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4/21/2006
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Google Pitches Business Search As 'Command Line Interface To The World'

The popular interface was Google's ticket into business search. But now it has the tools and partners to be taken seriously.

People love Google not just for finding information but also for presenting it in a way that's easy to understand. The company is banking on its deceptively simple-looking user interface as it pushes inside the corporate firewall.

Google last week started offering new enterprise search hardware, along with an expanded developer program and partnerships with major business software vendors. It's all aimed at letting the Google Search Appliance find and present broader swaths of business data. Most notably, through an application programming interface called OneBox, a company's IT team can make real-time data from ERP, CRM, and other business applications accessible through a Google search box.

OneBox goes beyond finding data and lets developers decide how to present it graphically. It's similar to when someone enters a stock ticker symbol on Google's search engine and gets a stock performance chart and figures like market capitalization, not just Web links about the company. In-house developers can now program the Google appliance so an employee searching for product revenue can get a report formatted by, say, Cognos business intelligence software.

Or a human resources staffer might type "directory adams*" into the search box to find the employment records of workers with that last name. The Google appliance could return links to records in the Employease-hosted HR system, based on all the same security and access rights that apply when using the system directly.

It's an "über-command-line interface to the world," says Dave Girouard, general manager of Google's enterprise business. "But it's a command line where you don't need to know the syntax to make it useful."


Google Search

The sell: Search for employee records like you search for gardening tips.
OneBox shows just how serious Google is about applying its consumer-learned lessons to business problems--and getting paid directly for its technology, rather than through ad revenue. Earlier this year, it introduced a business version of its consumer Desktop Search tool that addressed security concerns, letting system administrators turn off the tool's data-sharing capability. But the business-oriented features had the feeling of an afterthought. This latest effort takes the Google appliance, which had performed a narrowly focused business function of searching documents, and makes it a platform to access data in almost any business application.

Broader Business Appeal
The new hardware, the GB-1001, is a rack-mounted appliance that starts at $30,000 to search up to 500,000 documents, and can be licensed to search up to 1.5 million documents at a rate of 300 queries per minute. Google also updated its Google Mini search box, aimed at small businesses, by reducing its size and increasing its speed. But it's the OneBox feature that really expands the appliance's appeal.

Google's previous search hardware could index and search structured and unstructured data, but it lacked an efficient way to access data that changes often, such as transaction, shipment, or payment data. The conventional way to search data held in enterprise applications involves crawling and indexing XML feeds. OneBox modules reach out in real time and fetch results. More than two dozen OneBox modules are available, and creating new ones is relatively simple. It took Employease only a few hours to create a module to translate data from its system to OneBox, says Jeff Beinke, VP of product strategy at the hosted HR services company, and a Salesforce.com OneBox module has fewer than 100 lines of XML code.

OneBox modules are XML files that tell Google's hardware where to get data and how to transform it for presentation on the search results page. Users querying for Salesforce leads will see links to opportunities identified by the system as if they were Web search results. The Cognos Go! Report Module returns Cognos business intelligence reports in the form of linked maps, charts, and graphs.

The incumbents in enterprise search--Autonomy, Convera, Endeca, and Fast, as well as IBM and Oracle--won't be driven away. High-end systems that cost several hundred thousand dollars do some things better. Some are more sophisticated at categorization--that is, sorting keyword searches by concept and context. Others surpass Google in text mining, or deriving meaning from unstructured data. For most businesses, "if you want the Google experience you've come to know and love on the Web, you have to buy something other than Google," argues Steve Papa, chairman of Endeca, by E-mail. Many established business-search tools have industry-specific functions Google's lacks.

Beyond The Interface
But OneBox represents a significant step forward, says Chris Weitz, who, as head of BearingPoint's search solutions practice, is working with Google to tune its search products to business needs.

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