When I saw James Robertson’s keynote speech at IntraTeam Event 2018 in Copenhagen, Denmark, it confirmed to me that, when it comes to enterprise search, we should be treating it in the same way as any other software products. In other words, enterprise search requires ongoing management because it’s not a one-off project. This concept was one of the hottest topics at the conference.
Compared to a project, which requires building a business case and getting funding on an ad hoc basis, a product will evolve and will need upgrading over time. Both small and big changes will be required at various points in time, to be agreed at regular intervals.
In the words of James Robertson:
“Product management is a discipline, with models, methodologies, training courses and certification.”
Digital solutions can be improved over time and this is particularly true for enterprise search, especially considering that it often requires customization.
Martin White of Intranet Focus referred to James’ keynote speech about the Digital Employee Experience (DEX) in his blog, highlighting how companies tend to focus more on the customer digital experience rather than on the employee experience. This point is particularly important for enterprise search because retrieving essential information efficiently makes it easier for employees to do their job. However, if search results are disappointing and expectations from users are high, search solutions will not be utilized as much as they should. Martin is an information scientist and he is interested in how people use information. In his blog post, he also talked about how search is a core topic and I am grateful he mentioned my IntraTeam Event workshop on SharePoint and Office 365 in his blog. We agree that search requires planning and a lot of buy-in from all levels in an organization, with the commitment to adapt and evolve a search solution over time.
The Opportunities of Search as a Product
If we compare enterprise search solutions of today to the ones from a few years back, despite the load of “modern” search promises, we still should not underestimate the complexity of search implementation.
The main advantage of treating search as a product is the reduced time frame for adoption. When you think of search as a project, it requires making a business case and allocating a separate budget each time, which may not always be available. When search is an integral part of an existing information architecture plan, all upgrades, training, and support are already included in the budget.
A project, compared to a product, may have different stakeholders with different agendas and this is likely to create a silo mentality, too.
The Challenges of Search as a Product
As Martin noted, there are some challenges in the concept of enterprise search as a product and not a project. The main concern is that the role of IT is somewhat reduced when it comes to planning and upgrading an enterprise search system. Also, Microsoft’s “cloud first” approach means we have to rely more on the out-of-the-box functionality. The downside is that there will also be less scope to improve the user experience, which is one of the most commons barriers to adoption and buy-in.
During the IntraTeam Event 2018, there was a clear recognition that search is not perfect and all of us in the industry have to roll up our sleeves and make it work.
The biggest hurdle will still be the sheer complexity of implementation, which can be challenging even for the most experienced IT developers. The investment in resources that each organization requires to make search work is significant. Regular training of staff is the only way to keep abreast with all the constant changes and upgrades.