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Enterprise search—Can’t find what you need? Join the club

Most enterprises cope with a heterogeneous information environment, with legacy systems, new platforms, file shares and Web 2.0 tools of assorted shapes and sizes. Enterprise search technology offers a way for information workers (i-workers) to access data and information in different information management systems through a common interface. That allows i-workers to find information in the context of their work regardless of where the information is stored.

In reality, the reach of most enterprise search implementations is modest. The majority of organizations use enterprise search engines simply to access information in collaborative systems and the corporate intranet. In fact, Forrester surveyed 133 technology and strategy decision makers in its December 2008 Global Role of Search in eDiscovery Strategy Online Survey, and found that less than half include enterprise content management systems or file shares in the scope of their enterprise search program. Only 18 percent crawled line-of-business applications (for example, customer relationship management systems) with their enterprise search technology.

Trustworthy, but hard to find

Without a strong enterprise search initiative to expand access to unstructured information, people spend significant time looking for what they need. Forrester surveyed U.S. i-workers—individuals between  18 and 88 using a computer or other connected device for job-related tasks—about the devices and applications they use, the teams they work in and the activities they engage in. That survey revealed that two-thirds of i-workers consider company information trustworthy, but only half say that the information they need is easy to find from company sources. Employees search the Web and their own desktop far more frequently than their corporate intranet, because they can more easily find Web-based and personally stored information, and it might be more relevant to the task at hand. Many do turn to the intranet for general errands like downloading benefits information. But just 22 percent of i-workers who use an intranet in their job use the team-only content stored there.

Drilling into data

Members of Forrester’s Information & Knowledge Management Council, a group of 40-plus information and knowledge management (I&KM) professionals from large and midsize companies, echo that disconnect. They describe an information environment where e-mail and file shares remain the daily “go-to” sources for team content sharing.

Drilling down into Forrester Workforce Technographics data, we see that:

  • Enterprise i-workers are more likely to use a search engine to find internal information. Sixty-six percent of employees at firms with more than 5,000 employees search a company intranet at least weekly, compared with 40 percent of employees at firms with fewer than 1,000 employees. In addition, i-workers at large companies are more likely to search online for a coworker to help with work than those at small companies. However, the number of hours i-workers spend looking for information, sharing knowledge and collaborating with employees in a typical week does not vary widely by company size. Although they use different mechanisms, i-workers at firms large and small spend significant time looking for information to fulfill their job function.
  • Gen X, Gen Y and boomers all say that it’s not easy to find company information. Younger workers are often typecast as multitasking, tech-savvy information savants. So it comes as a surprise that younger i-workers face the same difficulty as older workers in locating company information. Of course, finding information isn’t just a matter of technical proficiency. Successful i-workers are adept with obscure systems, possess a strong social network and have a knack for identifying quality content. Such skills are distributed across generations.
  • Content creators search more than content readers. The survey categorized i-workers who spend more time creating documents for others as “content creators,” and i-workers who spend more time viewing documents that others create as “content readers.” The survey also asked if respondents spend more time working with others vs. working independently. Independent content authors spend the most time looking for information or data at work in a typical week. Forrester believes that those i-workers—who may work in functions like communications—are “power searchers” because they want to find relevant quality information to make their materials (for example, fact sheets, press releases) credible.

Even with empowering tools like desktop search and employee intranets, i-workers can’t locate what they need. It’s 2010; why is it still so hard to find information at work? Many Forrester clients report a mismatch between their information access requirements and their current staff, processes and technology. Enterprises lack coordinated enterprise search engine optimization for their internal information. But the problem is not the technology alone. Many factors contribute to the inability of workers to find unstructured information including: redundant and out-of-date content, incomplete search scope, lack of information retrieval expertise and lack of information governance. To attack that problem strategically, enterprise IT professionals must set a goal to evaluate and improve the quality of content throughout its life cycle. 

What and where

I-workers use role-based, specialized information stored all over the enterprise. The top three types of information that i-workers deal with regularly include: administrative content (memos), business data (budgets, performance data, etc.) and specific functional content (architectural drawings, legal motions, healthcare worker patient records and so on). That information is likely stored in a variety of sites, systems and databases, and not consolidated on the intranet. Enterprise IT professionals may choose to use content analytics tools to get an inventory of those assets, understand what they are about and take action to better govern their unstructured information.

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