We're gradually reaching a solid understanding of the state of enterprise search. Findwise started its Findability Survey in 2010 and the 2014 report will have been released by the time you read this. AIIM released its first survey for search implementation today. And while hurdles remain, search's prospects in the enterprise are finally looking up.

The Search Paradox Remains

The AIIM survey was completed by 415 members: 67 percent from the US, 18 percent from Europe and the balance from the rest of the world. With nearly 40 charts, we will not do more than cover some of the major findings. The most important relates to what I call the search paradox. For 71 percent of the respondents search is either vital or essential, but only 18 percent have cross repository search capabilities and 58 percent show little or no sign of what AIIM refers to as search maturity.

The search maturity definition includes a search strategy, a specific budget, an acknowledged owner, a dedicated support team, a corporate vocabulary and metadata standards. These are core requirements to achieve high performance search. Hopefully AIIM will repeat the survey as it would be interesting to track the changes in this maturity index.

Making the Business Case

It's not all bad news in the survey. Respondents identified three main business benefits from search application investments: better decision making, faster and more accurate customer service response and fewer complaints from knowledge workers. A misconception leads some to overinflate the costs of search, but 62 percent of respondents who had monitored the benefits felt that they had recouped their investment in 18 months or less. That is a significant benefit from an enterprise application investment.

The support team comprises a significant part of the investment. A quarter of those with advanced search tools had no dedicated and trained support staff and a further 22 percent allocated less than 0.5 FTE (full time equivalent staff). However, 21 percent have three or more staff, which rises to 35 percent for organizations with over 5000 employees. That appears to be a substantial increase over the levels reported in 2012/2013 surveys.

Maintaining Security

The report highlights one important issue: the very real concern about security management. In total 73 percent saw this as a show-stopper, which aligns with the outcomes of the survey conducted by Varonis earlier this year. This could be rooted in a concern about the vendor or integrator's security management, but I suspect that poor internal security management is the cause, resulting in no clearly defined right-to-see that can map to a security management table. Email groups often define content circulation and the document itself rarely includes any note about access permissions.

Search Analytics and Big Data

One surprise in the report was the response to a question about the relative priorities of search versus big data/content analytics projects. Of the 330 organizations that responded, 49 percent were putting search first, with 19 percent indicating that they are moving to a unified big data and search strategy. Does this indicate a decline in the hype around big data, perhaps because the business value of a significant investment in data and analytics has not been as significant as had been anticipated? However it was disappointing to note that only 12 percent had an organization-level search strategy.

Learning Opportunities

Search Is Moving Up

Search is creeping up the corporate agenda, driven by a fear of failing to capitalize on the information and knowledge resources of the organization. Investment levels appear to be increasing and staffing levels look better. In most organizations IT still owns search applications but an emerging line of thought suggests that businesses should be responsible -- either through a chief knowledge officer or a chief information officer.

AIIM presents a very good set of recommendations at the end of the report. It is also stepping up its support of search implementation in its new search resource center. Of the eight recommendations, I would prioritize understanding the search requirements of each department in an organization and then asking if the ECM application is capable of delivering the advanced capabilities necessary. Overall this is an excellent report and the community should be grateful to AIIM and the sponsors who helped defray the substantial costs of a survey of this scale, depth and quality of analysis.

Note: Thanks to Doug Miles for the early look at the AIIM results. Check back in October when I will be reporting on the 2014 Findwise survey.

Title image by Efrén (Flickr) via a CC BY-SA 2.0 license