Migrating from Google GSA – the technology is not the core issue

by | Nov 23, 2016 | General, Search

I am greatly indebted to Search Technologies for publishing the results of a survey of clients and other contacts about attitudes to Google GSA migration. The cessation of GSA supply and support hit the headlines back in February this year. I was not the only consultant and vendor to sense a market opportunity. After the initial flurry of activity everything went quiet but I suspect that this survey and an associated e-book will do much to alert GSA customers of the need to put migration planning on their 2017 objectives.

It is worth looking at some of the outcomes of the survey. The first is that 62% of implementations were out of the box and a further 38% had some degree of customisation. One of the important attributes of the GSA was that all it needed to up and working was some rack space and an IT manager who knew (or could find out) where to point it. Maintenance requirements were minimal. It therefore does not surprise me that only 22% of respondents have a migration plan and 72% would like to have a plan, but do not know where to start. Of those who had a plan (I assume) only 30% were planning an on-premise replacement, with 23% planning to wait to move to the Google cloud search solution in due course. I was not surprised to see that most respondents were looking at open source options. The associated e-book is a good summary of the technical issues that need to be considered when developing a migration plan, with a good focus on connectors, content preparation and security management.  However I was very surprised to note the recommendation to “Make sure your in-house IT staff has the bandwidth and skill sets needed to conduct a thorough assessment of the elements above and develop a detailed plan for transitioning from the Google Search Appliance to a new search engine.”

If an organisation has a Google GSA the business justification was usually that it did not need any search skills to manage it. The extent to which you could tweak the ranking was pretty limited. So how would the IT team have developed the skills needed to undertake not just a technical audit but the user requirements analysis that is essential to a successful search implementation? In a recent CMSWire post (which had a staggering number of retweets – thank you) I made the point that users want information and not documents, and the range of those information requirements was very wide indeed. Each of these requirements involves developing a good understanding of how users will search and what information they expect to see on the first one or two pages of results. I also suspect that the GSA was primarily an intranet solution but organisations will now be looking not just for a replacement for intranet search but a solution for enterprise-wide search.

The second issue is that even if the technology is pushed into a cloud the team needed to run a good search application is much larger than most organisations are willing to consider. At the recent Enterprise Search conference in Washington Ernst & Young disclosed that it has a search team of 6 people. The statement drew gasps from audience. To support the migration, testing and on-going management of the GSA replacement is going to require a team, even if a virtual one of people doing job-sharing alongside other commitments. For business planning purposes it will be a major challenge to explain why the increase in headcount is needed and an even bigger challenge to find and train the team in time. Good search managers in the UK are commanding very good salaries, almost certainly beyond those of IT managers at the same grade.

All the major search implementation companies are offering advice but if you would like some personal vendor-independent advice then both Agnes Molnar and I are more than willing to help. I don’t know how many organisations are using a GSA for either an intranet or a website but it is certainly in the thousands, so there is plenty of work for all of us!

Martin White