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Copernic Targets the Information Management Needs of SMEs

By Andrew Goodman, 4/19/2004

The glamorous world of consumer Internet search is often portrayed as a battle with many contenders in which most will lose, and a few companies (Google, MSN, Yahoo) will "win."

The same logic is sometimes applied to the lesser-known world of enterprise search and knowledge management. Indeed, many analysts are prone to seeing the same companies (Microsoft, Google) as developing "category killing products" that will inevitably meet the needs of most businesses. In that scenario, what space is there left for the dozens of contenders in the knowledge management business?


In an April 18 New York Times article about the knowledge management race ("Humans vs. Computers, Again. But There's Help for Our Side."), James Fallows implies that the many (he's "tried at least 50 of them") companies vying to "give users better command of their own data" are going to lose to Microsoft unless one or more of them can "attain enough of an independent, Google-like identify to co-exist with Microsoft."


Fallows is a true horse whisperer when it comes to the potential of technology itself to soothe our technology-induced headaches. But the business analysis doesn't measure up. There are dozens of profitable companies offering custom KM solutions to the enterprise; many toil in relative anonymity, known only to the people that matter most: their customers.


It does help, though, to have some brand awareness to help the salesmen get a foot in the door. It also helps to identify holes in the marketplace and to offer solutions that offer immediate pain relief to beleaguered managers and IT departments.


Copernic, a moderately well-known player in the public search space (metasearch, invisible web search) is counting on these factors as it enters the enterprise search market. Rather than focusing on large corporate accounts with long sales cycles and price tags halfway towards seven figures, Copernic seeks to address the search needs of small to medium-sized businesses. To the casual observer, many would wonder what possible "search needs" an SME might acknowledge was worth an investment in the five-figure range. "I had the same question myself before I took this job," chuckles Eric Negler, Copernic's Director of US Sales.


As it turns out, enterprise-wide search is a difficult problem for companies of almost all sizes. Solutions like Open Text's Livelink, which offer sophisticated, full-featured knowledge management across a range of permission levels, document types, etc., are generally too expensive for the small company with 20-200 employees, but that doesn't mean these companies don't seek the same benefits. Increasingly sophisticated repositories of data in different formats -- artwork, agreements, catalogs, documents, email -- are being kept online. Accessing it all while maintaining appropriate security is crucial.


The same need can be felt by divisions, departments, and groups within large corporations. As with many software purchase decisions, it makes sense to be able to purchase a KM product suitable for such a unit rather than taking on the more expensive, bureaucratic task of sync'ing up the whole company. Copernic's solution is currently installed, for example, in a division of a Fortune 100 company in order to provide a customized knowledge base for customers and distributors for a particular high-tech product line. Another company, a laser design firm, has sophisticated document retrieval needs and is pleased at the low cost of the solution it purchased from Copernic (in the $50-70,000 range).


Assuming the product is full-featured, buyers of these products typically care about two things: price and ease/speed of installation. According to Negler, many companies have tried to ride the "salesforce.com ASP model," because it appears to be affordable. In the long-term, it often turns out to be more expensive, however. Also, some such solutions also take months to implement, whereas Copernic's can be up and running within 48 hours. The company also offers a fully-functional trial version of the Copernic Enterprise Search product for free download (with a 5,000 document limit).


The product is full-featured, offering things like advanced "parametric search." And most competing products, says Negler, aren't XML-compatible. Customization is also important. While Copernic promises advanced customization support, some companies (such as Atomz, implies Negler) offer solutions that are more "out of the box" and less scalable to evolving needs. While Negler does concede that Google is a competitor, the question of focus comes up repeatedly. His main competition, he feels, is probably Ultraseek, which was acquired by publicly-traded enterprise search stalwart Verity. But if Verity isn't ultimately that interested in the needs of small business, the Ultraseek division may languish.


Focus and service are paramount in addressing the IT needs of smaller businesses, since there is no IT department per se that can be expected to take on the administration full-time. Copernic's success in this sector, Negler believes, will depend on providing not only a competitively-priced KM product, but also enough personalized service to support the smaller company's resident-geek-by-default, the "non-IT person who is the default IT person in the company."

Andrew Goodman is Editor-at-Large of Traffick.com and the author of "21 Ways to Maximize Results on Google Adwords". 

 

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