Here we go again: another significant enterprise problem that isn't being solved, a problem that has been around for most of the digital era. Is it because the problem isn't cool enough to capture the attention of upper management? -- so it's seen as 'somebody' else's problem, instead of recognizing that real costs, productivity and value are being squandered because this problem isn't being solved
There are good technologies that could help with the problem now. But strategies are missing regarding how these technologies should be used. Newer technologies are coming along that will make the job easier, but there are no strategies for adopting them either.
The problem? Enterprise Search and Findability
Obviously an enormous amount of digital items are created every day – but inexplicably there is an equally enormous vacuum for how to find the right stuff. There is a debilitating disconnect between the proliferation of electronic information and the constant need to quickly and accurately find all of the information and expertise that is essential for work every day. From top to bottom, enterprises have failed to take seriously the high cost of being grossly inadequate at finding information, data, documents, experts. Instead they have settled for low performance, low-return techniques to… sort of handle Search.
Surprise! Lack of Strategies
There is quite a bit of research on the significant value of making the right information available to the right person at the right time – and quite a bit of research shows clearly that enterprise search and findability have direct impact on the success of organizations:
The growth of information and data makes findability increasingly more critical in order to get the right information to the right person at the right time.
Gartner states that "by 2015 organizations integrating high-value, diverse, new information types and sources into a coherent information management infrastructure will outperform their industry peers financially by more than 20%".1
(But) solving the problem of finding the right information is not a priority according to this survey (The Enterprise Search and Findability Report 2012):
Most organisations do not have a strategy for search, neither a budget, nor any resources.
But enterprise search continues to elude C-level managers as a strategic imperative for building a "culture of success" within the enterprise. The multitude of studies that have been done to show the high cost of manual processes for locating the right information seems to have made no impact on upper management when it comes to creating a strategic approach and implementing right-fit search technologies and practices.
Source: IDC report – Information Access in Tomorrow's Enterprise - 2009
Undoubtedly upper management at most companies view enterprise search as an IT project, as a nice-to-have, as something so unglamorous that it couldn't possibly have anything to do with the competitive DNA of the company, let alone innovation and responsive change. Upper management is failing to lead the enterprise into the 21st century by building strategies, engendering culture and selecting technologies to energize how information can be continuously found by everyone in the enterprise.
Here's the flaw that plague most organizations when introducing enterprise search: a search technology is established within a silo – a business unit, group or function – without a strategic plan in place, without a view to fanning out the particular search technology for the entire enterprise. Meanwhile, other business units may bring in silo'd search functions. A loosely stitched patchwork emerges. No focus, no big picture, no notion of a search platform that governs one or more approaches to search, as needed by the enterprise. Instead search is implemented as too tactical, too dependent on IT as the driving force.
For search to be strategic, the push must come from upper management with purposeful collaboration with end users (who understand the business needs). Search must be tied to real outcomes and impact on the business, to help the enterprise leverage insight to best advantage.
Hierarchy of strategies
Too often organizations don't understand that centralized functions that impact most of the enterprise can only succeed based on a hierarchy of strategies. There has to be than an over-arching C-Level strategy, not just a silo'd "strategy" that only benefits a small group. Strategies for Search have to include more than "information and knowledge management pros". Collaboration with all users must occur – strategy cannot be something dictated without understanding how people in the enterprise work (this parallels the failures when IT only decides on the selection of software systems – of course, with the approval of upper management).
A hierarchy of strategies means that lower level strategy has to meet the needs at the business unit or group level -- but also align with desired business outcomes. Lower levels map back into the over-arching corporate strategy that is tied to high level goals and objectives. The result is an approach to search and findability that makes sense, can be measured and is an essential platform that is greater than the sum of the parts.
As with many other strategic initiatives, those enterprises that purposefully dedicate time, money and people to supporting enterprise search find the best results and real impact on the business:
Thus addressing those deficiencies in how an organisation manages search can deliver great returns for a relatively small investment, preferably in personnel. The survey reveals that:
Amongst the organisations that are very satisfied with their search, they have a (larger) budget, more resources and systematically work with analysing search.
Search is not a separate technology or program – it must integrate with business processes and corporate initiatives as vital infrastructure. Search for all employees aligns with communication, connectedness and collaboration
Quantitative and Qualitative Value Metrics
For Search technology and processes, qualitative value is as equally important as looking for quantifiable returns. Each enterprise will need to select the attributes to be measured, hard and soft, and how they will be measured. For each enterprise, the "right" metrics are the ones that measure the actions and outcomes that relate to key business context and goals. Once a matrix of metrics has been selected, it's likely that each organization will need to constantly assess that set of metrics for validity and effectiveness.
A leading Canadian IT consulting firm, NLC, recently tackled the (metrics) question head on in their 'Building the Business Case for Enterprise Search' whitepaper last week. While maintaining that a formal analysis 'misses' the real value of Enterprise Search, the paper does go on to provide a formal approach based on the IDC report, The Hidden Costs of Information Work (May 2009).
Search Cost Today = # of knowledge workers X avg. salary (incl. benefits) X % of time spent searching
Potential Annual Benefit = Search Cost Today X The Search Lift Ratio (%)
Once deployed, estimates around 'The Search Lift Ratio' can easily be quantified through a combination of A/B testing…'accurate' time-on-page measurements and traditional survey/feedback polls.
For many enterprises the qualitative value of search may be the more significant set of metrics for determining what has been gained:
With enterprise search capabilities expanding and more companies looking to how search can help their business, the question now is what the true benefits of enterprise search are. According to Glotzbach, the biggest opportunity offered by a good enterprise search tool is a phrase he calls "information velocity", which basically refers to the notion of businesses trying to move faster and more efficiently. It means different things to different businesses. For a business with a large customer support team, being able to find the right answer for a customer faster would translate to hard-dollar benefits around operational efficiency, shorter call times, etc., and then soft-dollar benefits around improved customer experience. For a technology or engineering-driven company, it means being able to quickly assemble a team's collective wisdom for improved decision-making.
Another overarching benefit of enterprise search that applies to all companies is improved collaboration. “We see search as a key component of collaboration, especially in today’s global economy,” Glotzbach says. “It’s not uncommon for even midsize companies to have offices located throughout the world. Unfortunately, with that geographic dispersion, the left hand doesn’t necessarily know what the right hand is doing.” Search can thus become the glue that helps to connect teams with all the same information, so everyone is working on the same page and sharing the same insights.
Qualitative benefits of enterprise search and findability can contribute a significant financial punch:
- Continuity – knowledge available after employees leave
- Productivity – working smarter, more efficiently, less "reinventing of the wheel"
- Consistency – similar practices and processes to make sure all employees benefit from optimal search guidelines for faster and more successful results
- Reducing Risk – this has big impact: ensuring that the right information is being used for all sorts of work needs, including decision-making, innovation, customer service, risk management
Obstacles to Finding the Right Information
In too many enterprises, people at all levels spend too much time in manual processes and poor search techniques to acquire information, usually stored in multiple repositories and in disparate formats.
Organizations encounter the same issues over and over for enterprise search:
- Trying to find all of the right information quickly
- Implementing meaning-based search: Ensuring relevance and context as essential attributes of the right information
- Requirements for tagging and taxonomy in traditional document and content management systems are unrealistic for most enterprises – these processes are hard to implement and are usually abandoned – most employees don't have the mindset, nor the time, for this type of classification
- Extensive variety of information and content types, extensive array of locations >> need for multiple search approaches – how to manage this and make it easy for most people in the enterprise
Further hampering enterprise search strategies is the employee desire for the experience to be just like using Google. But there are vast differences between Internet search and internal enterprise search – this 'conflict of interest' must be reconciled to choose the right search / findability technologies, and for how employees view search itself.
Google-type search requires knowledge of keywords for the topic in question. The searches cover web content that has been optimized to be found. Google results are ranked by popularity and somewhat by relevancy to keywords and to who you are as a searcher. Now false expectations have been created that the 'Google way' applied to the internal enterprise will yield everything that is needed.
Enterprise search is more complex and subtle. It requires multiple distinct search technologies to cover all use cases. Within the enterprise, different groups and software systems are creating digital items within silos that are frequently searched solely with proprietary technologies. Enterprise Search needs to take place across multiple disparate repositories, navigating security and permissions – where none of the content has been optimized to be found, except in instances where taxonomies have been created (which is often not done). Often the goal for enterprise search is to uncover an array of data and information that then has to be read and analyzed to determine relevancy to projects and decision making. So "popularity" of content is rarely the right attribute for determining meaningful information for enterprise tasks.
Determining the Platform Mix
It is critical that enterprise staff have the ability to find and analyze information and data across the enterprise. At this point for any enterprise, search and findability should be considered mission critical, especially with the continuous creation of digital items, now at critical mass.
A well-structured approach to determining the right search platform should include:
Thorough analysis and understanding of all search requirements and needs, from simple to complex – aligned with enterprise groups and business activities
Segmentation of information, data and content types
Segmented user roles - analyze the kind of user experience expected by different enterprise roles – impacts the kind of UI needed to improve search productivity
Mapping search requirements to different kinds of search capabilities and solutions: full-text, structured data, e-discovery and so on
- Setting right expectations for employees to understand why enterprise search is different – why this is better for what employees need (not popular pages à la Google, but the right information contextual to the needs and objectives of the organization…)
Include processes to evaluate and analyze the effectiveness of different search solutions – then act on results to continuously improve, plus recommend changes for how information is stored, what business needs are not being met, and so on.
To be able to agilely collect and reconcile information across disparate repositories and formats, unified search platforms will have to combine multiple search capabilities from enterprise and internet search technologies, as well as BI search and several kinds of analytics. Analytics right now can be limited by 'artificial' filters that may lead to failures to include or even recognize the right data. A lot of enterprise information is in content / document form, but content, text and semantic analytics are still not where they should be and can be quite pricey. Parallel efforts in BI search may end up the Next Gen findability intelligence tool that enterprises need.
One More Processing Tool
Too often upper management fails to understand that the means to competitiveness, innovation, and agile change exists within the organization with the right processes and technologies – and enterprise search can be one such means. The right search platform can be fully available to the enterprise, if upper management understands the strategic importance of connecting everyone in the enterprise to the information that is so important to key decision-making, project work, customer support, and for moving the organization forward.
Enterprise search is more than search or findability – it is a conduit for bringing together seemingly disparate items of information and knowledge to be analyzed by one of the best tools people have – the human brain. Frequently the human brain can identify salient points in unlikely places, consider and weigh the importance or non-usefulness of all kinds of information, intuitively discerning significant patterns that may not be entirely logical but nonetheless important for arriving at insight and intelligence.
About the author: Julie Hunt understands and sees the overlap and convergence of many business processes and software solutions that once were thought of as "separate" – and how this impacts both software Vendors and Buyers, as well as the strategies that enterprises implement for how technology supports the business and its customers. Julie shares her takes on the software industry via her blog Highly Competitive and on Twitter: @juliebhunt For more information: Julie Hunt Consulting – Strategies for B2B Software Solutions: Working from the Customer Perspective