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Corporate search needs to heed workers, Google exec says

Focusing on what worker wants rather than on pleasing tech specialists would spur tool sales, Google's Girouard says.

BOSTON--The corporate search market is held back by the industry's focus on improving the technology rather than pleasing the worker, according to Google's head of enterprise search.

Known across the globe for consumer search, Google has sizable ambitions to serve business customers as well. Last week, the company introduced two and gave details of third-party partnerships for technology to search specialized document types.

Speaking at the Search Engine Meeting conference here Monday, Dave Girouard, general manager of Google's enterprise search business, diagnosed why the corporate search market is dwarfed by the consumer search market by roughly a factor of 10.

Because consumers can easily switch search engines, there is a great deal of "Darwinism" among Web search vendors, he said, meaning that those who are most successful at meeting people's needs are the ones that survive.

By contrast, corporate search vendors do not typically interact directly with the people who use their products. Instead, the corporate sales process is usually mediated by business and technology specialists, who don't necessarily think about the worker's experience.

"We as an industry--and I'm not excluding Google--are not delivering enough value to the end users," Girouard said. "It tends to be a focus on technology and not a lot on what people want."

As a result, very few people use search as a starting point for gathering information from their corporate networks, he said.

Mountain View, Calif.-based Google's primary search rivals are Yahoo and Microsoft. In the corporate search market, it competes with several specialized vendors as well as larger companies, including IBM and Oracle.

Girouard singled out the user interface as the prime example of the poor product design that limits the potential size of the enterprise search market.

Researchers and search vendors have sought to improve search with various technologies, such as natural language processing, which allow people to write a question into a command line, such as "Where do I find the company expert on search technology?"

Some start-ups are already trying to improve enterprise search. Siderean, for instance, provides a navigation diagram on the left pane of search results that describes how the search engine obtained the results and where different matches to a query might be found. Meanwhile, ZoomInfo and Trovix have created search tools specifically targeted to extracting relevant information out of resumes.

But Girouard cited studies which consistently show that business employees want to search corporate networks by typing in a few keywords, much the way the use a Web search engine. Yet the search software used in most enterprise has a more complex user interface, which is "bereft of soul," he said.

"Consumers and employees are the same people," he said. "Search has the opportunity to be the human interface to all information in the corporation."