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Reaching search nirvana at KMWorld Connect 2021

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As technology and user expectations change, not always in tandem, questions arise around how best to optimize technology and satisfy enterprise searchers.

A fundamental baseline is whether to iteratively improve your existing system, acquire a brand new system (new to your organization, that is), or hire a developer to build an open source application.

At KMWorld Connect 2021 search expert Martin White, managing director, Intranet Focus Ltd., explored the thought processes involved in evaluating your options, suggested how to view the promises of artificial intelligence, and stressed the importance of transparency between vendor and customer.

“What is Nirvana? It is an experience,” White said. “Employees can make an informed judgement about which pieces of content presented in the list of results best serve their information requirements.”

Organizations are coping with an information waterfall, he explained. According to the IntraTeam Search Benchmark Survey report 2020, the majority of organizations (30%) are dissatisfied with their internal search functionality, he referenced.

“Many organizations have been saying the same thing, ‘Search is not working,’” White said. “Making content more findable is a big challenge.”

To avoid a big “black box” of technology behind search, companies need to build it from the ground up starting with defining the business strategy, then making decisions on risks. The search strategy has to meet the information management strategy, he noted.

In terms of boosting an existing search engine, he recommended:

  • Forming a search team
  • Seeking strategies
  • Develop search personas
  • Maintain information quality
  • Make meaningful metrics
  • Customized solution
  • High visibility
  • Train and support

A one size solution does not fit all, he said. Every single group sees different benefits from search technology.

Building and buying a search engine can be overwhelming, there are many different choices for a variety of business objectives.

“Speed alone is not a performance indicator of search,” White said. “You’ve really got to dive down knowing what your users want and how you really want to use this technology.”

Building your own search includes:

  • Develop a search application based on Apache Lucene, Apache Solr, Elasticsearch, Vespa  (there are many more...) - all are "open code" freely available
  • Three options
  • Use an in-house team with experience of working with open code
  • Commission an external developer or agency
  • Do both - bring in external consultants to support your team
  • Remember
  • It may not be less expensive overall because of professional services costs
  • You have to be 100% specific and comprehensive about your current and future requirements
  • Be honest with yourself and the team about the benefits and the risks (external consultants may be able to help you assess these)
  • Advantages include no vendor lock-in and owning & understanding the eventual solution
  • A vendor may claim to have open code elements (e.g. on GitHub) but they are often wrapped in commercial code

“You have to look at boosting the whole time,” White said. “If you wait too long, you’ve still got another 18 months to go before showing satisfactory search performance to your employees. Do the user research now because that could save you six months of development time.”

KMWorld Connect 2021 is going on this week, November 15-18, with workshops on Friday, November 19. On-demand replays of sessions will be available for a limited time to registered attendees and many presenters are also making their slide decks available through the conference portal. For more information, go to www.kmworld.com/conference/2021.

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