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

The crushing findability problem is not due to a lack of search engines, but rather search functionality is siloed by repository. Almost all information management technology (e-mail, collaborative tools, etc.) has an embedded search box. Those search boxes are not connected, however, so i-workers must use different systems (both inside and outside the firewall) to meet information needs

Ranking search

Companies of all shapes and sizes set aside significant dollars to ensure that customers and prospects can easily find Web site content. Search marketing (for the Web) is a huge business, with literally thousands of vendors providing guidance on how to structure and enrich information so it is easy for Google to find. Forrester has numerous reports with data on search marketing and search engine optimization.

Forrester estimates that search marketing spending will top $32 billion by 2014. But inside the enterprise, enterprise search and taxonomy projects rank behind other information management priorities, such as consolidating e-mail systems and enterprise collaboration. Forrester surveyed 1,018 I&KM software decision-makers in its Enterprise and SMB Software Survey, North America and Europe, Q4 2008. Twenty-eight percent of respondents ranked implementing an enterprise search strategy as important or very important, compared with 51 percent of respondents who said consolidating e-mail systems is important or very important, and 36 percent who said that implementing an enterprise collaboration strategy is important or very important. More recently, in the Q4 2009 update to that survey, only 17 percent of enterprise IT decision makers planned to expand or upgrade their information access software (e.g., enterprise search, desktop search, text analytics) implementation.

The options

It’s clear that enterprise search is quite a puzzle. Enterprises do have several technical options to meet their search requirements: maximizing the integrated search capabilities embedded in their key information management systems, federating to other information systems to expand the scope of search, and/or deploying an enterprise search product. Those options will improve search, but the best option is to enlist i-workers in the fight to make improved access to information a top priority.

If i-workers can start a grassroots movement for prioritizing findability, I&KM pros can build a strong argument for senior management to invest in people, process and technology to make it happen. Forrester Workforce Technographics data shows that increased attention, headcount and technology make sense because:

  • I-workers would rather have improved findability than other workplace enhancements. I-workers rank finding the information they need as more important to their success than additional software training or being able to work at home.
  • I-workers are willing to spend time searching for solid information. Perhaps based on their experience with Web search, survey responders seem to acknowledge that finding quality information takes time. Just 20 percent agree or strongly agree with: “I spend too much time tracking down the right information or data.”
  • I-workers acquire good information management habits from the Web and social media. Workers of all ages tag and upload content, get alerts and follow feeds in their personal lives. As people engage in activities like organizing digital photos and sharing music online, they appreciate the impact of rich metadata on search usability. I&KM pros can capitalize on that increased sophistication regarding information accessibility. How? By making it clear that enterprise search works best in an environment where i-workers practice complementary information best practices (clear document titles, clean HR profiles and strict content expiration policies, to name a few).

Bottom line: Craft your enterprise search strategy to address your i-workers’ pain; frame enterprise search projects using a worker-centered (not repository-centered) approach. You should investigate the trustworthiness and accessibility of key information sources across different worker segments. Those I&KM professionals responsible for improving access to information should understand which i-workers look for what, and where their organization stores vital role-based content. For example, if the majority of your i-workers find it easy to get the information they need from desktop search and e-mails, then critical company content needs to be delivered in that context. If a large number of your i-workers are content readers (as opposed to content creators), then you might market shared bookmarks as a passive way for them to acquire relevant and related content. Rather than focus on the intranet search box as the locus of energy for information access initiatives, I&KM pros should broaden their vision. The enterprise findability problem is far more complex, and I&KM pros should enlist i-workers in the fight to improve information access.  

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