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The search world faces many challenges but one of the greatest is convincing businesses of the need for information specialists.

During the first week of October I took part in six search communities of practice managed by IntraTeam in and around Copenhagen and also ran a one-day search workshop. Quite a busy four days.

Among the topics were making a business case for investment in search, searching for people and expertise, KPIs for search performance and the migration to SharePoint 2013 search from either Search Server or FAST Search Server for SharePoint 2010. Good progress was made on how best to manage these challenges but another topic proved to be much more challenging.

For some time now (in fact since my keynote to the 2008 Enterprise Search Summit in New York) I have been advising organizations that they need to invest in a search support team for search, and that there are at least five different roles within the search team.

  • Search Manager
  • Search Technology Manager (crawls, indexing, server performance)
  • Information Specialist (use cases, metadata, linguistics, semantics)
  • Search Analytics Manager (analyzing and integrating search and browse analytics)
  • Search Support Manager (help desk, training and user feedback)

These need not all be full-time positions but they do have to be priority roles, so that if problems or opportunities arise support is immediately at hand. Most organizations struggle to allocate even one full-time employee to search, totally failing to appreciate the impact on business performance of doing so. At the Enterprise Search Summit in New York in May this year Jeff Fried suggested that SharePoint 2013 search alone required three roles.

Finding the right people

The options open to an organization are to train existing employees or recruit new employees. The evidence from the IntraTeam workshops is that both approaches are very difficult to carry out. The people who know most about the complexities of search are librarians and information professionals, and it was interesting to note how many of these there were in the search workshops.

With the closure of most corporate libraries organizations are probably unaware of how many employees do have a background in library and information research but no longer have the opportunity to practice their skills on taxonomy and metadata development and in search management.

Organizations in Denmark are exceptionally fortunate as there is a Royal School of Librarianship and Information Science within the University of Copenhagen which has a global reputation for the quality of its teaching and research. This school would be an excellent source of potential search managers but I was surprised how few of those attending the workshops knew of it.

The Royal School is one of a network of 52 iSchools, of which 14 are located in Europe. Information Schools (“iSchools”) address the relationship between information, technology and people. This is characterized by “a commitment to learning and understanding the role of information in human endeavour.”

There are many other universities that offer academic courses in librarianship and information science but arguably the iSchools are the most innovative and work closely together to understand emerging requirements for teaching and research. I should also add that many computer science departments teach information retrieval and sometimes (but not always!) it is a component of courses in Big Data applications.

Training search managers

Even where IT and HR departments are aware of these courses there is the seemingly permanent problem of avoiding an increase in "head count." Finding training courses for search managers is a very substantial problem. Graduates from iSchools will understand the principles but not the business; employees will know the business but not the technology and implementation of search.

IT training courses are a big business but I have yet to find any on enterprise search. If you know of any courses let me know and I will add them to my website. To make things even more difficult with the exception of my own book on enterprise search there are no introductory textbooks about search implementation and management. Most of the standard textbooks are written for academic courses, usually at Master’s level and are full of advanced (at least to me!) mathematics. AIIM does offer a Certified Information Professional course but I am disappointed about how little attention AIIM gives to search management.

The impact on business performance

There are well documented analyses on the impact on the development of Big Data applications because of a lack of data scientists. The same is the case with information retrieval and information scientists. There are some commonalities between the two disciplines but also some major differences. However organizations seem to be ignoring the need for information specialists and so there is no market for the training companies.

Without the skills in the organization to define requirements, support development and implementation and then continue to optimize performance, the benefits from even current search applications will be negligible.

Title image courtesy of Anteromite (Shutterstock)

Editor's Note: Need more to convince you of search's importance? Read Martin's Search in 2013 Will Become a Business Critical Application