Enterprise search engines pack a punch

The lowdown

What are they? Enterprise search engines perform targeted searches of internal and external data stores, and often analyze and sort the data.

Why would I need one? To reduce the time employees and constituents waste looking for information on the agency's Web site or intranet.

What are their advantages? They can search documents, e-mail, databases and other types of information, saving time and, ultimately, money.

What do they cost? Prices vary for each installation, depending on the number of users and other factors. For an agency prices typically range from tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Must-know information? Enterprise search engines do more than keyword searches on HTML documents, but you have to make sure their features work on your legacy systems without a lot of customization and updates.

Federal agencies have done an admirable job posting hundreds of millions of pages on intranets and public Web sites. But finding the right information can be an adventure. That's why agencies need powerful search engines.

There are hundreds of search engine options, from hosted applications that conduct keyword searches to tools that aggregate information from numerous sources and give views based on criteria such as job title or search context.

International Data Corp. of Farmingham, Mass., estimates the search and retrieval market will grow from $423.3 million in 2002 to $1.3 billion in 2006.

Handling the sheer volume of document types poses a great challenge to search engines, as does the dispersed nature of information.

Certain search engines that can spider their own content ? locating documents by following hypertext links ? also have the ability to initiate database queries or search content on other sites.

Accuracy is another issue. It takes real search intelligence to interpret exactly what the user is looking for, and then understand the content of potentially relevant documents.

Search engine makers have refined several linguistic areas to help gain that intelligence capability, such as synonyms, misspellings and stemming, which determines a root of a word and its other versions.

When picking a search engine, you must have users test them on actual data stores to see which is best for a particular organization. Even at that, different users or applications within your organization might be best served by different search engines.

Drew Robb is a freelance IT writer in Glendale, Calif.

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