The Case for Search Support
The focus this month is collaboration. As I highlighted the evolution of collaborative information seeking last year, I will turn my attention to the way in which providing search support to project teams can make an excellent case of search investment as well as making you many friends inside your organization.
I recently worked for a major engineering consultancy which was involved in managing very large-scale infrastructure projects around the world. When I talk about "large-scale," I mean millions of dollars over many years. What was interesting about this consultancy was that every project team had to spend a couple of hours with the search manager in the initial stages of the project set-up.
There were four objectives of this session. The first of these was to make sure that the team were able to find all the relevant documents and expertise they might need in the early stages of a project, ranging from technical solutions to how to get back to the hotel from the project site. It was not unknown for the team to be aware of information that somehow was not being retrieved by the search application, and the search manager usually ended up with a list of zero or low score results that needed further investigation. Usually it was a case of a specific file store not being crawled.
The second objective was to set up some profiles on the search application that could be run at regular intervals to ensure that new information, or a new member of staff with relevant expertise, could be identified as quickly as possible. This role of search as a monitoring application is often totally overlooked. Sometimes the facility to set up standard searches or alerts for new content being added is not well supported by the search application. Search is not always about blazingly fast search of large data sets.
The third objective was for the team to get to know the search manager. Undoubtedly as the project progressed and (even for this company) problems arose, the team would know who to email or Skype if a search locally did not produce the results that were expected. Even if an individual member of the team was conducting a search on something outside of the project itself, they would feel that they had a friend at HQ who could sort out a good search strategy for them.
The fourth objective was that the search manager built up a list of internal case studies of how they had directly contributed to the achievement of the objectives of the consultancy in achieving complete customer satisfaction and keeping project risks fully under control. The project teams were very pleased about the approach that the company had taken and were always ready to support the search manager in this regard.
Search is Not Intuitive
There is another lesson to learn from this story: Search is not intuitive. The project team members were all very experienced engineers but invariably did not understand how to get the best out of the enterprise search applications.
Search is complicated. When it comes to training, the reaction I usually get is that there is no need for training on Google, you just put a search term into the query box. If that is the case how come there is a new book on Google Search Secrets that runs to over 200 pages? Getting the best from Google is not as intuitive as most people think. There are all sorts of tricks you need to be able to use. The description of the book states “many of the search engine’s most useful features are hidden behind its famously simple interface.” Spot on!
When I am reviewing a search application I always look at the quality of the Help pages. Usually there is only minimal advice and rarely are there sample screen shots to illustrate the good, the bad and the ugly. Even more concerning, the search manager is anonymous and invisible. Providing a web form to record problems with a search is not good enough. The last time your search application failed to deliver could you remember enough of what went wrong to write a memo to the search manager?
With search, preventive measures are essential. Good help screens, power users in departments and locations that can provide local support, a blog of hints, tips, upgrades and success stories, and a visible caring search manager are all essential. Above all else there has to be a recognition by the senior management team that good search is not just about technology but about high quality content and an excellent communications, training and support strategy.
Title image by Marie C Fields (Shutterstock)
Editor's Note: Read more from Martin on search in Search is Getting Smarter All the Time
About the Author
Martin White is Managing Director of Intranet Focus, Ltd. and is based in Horsham, UK. An information scientist by profession, he has been involved in information retrieval and search for nearly four decades as a consultant, author and columnist. He is the author of Enterprise Search” published by O’Reilly Media and has recently launched, an information service for search managers.
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