If you have ever been to an intranet conference you will have noticed that no matter how much detail is given about the architecture, the content and the social media applications, very little information is shared about the search implementation. Even the otherwise excellent profiles in NNGroup’s Intranet Design Annuals provide very little information about how search has been implemented or the levels of user satisfaction.
I gained so much from the Smarta Sök (Smart Search) event, which took place in Stockholm in February, because it was full of case studies. Even more important, the presenters spoke about what was not working as well as the successes, and the audience of over 100 listened to every word. (Several papers at the IntraTeam event later that month also talked about the good and the not-so-good, but the audiences for these papers were generally small.)
The Smarta Sök conference totally changed my thinking about search conference programming. As a result, the Enterprise Search Europe 2015 event in October will be full of case studies – at the last count, 16 of them. In addition, there will be roundtables at which people can share their search stories.
In the past the conference has probably tried too hard to have a “balanced” program, with a mix of case studies but also papers on the technology of search and future directions. The reality is that delegates are having a hard time just getting search to work at all.
A project I've just finished for a global professional services firm involved talking to more than 20 stakeholders across the company, mainly at a senior level. I had a list of topics I wanted to discuss, only one of which was the intranet search function. In virtually every case they wanted to jump straight to search. It was very difficult to bring them around to the other topics on the list. As is often the case, the search application in this company was managed by IT, but the users blamed the intranet team for not taking action to improve it.
What was especially interesting about this project was that the search application was one of the best available. The poor performance had nothing to do with the technology per se but was a result of poor content quality and no one paying any attention to search logs. This may be one reason that intranet managers play down search in presentations -- because they know it’s terrible but can do nothing about it.
And It’s Getting Worse
Probably the most depressing chart I have seen this year appears on page 62 of “The Organization in the Digital Age,” just released by Jane McConnell of NetJMC. The report is based on a survey of 280 organizations around the world. The chart tracks the level of search satisfaction back through similar surveys carried out since 2007. In 2013 around 45 percent of respondents reported that users were moderately satisfied with search, but this had fallen to 20 percent in 2014. Only a handful of organizations reported that users were very satisfied with search.
In her analysis, McConnell comments that a primary cause of search dissatisfaction is that the digital repositories in organizations are rapidly getting larger and more complex (in terms of file formats) and yet the organization appears to be unaware of the situation, maintaining search investment (especially in search team size) at a minimum level.
It will be interesting to see if the outcomes of Findwise’s Enterprise Search and Findability Survey 2015 later this year correspond with McConnell's findings (If you have not yet completed the survey, now is a good time to do so).
Getting the Message Across
The only way this situation will change is with intranet managers stepping up to the challenge and telling stories internally. The problem with search analytics (even if you do everything that Lou Rosenfeld recommends) is that there is no direct evidence of the day-to-day impact of search.
My stakeholders’ stories included numerous instances where client confidence in the organization had been severely impaired by consultants not being able to find project-critical information. Intranet managers need to find the time to wander around the organization, document these stories and send them to the Risk Manager, whose job it is to ensure that organizational risk is consigned to the lowest possible level. My experience suggests that even senior staff will willingly go on the record if they feel it will make a difference. Three or four stories is all that it will take for senior management to get the message.
Note: If you would like to join in telling search stories at Enterprise Search Europe 2015 it is not too late. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org in the next few days. We will be producing a synopsis of the stories after the event.