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Organizations look at search, its use, management and funding in different ways. My colleague who runs our organization's corporate intranet noted that although he isn't the business owner of “enterprise search” for the organization, employees go to the intranet, see a search box and assume that the intranet team is responsible for search.

Whether your intranet team is or isn't responsible might depend on which of the three scenarios your intranet falls into:

  • A search capability is baked into the intranet CMS
  • The organization has a true enterprise search strategy and has one or more products already in use to index all content, and provides an interface via the intranet
  • A search capability exists on the intranet, but it uses federated search type query distribution to send out, and retrieve results from existing indices

A lot of this will depend on the size and shape of your organization, your industry and whether you have enterprise information management or knowledge management (KM) strategies in place. For many, you may default to what comes built into your CMS, be that a variant of the Lucene open source search engine, or the search system of SharePoint.

But there are alternatives.

Enterprise Search vs. KM Solution

The last time I looked in depth at Coveo’s product was probably five or so years ago. The first thing of interest was the subheading “Knowledge management and Intranets” under Solutions on its website's navigation. We appeared to be in the right place.

I spoke with Diane Berry, Coveo's Chief Knowledge Evangelist, and asked about another catchy line on the site: "Turn latent knowledge into active employee performance." What does that mean?

Berry explained that this means search technology's value proposition going beyond relevance, to improve employee's efficiency (with highly relevant results) and increase their proficiency too. This means that the more relevant information presented in the result set, the more users can build up their knowledge and understanding of the subject matter at hand, thus increasing their overall proficiency in that subject.

An example: you've hired new customer agents in a contact center. Providing highly relevant results, which include recommendations for content such as on demand training, and providing highly relevant content in the right context at the right time, can make the team more proficient in a shorter time span. 

When questioned about Coveo’s relevance ranking engine, Berry responded that to make a search system an authoritative and trusted “single source of the truth” you need broad connectivity (to content sources) and ability to unify and enrich data.

One element of this is using text analytics to enrich the metadata and entity extraction to help build the taxonomy. Berry noted that this can help make search results a living entity, by going back to the index and looking for concepts. People can't keep up with the need to tag. Depending on the size and complexity of the corpus of information and the complexity of the metadata schemas and taxonomy, it's clear how text analytics could help.

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Coveo Interface

Coveo has a new JavaScript based UI, which has been moved over from the previous .net architecture over the last two years. When asked if she sees a good search interface being able to replace the traditional “browse” navigation paradigm of a portal, Berry responded:

Yes, we believe it's necessary to make the search UI the view of the content, but contextually. You can tell from how people interact with the search box as to what people find useful, and thus provide recommendations.”

Taking a user centric approach to relevance and recommendations rather than the most basic enterprise search approach of simply displaying all the results, aids the goal of making the user more proficient rather than just efficient.This takes the new interface into a social computing dimension, displaying things of interest to you and your colleagues, by capturing user actions in a profile in order to build up the context for these recommendations.

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Coveo hasn't been sitting still in other important areas. New mobile interfaces make it possible to search on the go. Analytics capabilities are built into the product, to allow your search team to manage the results via a data driven approach, and the search team can then change many parameters, including weighting and relevance ranking in the admin interfaces.

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Coveo offers multiple deployment options including building your own on premises farm, slot in a simple search appliance, or cloud-based depending on your context and your requirements.

Plenty of Options for Intranet Search

You don’t need to stick with the “built in solution” if search is important to your KM / Enterprise Information Management strategies. There are alternatives beyond the ever more standard SharePoint (even though building FAST technology into core SharePoint 2013 has improved it) or the really big (and expensive) heavy hitters like HP’s IDOL platform.

With the growing rate at which our mountains of internal content grow ever bigger, search capabilities are a fundamental element of an intranet, and of the broader digital workplace. If you want to apply long tail principles to mountains of social content, such as discussion forums, news feeds and updates a search engine with concept search capabilities would be a good idea, unless you have a work force which is truly at one with tagging absolutely everything with appropriate and valuable metadata ... (what, you work in the Library of the Jedi Temple? Cool!).

Title image by anonymous (per photographer's request) via a CC BY 2.0 license