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Google Search Upgrade Raises Security Fears

Google’s latest effort to improve searching for information in corporations could signal a leap forward in workforce management technology—but it raises security questions.

May 12, 2006
Google’s latest effort to improve searching for information in corporations could signal a leap forward in workforce management technology—but it raises security questions.

In April, the Internet giant announced an upgrade to its corporate search tool, designed to let customers look for data in a variety of business applications more easily. Its Google OneBox for Enterprise feature involves partnerships with a range of software makers, including human resource technology vendors Oracle and Employease.

The upgrade could dramatically shorten the time frontline employees or managers need to find information, such as details about benefit plans, because they might not have to log in to multiple applications or frame their query in a particular format, says Jodi Starkman, director at HR consulting firm ORC Worldwide. "Anything that makes it easier for employees to access enterprise data and content is certainly a positive development," she says. "But the flip side to easy access is potential security concerns."

The OneBox feature is part of the Google Search Appliance, which basically is a computer running Google software. Its price begins at $30,000. Google says its OneBox feature lets people comb through multiple business applications using a Google search field. Employees would conduct these searches through a Web browser, says Matt Glotz­bach, head of products for the Google Enterprise division.

Glotzbach says Google’s product caters to today’s workforce, which has grown accustomed to using Internet search engines.

Google’s technology does raise privacy questions: Could employees use it to find sensitive data about co-workers, such as their salaries?

Google says its OneBox feature works with security systems that already exist inside the corporation, and that it is up to the company to decide what access to give which employees. Glotzbach says the company’s Search Appliance has won the trust of financial services firms and government agencies.

"We obviously take privacy very seriously," he says.

Jim Murphy, director with advisory firm AMR Research, says Google’s new partnerships with business software vendors should calm corporate security fears. He also says Google isn’t alone in offering a single point of access into a range of company information sources. Other corporate search vendors include Autonomy, Fast Search & Transfer and Endeca.

But, Murphy wrote in a recent research note, Google "just may be the first with the firepower in the form of funding, market attention and especially brand to really make it happen."

Employease, which provides outsourcing services and workforce management applications delivered over the Internet, has created a software connector for Google’s OneBox that will let people retrieve phone numbers and e-mail addresses from an employee directory. Jeff Beinke, vice president of product strategy at Employease, says the company may develop additional features for OneBox, including the ability to search for job candidates, benefits information and particular employee skills.

Whatever Google does these days tends to generate buzz, and that helped persuade Employease to work with the search giant. "They provide some visibility that you normally wouldn’t get," Beinke says.

Ed Frauenheim