In his Australian SharePoint Conference (#AUSPC) talk entitled “Driving Value with SharePoint Search: Working Smart, Not Hard” SharePoint MVP and founder of SharePoint Analyst HQ, Michal Pisarek talked about how to build out search to meet business needs and end user expectations for the platform.

Instead of focusing on the technical aspects of configuration anddeployment of search within SharePoint, he focused on the businessissues surrounding search -- specifically, the importance ofunderstanding your content, and how it should be organized.

Enterprise search is not consumer search. As Pisarek explained, different rules apply, and there are different expectations about security, performance and especially context.

The majority of content within the enterprise is not made to be found. When a user is looking for something in the consumer search space, they are looking for any result. Much like a fishing trip, they're hoping to catch something, but may not be targeting any specific result.

However, within the enterprise they are looking for the 100 percent match, the correct answer to their problem, a contextual match to their query. Adding this context through intuitive information architecture, correct metadata and a robust taxonomy are essential for great search.

Unfortunately, as Pisarek went on to explain, end users have little to no tolerance for failure with search. And yet most people think making search work takes little to no effort -- they envision the process to be as simple as installing SharePoint, adding content and entering your search terms. The problem with the majority of organizations is a complete lack of vision for search, and the important role search plays in driving business value in SharePoint.

Envisioning Search

Pisarek indicated that organizations frequently site search as a main business driver of adopting the SharePoint platform but then spend no time eliciting requirements, testing and creating a search solution to meet user needs. Many organizations spend time and effort in areas that provide relatively low return on that effort, however search is one area that any investment is returned many times over, as search is such a widely used piece of platform functionality.

Organizations need to have a tangible vision around the value that search will provide, and it needs to come from a business perspective -- not from a purely technology perspective. Many projects to expand or improve search focus on the technical aspects: additional hardware, devices and third-party software solutions.

Without having measurable, tangible use cases and requirements, search implementations fail to achieve value. Pisarek suggested that organizations should begin by determining the 10 to 20 most common use cases for search, and drive efforts to ensure that these use cases are adequately addressed.

Common SharePoint Search Tweaks

It is difficult to discuss business issues without wandering through some SharePoint planning platitudes -- generic statements that don't provide any real value -- and Pisarek quickly moved from broad business recommendations to specific, practical areas on which the audience could focus their search efforts. Some of his advice included:

Be selective on what you index

You don’t have to index everything. If you understand the value of each piece of content in your environment, what role it plays, how it will provide value to the organization, you can both reduce the complexity of what is indexed and thereby improve results. Index only high value items, and federate low value items.

Learning Opportunities

Make people search a core part of your plan

The ability to leverage profiles in SharePoint 2010 through search should be seriously considered as a fundamental part of any search offering in SharePoint. Pisarek suggested that the ability to easily identify and connect with experts within an organization, whether socially, such as interests or professionally, such as past projects, can provide tremendous value."People usually don’t want to know the answer, people want to know who knows the answer"

Identify your best bets

If you understand the primary use cases within your organization, you should be able to readily identify your best bets, making commonly accessed queries quick and easy.

Utilize search scopes to target results for specific user needs and requests

Search scopes help users quickly filter through content, narrowing their searches to the topics, categories or areas of focus that were outlined as part of your use case development. They may even localize search queries to specificcontent databases (or exclude specific databases), improving speed and success of search.

Determine user needs and verify search success by using the SharePoint 2010 search reporting tools

As you refine or expand your search efforts, continually review your metrics and reporting, looking at latency and crawling performance, metadata performance, and the success of end user queries and results.

The point Pisarek hoped participants would walk away with was that the cost of configuring is far outweighed by the value you receive.

He admonished the audience to create a vision and a plan for search based on defined use cases, to communicate the plan broadly and -- most importantly -- to get your end users involved. He concluded his presentation by advising the audience to implement search just as they would any other aspect of SharePoint: with a plan, with transparency and with an eye towards driving business value.

Title image courtesy of olly (Shutterstock).

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