After years of false starts and uncertain strategies for knowledge management, organizations now understand that effective KM has to be built on a strong foundation of enterprise search. Vendors are heeding the call with a new class of solutions that promise the ultimate in search performance, backing their claims with page after page of impressive features and technical specifications. Listening to their pitches, you might think that realizing the full value of your enterprise knowledge is only a purchase order away—but if you’re not careful, you might discover soon enough that all you’ve bought is another hollow promise.
For all the innovation it may offer, an enterprise search solution is just like every other new application that gets introduced in one crucial respect: it will only work if people use it. What is critical to a user with a search tool is: can I get the results I need, when I need them, the way I need them? A single bad experience can turn any user against an application—and in today’s Web-indexed world, you have to meet a high standard to win full adoption for a new search product.
Don’t let the wrong search implementation doom your KM initiative. As you evaluate your options for enterprise search, keep a close eye out for these five key pitfalls:
1. Slow performance. This should go without saying, but it’s all too easy to be swayed by other features and lose sight of the ticking clock. Nothing wastes time and frustrates users more than staring at a spinning beach ball. At minimum, the solution should deliver results for the typical search in no more than three seconds.
2. Inconvenience. In this era of integrated systems and all-purpose interfaces, a results page should provide direct access to the hits it returns. Users should be able to open any document, email or website directly from the results page and within the confines of the native application. Having to toggle between applications will result in failure.
3. Limited functionality. Yes, the essence of the Web search experience is simplicity—but in an enterprise context, this has to be balanced by the need to filter results easily and flexibly. One-size-fits-all results do an equally poor job for everyone. On the front end, users should be able to tweak searches easily by metadata, document type, source, date range and other factors. On the back end, administrators should be able to spotlight specific high-value documents for certain keywords and types of searches.
4. No transparency. It’s not a professional’s job to worry about technical details like which systems they’re searching or how the underlying security works. Instead, a single screen should allow searches across any and all enterprise stores, and return results from every resource consolidated on a single page, while respecting native security and giving the user the ability to sort and sift easily through the returned results.
5. Unclear objectives. While the preceding four pitfalls are inherent in the solution, this one is entirely on you. Have you fully defined your needs prior to implementation? Have you sorted out what’s really important to users when it comes to finding the information they need to do their jobs? Make sure to consider your needs both now and in the future so you’re not left high and dry when it’s time to move on to phase two; don’t settle for "good enough for now."
None of this is meant to diminish the value of technologies and features like clustering, taxonomies, social search and federation; they all have an important role to play. But they can only deliver value if the system is being used, and only a solution that gives users the kind of experience they really want can pave the way for a successful KM initiative.
In my own vendor search, I found that the most successful solution for avoiding these pitfalls comes from Interwoven, a company with a long history of providing innovative and effective KM solutions for law firms. I chose Interwoven Universal Search: Professional Services Edition for my organization; if you’re considering an enterprise search implementation for your firm, I recommend giving it strong consideration as well. You might just save a million dollars.
Interwoven is a global leader in content management solutions. Interwoven’s software and services enable organizations to maximize online business performance and organize, find and govern business content. Interwoven solutions unlock the value of content by delivering the right content to the right person in the right context at the right time.