Lervik leaves Microsoft-FAST

So it appears that John Markus Lervik has left Microsoft – he’s now a (Former) Corporate Vice President there, despite the fact that Microsoft claimed to be concentrating its search efforts in his native Norway.

When I saw the news over the weekend I took one look at the date and recalled that the deal to buy FAST was in early January 2008 and thus a year had just past and such 12 month lock-ups are customary, and that FASTForward09 is coming up, starting February 9 and so Microsoft wanted a clean break before that, I’m sure. Nobody’s talking right now, so it’s hard to know all the ins and outs, but that’s why I suspect it’s happened now, rather than earlier or later.

Anyway, I agree with Dave Kellog’s assessment of why what happened, happened.

John Markus never seemed comfortable to me being a Microsoft executive. Bjorn Olstad probably isn’t that comfortable with it either, but he is undoubtedly a very smart engineering leader and product developer, and in a role where he doesn’t need to sing the company song three times before breakfast and I suspect he’d like to stay that way, rather than get involved in being a figurehead for FAST within Microsoft.

We look forward to hearing just what Microsoft is doing with FAST in early February, because over the last year or so, we haven’t heard anything more than we heard at FASTForward last year.

FAST-Stellent – what might have been

The combination of search, text analysis and content management is turning into one of the central memes of this blog. This wasn’t deliberate, although it’s something we’ve deliberated internally for a couple of years.

There were plenty of partnerships between search and content management vendors around, but they seemed to us to be either at the press release level, i.e. little more than marketing, or to be as a result of a small handful of one-off projects in the field.

But it turns out others within the industry were thinking about much deeper integrations even if they weren’t saying so publicly.

About a year after Stellent and FAST (both then independent, of course) announced a partnership that resulted in Stellent OEMing FAST’s engine, FAST seriously considered buying Stellent.

I’ve heard from a couple of reliable sources that this was discussed at the highest level within FAST, but it chose not to pursue the deal and instead decided to veer way off its core business and ending up distracting itself to such an extent it got itself tied up in knots. This ended with it being forced to incur about $55m in charges in 2007 that resulted in its share rice plummeting and thus ending up costing Microsoft a lot less than it would have done.

Incidentally, one of those sidebars – Ezmo – a music community site (presented to analysts in February 2007 as a “customer” of FAST, when in fact the phrase that should’ve been used was”‘wholly-owned subsidiary”) was shut down in March.

Of course Stellent went on to be acquired by Oracle in 2007 and we’ve been impressed by the way the database giant has integrated the company so far.

But FAST and Stellent could have made for an interesting combination of the ability to manage and analyze unstructured content, and who knows, FAST-Stellent might’ve been a force to be reckoned with? Now we look to see what Microsoft – something of a toe-dipper when it comes to content management and Oracle, armed with a pretty decent search engine do to prolong this meme.

Microsoft & FAST to exchange rings this week

Well, that’s one of those pesky search acquisitions sorted out anyway.

Microsoft and Fast Search & Transfer (FAST) will consummate (their words, not mine) the acquisition on Thursday (April 24) now that the conditions of the acquisition have been met, according to this. FAST has had the requisite number of shares tendered since February. The time since then has been spent clearing the regulatory hurdles.

I’d grown quite attached to those Oslo Stock Exchange announcements as they provided FAST-watchers like me with a a running commentary on FAST’s progress, listing each major customer win as they happened, along with a whole lot of other stuff, including last year’s major stumble.

The new chapter of Microsoft’s enterprise search business starts this week, which is good timing for us, as I’m speaking with them next week.

Our take on M&A in enterprise search

I’ve gathered all my current thinking on potential M&A in enterprise search in a SectorIQ that we published earlier this week to our customers. In it, I look at four main potential targets plus a few other small ones and look at a few of the likely acquirers. (This is the way we write all our Sector IQs, btw and they’re a great way of getting a quick grasp on what might be coming down the pike in any particular sector of the IT industry)

Fortunately those of you that are not our customers (yet!) are able to read it via our arrangement with the New York Times DealBook section. Click here to see the NY Times posting or go here to go straight to the report – and while you’re there, sign up for a trial of our M&A KnowledgeBase, where we’ve been collecting details of every IT, internet and telecoms deal since the start of 2002!

Finally, a quick word about the headline. We like to have some fun here at 451 with these things and while I appreciate that this one might have been pushing things a little in terms of clearly explaining what the report was about, when else would I be able to use it? 😉