Enterprise Search Means Finding Information, Not Just Documents


Too often enterprise search focuses on finding relevant documents instead of the information contained within PHOTO: Jean-Etienne Minh-Duy Porrier

Findwise once again released its annual Findability Survey late in October during its annual Findability Day conference in Stockholm, the only remaining enterprise search-focused event in Europe. 

The Findability Survey has grown in authority over the years and this year is no exception. I had the pleasure of working with the report’s author, Mattias Ellison, to make the survey as relevant as possible to enterprise search managers. 

This year’s report comes in two sections: 1. search trends from 2012 to 2016 and 2. a strategy section that emphasizes how to create a search and findability strategy and what results this can bring to the organization. 

Enterprise Search Takeaways

While attending the conference in Stockholm, I asked Ellison to name the main outcomes of the 2016 survey. His response: 

  • Findability is slowly improving, partly due to increasing engagement in activities to improve information quality, such as taxonomies, metadata guidelines and content life cycle management
  • However one-third of the respondent organizations consider it difficult for users to find information
  • The number of organizations taking a strategic approach to search and findability has increased from 20 percent in 2012 to over 50 percent
  • Results indicate several positive effects from having a strategy to provide a clear direction and to justify necessary investments in search and findability. E.g. search team size is significantly larger in organizations with strategy compared to organizations without.

Two charts in the report caught my attention. The first showed that over the period from 2012 to 2016, the percentage of respondents stating that companies using better decision making as core business justification for search investment increased from 28 percent to 78 percent. 

Search really has become business-critical. 

People Want Information, Not the Documents that Contain It

The second chart is shown below. It reports on information demand, not document demand. 

So often the focus on search is about finding relevant documents. It should be about finding relevant information, not the 200 page internal reports where the information is hidden in a maze of words. 

most important information areas

You would expect subject matter searching to top the list, but perhaps not searching for people, which includes expertise. All too often I find companies fail to pay enough attention to people search. (IBM released an excellent research paper on people search which I recommend). 

As you look down this list it should become apparent that each of these information areas will require a different approach to query management and performance evaluation. 

Take services and tools as one example, again an area often not given enough attention. Look at your search logs with care and you may be surprised at how many are for applications which are not immediately visible in an intranet or services catalogue, often because they are in an A-Z list and the names may not indicate the service offering. 

In the case of applications, people do not want a list of 100 or more related documents, but to get straight to the application and complete a task. This may require a very different way of presenting the application link on the results page. 

Finding What’s On the Outside

All enterprise search applications share a problem: they do not provide effective access to external information, in spite of the demand for information on customers, industries, markets, competitors and suppliers and partners. 

Although these appear down the list in percentage order to small groups of employees in customer management or procurement, they are very important. For these people, bringing together information from a range of different internal and external sources into a search card can provide immense value. 

Some professional services companies (PwC in the UK for example) provide search cards that when a client (or potential client) calls, the employee receives all the required information in the time it takes to have a typically UK conversation about the weather. 

Enterprise Search is a Program, Not Project

This chart also illustrates how important it is for companies to invest in search team resources. 

Just identifying a few power users for each of these 13 search themes as an ad hoc sounding board for requirements and solutions could make a substantial difference to people making business-critical decisions. However even this seemingly simple process could take a lot of time in a global organizations, especially where the processes may vary between North America, Europe and other major geographies. 

Search development has to be a program of a series of projects. As one project comes to completion, many more will be queued up for attention. A search Center of Excellence then becomes the de facto Program Office, with the responsibility for enterprise search strategy implementation. 

Martin White is Managing Director of Intranet Focus, Ltd. and is based in Horsham, UK. An information scientist by profession, he has been involved in information retrieval and search for nearly four decades as a consultant, author and columnist.


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