Businesses intent on building their digital workplace face the same challenge: creating a more cohesive, consistent and integrated experience from the disparate workplace technologies teams use. 

To do this, some businesses are employing several tactics, including establishing single sign-on and using the intranet homepage or navigation as a gateway to different applications. 

Others are choosing to integrate specific applications — for example, fusing collaboration and social tools into the intranet — while the enterprise app store also provides a focal point for different systems. Dashboards that surface relevant data from different systems deliver real value for many, including departments like HR.

But so far search hasn't emerged as a starting point for a more integrated experience of the digital workplace, instead business focus on the intranet homepage as a “front door” into the wider digital ecosystem. 

Given that enterprise search has been around for a long time, this is quite surprising. 

Search is seldom executed well and is regarded as expensive and complex. Costs, a lack of in-house expertise and perceptions of difficulty have contributed to a reluctance to explore the opportunities provided by search.

A Search Resurgence? 

Signs suggest this situation might be changing. 

We’ve recently seen some interesting examples of intranets focused on search, which feature prominent search boxes, proper tagging for findability and a commitment to improving search. 

Two prominent examples were showcased at the IntraTeam conference held in Copenhagen, Denmark in March — Philips and DNV-GL. We also heard from companies like PwC in the UK, which has a team dedicated to transforming search through a variety of different means.  

It was refreshing to see the high attendance at the search-themed presentations. 

At the moment it feels as if we are experiencing a mini-resurgence in the interest in search, at least from intranet practitioners. 

Oh No, Not Google Again

As usual with all things related to search, Google carries a significant influence. Not only has it moulded user expectations (anyone who's worked in enterprise search will be familiar with the “Why doesn’t it work like Google” mantra), but it also has pushed enterprise products to evolve. 

A Google search returns not only page hits, but also salient pieces of data implied by search terms. Google also provides tools within results where users can carry out simple tasks. 

For example, a search for “Pound to Dollar Exchange Rate” returns the latest exchange rate and a graph showing five years of trends, and also includes a simple calculator to convert pounds into dollars. This is, of course, fantastically useful.

detailed google results

Google now returns useful data and tools within search results

We are starting to see this approach within the enterprise. Steve Sale of AstraZeneca demonstrated the company’s intranet search facility at the IntraConference, which allows simple transactions to be made.  

Kurt Kragh Sørensen, founder of IntraTeam, wrote a post before the conference about the search result cards the AstraZeneca team had built. From these cards, employees could book a holiday, submit an IT ticket, find a free desk or reset their password. Sam Marshall pointed out that these cards can also be embedded within pages as widgets or webparts — they don’t necessarily have to appear in search. 

Bring Disparate Data Together

Another excellent example of how search delivers significant business benefits is a recent Intranet Innovation Award winner, Prestige Financial. The company provides finance for automobile dealerships throughout the United States.

Prestige Financial's intranet team carried out some powerful integration work in 2015 so that the search facility would return consolidated critical information from different systems.

Marketing staff previously needed to access up to 12 different systems to get accurate and up-to-date information on dealerships and existing loan arrangements. The unified search supplanted that, providing all the information staff needed in an attractive integrated experience. Staff can dive deeper into results to access additional details, related contacts, documents and loan applications. Additional features add further value, such as filtering and the ability to view extra information by hovering over pertinent results. 

Overall, this has saved marketing and sales staff hours of time, particularly as the experience is also optimized for mobile.

Search and the Digital Workplace

It remains to be seen whether search will become the focal point for the digital workplace. This outcome also depends — in part — on how you define search. Dynamic experiences which don’t necessarily feel like a search, might actually be search-driven.  

But one thing is certain. Companies looking to differentiate themselves around the digital workplace and that want to provide an integrated workplace technology experience cannot afford to ignore search.  

To get serious about search, they need to use their data to improve search, give teams responsibilities and a corresponding budget to support them, and start managing search rather than turning it on and walking away. 

Companies, like AstraZeneca, who have started down this path are beginning to reap the rewards, and that may give them an interesting competitive advantage.

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Title image "search" (CC BY-SA 2.0) by  Pleuntje