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History of Enterprise Search

by | May 17, 2024

What’s the history of enterprise search and how does it affect business today?

Large organizations can acquire vast amounts of data, documents, files, and more. This data could be generated and stored in many places, including on company PCs, in the cloud, document scanners, and servers.

Enterprise search tools make it easier for authorized individuals to search through data and documents to find exactly what they need. Similar to how Google is used to search the world wide web, enterprise search can be used to hunt down needed information within an organization, via neatly organized search results.

The history of enterprise search engines begins all the way back in 1948, at the Royal Society Scientific Information Conference. Attendees and thought leaders at the time realized that a huge amount of data was going to be generated in the future. Organizing all of this data would present a serious challenge.

By the 1960s, computer systems were advancing at a rapid pace and search solutions began to appear. In 1967, the ORBIT online search service was launched, allowing researchers to quickly search through databases to find research literature.

1970s and 80s: Enterprise search emerges.

In the 1970s, focus and history of enterprise search began to shift away from academia and towards businesses. The early forebearers of modern enterprise search tools began to appear. In 1970, for example, IBM launched its STAIRS (Storage and Information Retrieval System), which allowed users to search indexed text files. Minicomputers also became very popular and developers soon offered search solutions for files and information contained on these devices.

In 1984, the Muscat search tool was rolled out to the public and allowed for a probabilistic approach to information retrieval. IBM’s STAIRS continued to improve and search offered an early desktop enterprise search software. All the while, computers were becoming increasingly prevalent around the office.

The 1990s: The rise of the Internet and the proliferation of the PC.

The adoption of personal computers both at home and in the office would rapidly increase in the 1990s, and, as a result, the amount of data held by organizations began to surge. At the same time, the Internet and e-commerce grew rapidly in popularity. As a result, an increasing number of companies and researchers invested in search functionality.

In 1991, the World Wide Web went public—a major development in the history of enterprise search. Information websites, ecommerce stores, and others quickly emerged online. This would have a tremendous influence on search technology as developers poured efforts into making the web navigable. Emerging consumer search technology would have a big impact on enterprise search. One such example is faceted search, which allows search users to quickly sort ecommerce products by key attributes.

Dedicated enterprise search solutions also continued to evolve, such as FAST Search and Transfer. Companies working primarily on consumer solutions, such as Google, also began to work on enterprise tools.

The 2000s: Enterprise search moves to the forefront.

The 1990s produced a wide array of disparate enterprise search tools. In the 2000s, the industry began to consolidate, and previously small startups and teams were soon growing into large enterprise level organizations.

In 2000, Autonomy raised $124 million through a float on NASDAQ. By 2005, search tool Verity had 15,000 enterprise clients and was enjoying revenues of $150 million and its team had grown to include 160 people. In 2008, Microsoft would acquire FAST Search and Transfer for $1.2 billion. And In 2011, HP would acquire Autonomy. Increasingly, tech behemoths were looking to buy out smaller enterprise search focused firms.

Many other smaller enterprise search solutions were also advancing and enjoying success, such as Endeca and Exalead Vivisimo. While many remained independent, by 2010 a new round of search platform consolidation loomed.

The contemporary enterprise search industry.

From 2010 to 2013 the enterprise search industry underwent a rapid period of consolidation. Dassault bought Exalead in 2010, Oracle picked up Endeca in 2011, and Vivisimo was purchased by IBM in 2012, among others.

In the years since, enterprise search solutions have continued to evolve into more advanced, robust tools. Even as the tools grow in complexity, they are also becoming more accessible. Moreover, enterprise search tools are being rapidly integrated into other enterprise solutions, such as Microsoft Sharepoint, a popular content and data storage platform.

While much of the technology still used today are relics of the history of enterprise search, or at least based on older concepts, new technologies are also emerging that could shake up the industry. Machine learning and artificial intelligence, in particular, could introduce radical change to enterprise search—and generative AI may revolutionize what search looks like forever.

Perhaps new startups will upend the industry or maybe industry stalwarts, such as Microsoft, will lead the charge. Either way, as sophisticated as today’s enterprise search tools are, they’ll also likely improve in the future, to keep up with ever-increasing search experience expectations.

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