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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.
Almost every computer user knows how to interact with Google's search box and results page. Familiarity breeds contentment. "Presenting information and making it usable ... and consumable is really the most difficult part of this, and putting it into a UI that everybody understands," Jupiter Research analyst Greg Dowling says.

Yet that interface--the simple box on a pleasant screen--can be easily copied by rivals. As search becomes commoditized, Google must come up with new functionality for that same old interface if it expects it to become a critical business tool.

SAS partnered with Google around this product to help make business intelligence more accessible, SAS CTO Keith Collins says. "It's about a simple interface that allows you to search across multiple types of information and get it all back as a collection," he says. But search is only part of what companies need to manage information overload. "Search doesn't help you with workflow or process," Collins adds.

The task of packaging information to make it accessible and useful falls to the new Google Enterprise Developer Community, which will create OneBox bridges to the Google search box. The developer program is an online community to help business programmers share ideas and tactics for using Google tools. It complements the company's recently introduced Google Enterprise Professional program, through which third-party vendors offer enterprise integration, installation, customization, and training.

The model here is Google Maps. Its publication of an API spawned hundreds of Web sites that mash up map data with other information sources. "We're not just aiming to partner with the big guys," Girouard says.

Several of Google's new enterprise partners--Cisco Systems, Cognos, Employease, NetSuite, Oracle, Salesforce, and SAS--hardly qualify as little guys. They do, however, make Google a more credible threat to high-end enterprise search vendors, which could face a tougher time differentiating their products.

The Microsoft Factor
Microsoft has yet to make its move in the enterprise market, but it will. "Microsoft has some of the best people in the industry working on the search problem," IDC analyst Sue Feldman says. They'd better be fast as well as smart. Google's enterprise search products are rapidly moving up-market with the help of a growing number of partners. Search vendors that want to remain in the game face a flourishing Google ecosystem, price pressure, and a formidable brand.

Google won't reveal exactly how big its enterprise search business is, other than to say it's about 1% of revenue, which would be more than $20 million in its latest quarter. It claims more than 3,000 customers and sales growth of more than 100% last year. Gartner values the enterprise search market at $369 million this year, up 10% from last year. IDC measures a much wider business search market that it values at $945 million for last year.

Partners like Cisco give Google momentum. Cisco exposes the database from its MeetingPlace conference system to the Google search box. Joe Burton, director of engineering for Cisco's unified communications business, says the security was well thought out--ensuring that employees get only the data to which they're entitled. The appliance has an SAML Authentication interface, native LDAP authentication, and the ability to search secure content through support for X.509 client certificates. So employees with the right access can search data in Cisco's conferencing system--appointments, past meetings, contact information--through Google's browser interface.

Ultimately, it's all about the interface. Microsoft saw this years ago when it recognized that the Netscape browser window might afford a better view of the networked world than Windows and subsequently beat Netscape at its own game. Now comes Google and its "über-command-line interface to the world."