enterprise search, social business, enterprise 2.0

The premise of enterprise search applications is to provide better access to an organization’s data and make it easier for employees to find and use. This is a pretty broad premise that can be interpreted myriad of ways.


Because search can be applied so broadly, organizational composition, business goals, and institutional structure should all be considered before fully investing in a search application. What need, task, or problems are you trying to solve with search?

Without narrowing down the criteria, most organizations opt for a generic use of a search application, which leads to generic results. Many organizations fail to realize the full spectrum of tasks for which search can be used. Here are six overlooked uses for search that can provide great value to your business.

1. Field Maintenance and Support

Employees of organizations that have a distributed or field-based workforce often do not have the luxury of asking others for information. They are reliant on search applications to answer their queries.

Sales or pre-sales staff looking for information to help close a deal must be able to find it quickly and easily. Engineers in remote locations, think oil derrick operators, must be able to find accurate documentation about the items they are attempting to fix.

Search can help front-line staff deliver service excellence to customers and improve efficiency to the organization. For example, pharmaceutical reps can quickly find the drug interactions of their product while in the doctor’s office.

2. Partner Extranets

It’s not just internal sales teams that benefit from access to data. Business relationships with partners, customers, suppliers and sales channels are strengthened with seamless search integrations. Business processes work smoother and support costs are lowered when partners have direct access to current and relevant information.

Often, the information needed already exists. Extranets are about making it selectively available to the correct partners.

For example, you can make sales information available to franchisees, resellers and distributors. They can find the information needed to make purchasing decisions. This allows your sales staff to focus on closing deals rather than spending time finding and sending information.

On the buying side, you make your company easy to sell to by keeping product and service information fully up-to-date with correct specifications and requirements. Sellers know exactly how to address your needs. You save time and money that would have been wasted on fruitless sales calls.

3. Customer Self-service

How many times have you tried to find information online from a communications company, government agency or business supplier, only to be frustrated and have to pick up the phone? Time is money. This means the customer’s time as well as the time burned by an organization in answering the customer’s call.

Search applications can be used to save time (and money) by providing comprehensive, intuitive and interactive customer self-service experiences. Search gives customers the ability to solve their own issues at their convenience. You also can increase loyalty and perception by being a company that cares about customer service and is easy to deal with.

4. Customer Service Support

Even with great customer self-service options presented online, most businesses still need to maintain in-house customer support teams. Unless your business has a very narrow focus, the customer’s next problem is difficult to predict. Even the best search application can’t find an answer to a question that was never asked before.

Search applications help create a more responsive support staff, which leads to better customer satisfaction. This satisfaction is delivered at a lower cost because representatives are more efficient and can deal with an increased workload.

Organizations can also holistically view self-service and representative customer service with a search application that can deliver intranet/extranet functionality. Customers see a subset of information on the web while in-house personnel see everything via the intranet. This leads to a more open and transparent remediation process and gives customers a sense of control over the outcome of their issue.

5. Research and Development

Almost two decades ago, a senior officer at a large consumer goods company told me, “We know that we waste 30 percent of our R&D budget repeating research that’s already been done. The problem is that we don’t know which 30 percent.”

Saving even a small percentage of a large R&D budget by avoiding repetitious research can save a large organization millions, if not billions, of dollars. Finely tuned search engines that can process and display different content types (blueprints, engineering specs, chemical formulas, etc.) greatly help in this process. If engineers can discover that a certain formula for a new polymer was unsuccessful before, they won’t waste time and budget trying it again.

Search applications can also play an important role in R&D security. Information managers constantly worry about IP leakage and competitor espionage. By setting up a complete document-level security regime, organizations can make information searchable and accessible only to those with the correct clearance level. For all others, it’s like those document don’t even exist.

6. People (expert) Search

Even in today’s connected, digital world, some of the most valuable knowledge remains tacit rather than explicit. The solution to an informational need or a specific challenge may not be written down, or captured in a video file, but instead is still locked inside an expert’s head. Applications which enable the location of subject matter experts are among the most powerful uses of enterprise search, and in services businesses, where the core value proposition is expertise, they can be compelling.

While all of these search uses have the same core mission, to make finding data easier, they are each customized in unique ways. Search should not be a “one size fits all” solution. So, before you invest time and money in a shiny new search application, make sure you ask: What do I want to find?

Image courtesy of Angela Waye (Shutterstock)

Editor's Note: Be sure to check our Kamran's other articles Enterprise Content Browsing - The Best of Both Worlds and Creating Secure Search for Your Big Data Goldmine.