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Supporting knowledge workers

This article appears in the issue November/December 2014, [Vol 23, Issue 10]

Search engines today are so powerful consumers can find what they are looking for in seconds, yet workplace searches are so often clunky and inefficient. Businesses acknowledge the importance of search to the productivity of knowledge workers, yet many don’t provide an enterprise search capability.

In a recent global research study, “Search and Discovery – Exploiting Knowledge, Minimizing Risk,” the importance of search was underlined, but implementation was lacking. Seventy-one percent of organizations agreed that search is vital to productivity, effectiveness and compliance. Improved search was even stated to be a priority over big data/content analytics for 73 percent of respondents. Despite that, only 11 percent of them have enterprise search capability. (See aiim.org/Research-and-Pub?lications/Research/Industry-Watch/Search-and-Discovery-2014.)

True, searching for information in e-mail archives, multiple content systems, documents stored in enterprise systems, internal social media, sound files and image files has become far more complicated with the ever growing data mountain. But by not providing their knowledge workers with the right tools for the job, enterprises are seriously denting their productivity and overall efficiency.

Putting a value on

enterprise search

Enterprises certainly understand what search tools can bring to the table in terms of capability and performance. Thirty-seven percent of those surveyed said that search is “vital” to the effectiveness of their knowledge workers. A host of business functions, including research, customer care and litigation, use search as an integral part of their daily routine, and the inability to find relevant documents quickly throws a spoke in the entire mechanism. If a document can’t be found, it usually results in the creation of a new one. That can lead to inertia and disinterest, leaving the system open to error and misjudgement. Decision-making requires time-dependent knowledge, and without it, decision-making can get bogged down in deferrals and delays.

Search across e-mails is one of the biggest requirements, often driven by legal discovery, yet few enterprises have a reliable search and hold capability within e-mail. Manual methods predominate. Fifty-two percent of those surveyed agreed that their discovery procedures are “ad hoc, manual, disruptive and expensive.” Forty-seven percent went as far as saying that their policies and mechanisms were actually putting business at risk.

Sixty percent of survey respondents considered it key to be able to search structured content in corporate databases such as ERP, CRM and HR. Here the notion of a unified or enterprise search portal helps locate search results from wherever a match is found. Next on the list were drawings and maps, needed by a surprisingly large 51 percent, photo images (46 percent) and video (35 percent). Tools needed to search within a drawing, image, video or sound file are very different from picking up on external metadata tags.

Why the dearth?

A lack of budget was cited as the overriding reason for not deploying search tools. Only 12 percent of survey respondents had an agreed search strategy, and only half of those have allocated it a budget. Dedicated and trained staff are also few and far between. This means that little or no agreement has been made on taxonomies, vocabularies or metadata standards.

There is also a gray area about who actually “owns” search in many enterprises. More than 50 percent of those surveyed said that the IT department currently takes ownership of search. In only 24 percent of cases did the records management department take control, yet 54 percent said that the role would be better allocated to the records management department. Without a cohesive search strategy and a department taking responsibility for search, it simply falls between the cracks.

So what are the key factors that push enterprises to bring in search tools? Of those surveyed, 42 percent said that the search tools would probably come as part of the deployment of an ECM/DM/RM project. But a large number said that a litigation case or compliance issue would be a driver. The latter would be a case of closing the stable door when the horse has already bolted.

Businesses must get enterprise search in place now, not wait for a crisis to trigger its evaluation. The initial steps to putting in an efficient enterprise search systems are as follows:

? Develop a strategy for search that puts information exploitation and information governance at its helm.

? Denote which department in the organization will have responsibility for enterprise search.

? Carry out an in-depth audit of current search tools.

? Decide what the specific search needs are in the enterprise, department by department and knowledge worker by knowledge worker.

The simplest way of developing a search capability is via an existing enterprise content management system. Evaluate your current ECM system and check if it can be optimized for the job. Link it to any other data storage depots to create a single-point search portal. If that route proves impossible due to the inflexibility of the system, make a clear business case for a new dedicated search tool. If in-house support capabilities are lacking, it will be essential to get in a consultant to help with the initial deployment and train staff and knowledge workers.

Enterprise search is of pivotal importance for knowledge workers, but there is also a need for strong search functionality for compliance audits, freedom of information inquiries and legal discovery mandates. Many organizations are not properly equipped to manage such requests, which could have serious consequences. Businesses that do not have enterprise search in place are advised to do so as a priority. 


 


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