Google just announced something really interesting. They’re building a completely new search product for enterprises called Springboard. Now, in order to understand what Springboard is and the rationale behind it, we have to go back a couple years.
In 2008, Google came out with something called the Google Search Appliance, or GSA for short. The idea was to bring Google’s search prowess to corporations. If you’re not a big business, however, chances are that you haven’t heard of it, and that’s fine. The GSA was an on-premises hardware search appliance. In other words, it was an appliance that allowed employees to search for information that was scattered across all their business systems. This is definitely a ripe opportunity because studies, including a report from McKinsey, have shown that workers spend 20% of their time looking for information. But the GSA, like similar offerings from other enterprise search vendors like HP/Autonomy, struggled to get a strong foothold in enterprises. First, in order to use the technology, you had to deploy a hardware appliance and spend endless hours configuring and tuning for quality results. This made it more difficult for small business to benefit quickly. But more importantly, the user interface and underlying technology failed to foster adoption and engagement.
To explain this problem with a very simple example, let’s say you’re on your way to work and wondering “why does my dog keep eating my shoes”. You are so curious that you decide to search for the answer on Google. One of the things Google does when you search is it finds documents that use those words with the highest frequency. With That data, along with information on how many other people found that document useful, Google ranks the results for you. The top result would be the most relevant based on word frequency, context and social proof of quality. And this works really well for consumers.
As you can imagine, this model quickly becomes problematic in business. First, information sources are more diverse and systems often don’t interoperate. Second, social proof is almost non-existent given that not many people search for similar stuff to begin with. And finally, enterprise information needs are very specific and demands accurate and time-sensitive results. For example, when you search for “product roadmap”, the search engine would give back any document with the word “product” and “roadmap” in it. It could be a roadmap published 5 years ago. It could be an old email sent to a colleague. It could be a Salesforce entry of an old customer. For a more in-depth explanation of this topic, refer to Can Enterprise Search Effectively Serve Employees’ Needs?
Enter the Google Springboard. Announced on June 13, 2016, Google Springboard is, in many ways, the GSA 2.0. But it is expected to be much more. First, it will be cloud-based, meaning that you won’t have to worry about installing a piece of hardware into your data center. But more importantly, you will see a much more seamless experience in terms of manageability. This should open it up to small and mid-sized businesses. Secondly, in the long run,the search experience will be more predictive than reactive. This is the holy grail of enterprise search as it gives customers access to information without having to change their workflow. Springboard brings tremendous credibility to this space. Finally, Springboard will have an improved mobile interface for the employees that are out and about, possibly of bringing “Google Now” cards to enterprise data.
One of the big limitations of Springboard, at least initially, is that it only searches across Google apps like Gmail, Google Drive, and Calendar and not third party apps like Salesforce and Zendesk. This effectively ties you to Google’s own ecosystem. We hope Google will enable searchability of other data-sources through a rich partner ecosystem. For now, we can only wait and see what this tech giant, founded by creating a large scale, consumer facing search engine, can produce for a smaller scale, enterprise environment.