It is no secret that enterprise search is hard. It was one of the primary conclusions of IntraTeam Event 2018 a few weeks ago, too. I was honoured to do a half-day workshop with packed room, and deep, passionate discussions. My Office 365 Search session had huge interest and success, too.
— Agnes Molnar (@molnaragnes) February 27, 2018
The topic is complex, and if you think that enterprise search should be straightforward, you probably haven’t implemented it in your company.
As Miles Kehoe explains in CMS Wire, in most cases, it is much easier to ask an experienced colleague where to find corporate information (for example, a customer contract), than to use the company’s enterprise search facility. However, this doesn’t solve the problem when employees leave, taking all their knowledge with them to their new job.
For enterprise search to work and understand the users’ needs, it requires investment both in terms of funding and staff. It is important to nominate an enterprise search manager internally to give directions to staff on how to make the most of the technology. Having a team who is accountable for improving content findability will make a difference in the overall success of corporate search.
The user experience of enterprise search tends to be frustrating: when it doesn’t work, users get duplicate, multiplicate or obsolete results. When it does work, the reaction tends to be “So what? I knew that already”. It’s like air or water: we don’t really realize its importance until we don’t have enough.
It is a common complaint that search does not “understand” the user’s intent. The truth is that search is not supposed to “understand” anything – it does not have the capability to do so. Search must be supported by complementary technologies such as text analytics, curated content, human edited taxonomies, auto-classification tools, etc. Implementation requires the analysis of different file formats, the selection of the most relevant result according to analytics, discarding duplicated and out of date content, and many more.
It’s easy to complain, but it’s hard to identify the root of the problems. Sometimes we need complex research: the search engine, the content, the users’ intent, the context of search, etc.
The gap between expectations and reality is still huge, but there are ways to narrow this gap by proper usage of technology and training.
For people like myself, who have been involved in enterprise search for several years, it is still a challenge to explain to customers why search is not straightforward and will not work straight out of the box.
Another challenge is getting users to buy into the technology: if search does not work on the first attempt, many users will abandon it. And if it gets an organization-wide trend, many consider switching to a new search engine – which will result in the very same challenges…
And what happens if there is no colleague available to ask where to find the relevant information? Organizations must deploy technologies that make their employees’ job easier, and search has a great potential to do that, but only with proper planning, preparation, implementation, governance, and maintenance.
How can you make the transition from meaningless to meaningful and relevant search results? Unfortunately, the only way to do it is to start optimizing the content for search, which starts at the moment when an employee creates a new document, or even before. Each new document must be saved according to specific guidelines and with the correct metadata. Of course, those guidelines, practices, governance rules, metadata definitions – all have to be in place, and your users have to be educated and motivated to use everything properly, in order to help everyone’s life in the organization later.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help – and remember that enterprise search consultants can help your organization implement search solutions efficiently to deliver your corporate objectives.