Findwise, one of the largest search implementation companies in Europe, celebrates its 10th anniversary this year. And as it has done for some years past, it released the outcomes of its 2015 Enterprise Search and Findability Survey, undertaken with great care by co-authors Mattias Ellison and Carl Björnfors. 

The survey offers some good news in a search landscape which still needs improvement. Along with the survey, the company has been working on a three-level maturity model for enterprise search implementation. Using these two tools, companies should be able to identify where they stand in search maturity and pinpoint areas which need attention. 

Maturity Model for Search

Level 1: Silo Searching

This level is characterized by minimal investment in search in terms of either technology or staff. Twenty-five percent of the organizations surveyed fell in this category. Users in this level face multiple information silos and applications with little or no support from a search team. Over half of the respondents reported having less than one FTE (full time employee) supporting them. 

The good news from the survey is that 25 percent overall reported plans to increase investment in search over the next three years, but that may come too late to rescue the organizations in Level 1.

Level 2: One Search for All

Level 2 organizations have a strategy in place to reduce the number of different search applications. While this ideally would be a reduction to one, that isn't always the best option for some organizations. The 60 percent of respondents at this level focus on justifying search investment through improvements in operational efficiency and reductions in time spent finding information. Even with these improvements, around 50 percent of users are dissatisfied with the search applications' performance.

Level 3: Bringing It Together

Only 15 percent of the respondents take a holistic approach to search, with a commitment to the continuous improvement of search and findability. These improvements often focus on providing customized search applications for specific user groups. Overall, these organizations strike a clear balance between operational search effectiveness and a strategic approach to search investment.

Both Level 2 and Level 3 organizations differentiate from Level 1 in that they have a dedicated team with cross-organizational responsibilities for search, rather than leaving it to IT to sort out the problems. But having such a team is just a start. The team needs to sit outside of IT, have resources available to make a difference and a business mandate within which to set priorities for investment in technology and staff. However, over 25 percent of companies do not have a governance structure for search.

The Good News

Although there's still much to be desired about the overall state of enterprise search, the survey does highlight some good news. To wit, organizations are paying increased attention to information quality, with almost half of respondents stating that they either had someone with cross-organizational responsibility for information quality or were in the process of appointing someone to this post. This is a critically important development in my view, as I often find that low levels of search satisfaction are linked to poor information quality — not to the search application's functionality. Clear benefits can be found from the use of taxonomies, enhanced metadata, and from placing search within an overall information life-cycle model. 

The second piece of good news is that the number of organizations with a search strategy is steadily increasing. In 2012, less than 20 percent had a strategy, but that number is now over 40 percent. The second edition of my book Enterprise Search (which should be available in a couple of weeks from O’Reilly Media) will include a list of almost 50 elements that I recommend organizations consider in search strategy. Some might need only a few lines in the document, but many will require consideration from a cross-organizational steering group with good representation from business stakeholders.

Benchmarking Your Organization

The presentation of the survey results will enable you to benchmark where your organization stands in search maturity. Even Level 3 organizations have room for improvement. Level 2 organizations have the basis on which to move up to Level 3 over the next couple of years. And for those organizations at Level 1, perhaps the business disaster caused when information isn't available to decision makers will provide a much needed wake up call.

Title image by Wil Stewart/unsplash