of the OneBox feature with Cognos software and said it could provide a way for city employees in 26 departments to access Cognos reports and other data.

Currently, creating links to Cognos reports for others to share might take 5 or 10 clicks. If employees can access the reports using the Google Search Appliance instead, it will make them more efficient and expand the use of Cognos within the city, he said

In time, Google's simple search interface  could become the default user interface for business applications of all kinds said Whit Andrews, an analyst at Gartner.

"We see an increased recognition that the search box is the most famililar and broadly used means of accessing applications," he said.

Enterprise search is small potatoes compared to Google's consumer search business, but the company needs to show investors that it has other revenue models besides Adsense, he said.

Still, the company has more to do before its technology will be on par with established enterprise search vendors like Fast Search and Transfer of Oslo, Norway, and Endeca, which can isolate individual elements like names, dates and facts from documents, he said. 

Andrew McKay, vice president of product marketing at Fast Search and Transfer said that his company wouldn't be changing its strategy as a result of the OneBox news, and sees little overlap between Google's core consumer search business and enterprise search.

"Google makes me want to keep moving forward, but the ability to connect to new types of content is not a new strategy," he said.

Unlike the consumer marketplace, enterprise search is always going to be particular to an organization's business, which gives Google's "one size fits all" approach limited in value, he said.

Fast is developing search technologies to automatically extract person, places and company name sand understand sentence level information, he said.

However, Google has created awareness of search as a vital enterprise tool, which has ultimately benefited vendors like Fast and its competitors, he said.

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