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Search in SharePoint: Enterprise Software vs. SharePoint 2013 Search

Search in SharePoint: Enterprise Software vs. SharePoint 2013 Search

What do SharePoint's search capabilities offer your organization and what do third-party enterprise search tools offer? Dan Holme asks SharePoint search expert, Agnes Molnar, "What’s the main difference between Autonomy IDOL and SharePoint 2013 Search?"

Greetings and aloha!  As I work through my inbox, I find a very interesting SharePoint-related question from a Dutch search expert, whose focus was on Autonomy IDOL—a product that competes with SharePoint Search. He wanted to understand the broad differences between the two platforms.  I turned to Agnes Molnar—one of the world’s leading voices on SharePoint Search—for answers.  This week, I’ll share her insights on search.

It’s exciting to be home for more than a few days, and I’m working hard with some great friends and colleagues on some big SharePoint projects that I’ll announce before Microsoft TechEd.  I also spent a bunch of time in March rolling out the intranet for one of my media customers.  I can safely say I now have something along the lines of “instant intranet” to share with customers in the future!

This Saturday, I fly down under to Sydney and Auckland for the SharePoint Conferences there.  It’s not too late to register for these exciting events, and I’ll be presenting my SharePoint Governance Master Class as a preconference workshop in both locations.  You can even register for the workshop without attending the main event, but the events promise to be very worthwhile!  There are also major SharePoint events in Atlanta and London coming up in April.  I’m also thrilled to announce I am invited to speak at Microsoft TechEd, both in New Orleans and Madrid.

And now, to this week’s main feature: SharePoint Search vs. Autonomy IDOL.  To provide expert insight, I turned to Agnes Molnar—a great friend and an überguru of SharePoint search.

Agnes has been Microsoft SharePoint Server MVP for six years and works as independent consultant, with a strong focus on Enterprise Search and Information Management. Her expertise extends beyond SharePoint, with years of experience with connected backend systems.  She has co-authored and contributed to several books and e-books, and she’s a regular speaker at various conferences around the globe. On her blog, AGHY, she provides excellent articles and guidance covering Enterprise Search and Content Management best practices.

Based on some questions from a Dutch Autonomy search expert, I asked Agnes to explain some of the differences between the platforms. 

Dan: So Agnes, what’s the main difference between Autonomy IDOL and SharePoint 2013 Search?

Agnes: The main difference is on the two Search engines’ goals. Autonomy IDOL’s focus is on heavy customization to satisfy the diverse requirements. It provides a toolkit that can be used to solve complex search problems.

In contrast, Microsoft wanted to make SharePoint Search relatively easy to setup and maintain, and provide generic out-of-the-box features by productizing them. It’s a very good choice to build Search Applications, especially e-Discovery and e-Commerce.

Dan: What can one do if wants to connect some external system or database to Search?

Agnes: Microsoft doesn’t provide such a wide range of search connectors like Autonomy, but there are several options to add new connectors through the connector framework, using BCS (Business Connectivity Services) and also there’re some partners who provide search connectors for SharePoint.

Dan: Cool. And how about content processing? I’ve heard there’re significant differences here, too.

Agnes: Yes, that’s correct. In contrast to Autonomy’s “meaning based computing,” Microsoft uses Linguistic Analysis. This approach is flexible and open, and custom Entity Extraction steps can be added to recognize entities that are important to the organization, and then the document can be tagged with these entities as metadata. As a result, improving search results is relatively easy.

I have to mention metadata processing too. SharePoint has a very strong metadata support for Search, especially with the pipeline extensibility feature mentioned above.

Dan: Does this mean, I can customize the ranking of search results too, based on the properties I have in my content sources?

Agnes: Exactly. Relevance ranking algorithm of SP2013 is fully customizable. For automatic relevance tuning, click-through analysis is used.

Dan: What about the UI and the end user experience?

Agnes: In the previous versions of SharePoint, the Search UI was optimized for finding information, not acting on it. In contrast, SharePoint 2013 has “hover panel” for search results, with has much more flexibility to add actions.
Though Autonomy IDOL provides a number of interfaces out-of-the-box, some of them are highly customizable. For example, Portal-in-a-Box provides users with the ability of drag and drop UI customization. It’s not optimized for actionable results, though.

Dan: Thank you so much for sharing your time and expertise, Agnes! And best of luck to you with your new blog, and with all of your consulting engagements!  I’m sure your customers must be thrilled to be able to work with you!

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