On April 19, Google announced new versions of its Google Search Appliance product, offering new ways to tap into enterprise information repositories. Called Google OneBox for Enterprise, the new Appliance feature searches sources such as CRM (customer relationship management), ERP (enterprise resource planning), and business intelligence systems. Thus a single query—a search typed into "one box"—searches a variety of enterprise information sources while also exploiting the Google Appliance's traditional ability to crawl, index, and search the HTML content of an enterprise intranet.
Google compares this new federated enterprise search capability to features built into the global Google search engine:
"OneBox" refers to the process of typing a query into Google.com for specific category information, such as airline flight times, local weather, or stock prices. With Google OneBox for Enterprise, corporate information—such as contact and calendar info, HR benefits, sales leads, or purchase order status—is now instantly searchable through a Google search box as part of the Google Search Appliance.
Google announced partnerships with several firms whose products are widely used to house enterprise information: Cisco, Cognos (markets business intelligence products), Employease (offers outsourcing of human resources functions), NetSuite (provides outsourced business applications), Oracle, Salesforce.com (lets companies outsource customer relationship management), and SAS. Google says other partners in OneBox for Enterprise will be announced soon.
Google did not announce names of companies that have beta tested or will soon adopt OneBox for Enterprise.
Here is how the OneBox for Enterprise feature works:
The enterprise defines one or more "providers"—sources of information within the enterprise. An Applications Programming Interface (API) defines how the Google Appliance will communicate with the providers.
When a user performs a search, the Google Appliance will consult "triggers" that the enterprise defines. The triggers determine which enterprise information providers will be consulted in order to satisfy the query. For a given trigger, the enterprise could specify that all queries should go to a specified provider, or the trigger could fire based on keywords or a regular expression. For instance, perhaps every search should interrogate the corporate news database, but searches should trigger a query of the HR provider only when terms like "401K" and "job postings" appear.
When the appliance passes a query to a provider, that provider searches its own database, whether it is a CRM system or a custom Oracle database. Each provider returns relevant results in XML format.
The Google Appliance formats all of the information from the providers, along with results from its own intranet Web index, and presents the results to the user.
Stephen Arnold, a search engine expert who has written an e-book about Google, calls the OneBox announcement a game changer "because it makes search the enterprise application interface. With OneBox, Google has forged ahead of everyone else, spinning search as the next killer enterprise application. Microsoft can respond and will have to answer this challenge. A fast start would be for Microsoft to acquire Vivísimo, a Carnegie-Mellon spinout that also federates and performs other useful search tricks."
Peter Morville, author of the book Ambient Findability, told Information Today: "Google's OneBox taps into the fast-emerging market opportunity for products that provide integrated access to structured and unstructured information. The blurring of lines between search, text analytics, and business intelligence is a trend to watch for 2006."
Analyst John Blossom noted the potential advantages of a simple one box search solution in his Shore.com blog: "Google OneBox is a great way to expose business intelligence content to people who haven't been consumers of business intelligence applications—a somewhat backhand admission that IT-heavy BizIntel solutions have not always been cost-effective for the great majority of enterprise users."
Fast Search and Transfer (FAST) president and CFO Ali I. Riaz expressed mixed feelings about Google's announcement. He sees Google trying to establish itself as the single search engine for the Web, for enterprise information, and for searches of the desktop. He noted that Google "has a big megaphone" and said, "Google is a great catalyst for change[,] and they have made search mainstream."
But Riaz argues that "the simplistic nature of the [OneBox for Enterprise] announcement highlights how different consumer and enterprise search really are in terms of technology and customer expectation." Riaz cites more than 2,600 FAST customers and partners worldwide. He says that the OneBox solution, while an improvement over the previous features of the Google Appliance, is not sufficient: "Companies had this simplistic capability years ago[,] and it's not sufficient for any mission-critical enterprise application. This one-size-fits-all approach only covers a small piece of the market that has been covered by niche and low-end solutions."