Do you think of your employee's experience when creating your enterprise search strategy?

In the small print in most annual reports is a line about the valuable contribution of employees to the achievement of organizational objectives. The reality is that organizations have no good metrics to assess employee contribution and make little attempt to ensure that employees can find colleagues with the knowledge and contacts needed to complete a task or make a decision.

This is often because the remit of HR is only to provide access to a minimum level of information about a current department and perhaps a job title.

Even in "knowledge based" organizations it is often very difficult to find who is responsible for making sure that employees can find people with expertise and experience. This is especially important for employees working away from the office and needing to find an expert that they can then call from their smartphone. Search has an important role to play in many areas of expertise identification and employee engagement.

How do you spell your name?

The first search challenge is finding someone by name. If you think this is a trivial exercise take a look at the briefing papers from Basis Technology on name resolution.

A common issue in Northern Europe is that Kristian and Christian sound the same. Stemming does not help and you need to be able to add two wildcard characters to the beginning of a name query. In Swedish A and Å are two different letters and incidentally Å is comes after Z in an alphabetical listing. The situation gets even more complex with Arabic names and of course with many languages and countries you may not know for certain which is the given name and which is the family name.

This is not just a problem that needs to be addressed for multi-national organizations; you may have employees from many different countries working in the same office.

Do you know someone who...? 

One of the classic search use cases is to be able to find a specific document but in reality that query is actually about finding the name of the person who wrote the document, or was perhaps a member of the project team. This is where name entity extraction is very useful.

Ideally a search for "bearing lubrication" will not only find relevant documents but will also list as a facet people who have been cited in the document. Many companies have moved beyond this to present two or three experts on a subject at the top of a results list. This approach is used by Arup and AMEC, two major consulting businesses based in the UK. This also needs to be delivered to a smartphone.

Increasingly organizations tell me that the expertise problem is solved by the information listed by the employee in My Site. If only! There is rarely guidance on what should be included in My Home and My Profile. The way in which expertise and experience is presented in My Site needs very careful governance and an informed awareness of data privacy issues.

Welcome to ABC Inc.

Search plays a very valuable role in employee induction. No matter how "good" the IA of an intranet, it takes time to find locations for core documents, especially if the IA is department based. New employees and equally employees taking on new roles and responsibilities will make heavy use of search to get up to speed with processes and procedures. 

Learning Opportunities

Surveying new joiners (who are easily identified) will quickly reveal where the intranet IA is not optimal. Since typically 10 percent of employees are new to the organization each year good quality search will make a significant difference to how they feel about their new employer and how quickly they can make a contribution to the organization.

DEF Corp Welcomes ABC Inc.

Scaling induction up to a merger or acquisition is a business-critical responsibility for a search manager.The general rule is that integration has to be largely accomplished in the first 100 days. The employees of DEF and ABC need to be able to find each other and have common access to information repositories.

Rebuilding intranet IAs can be a time-consuming process so search is the place to start. The problem is that no one on the acquisition team paid any attention to the challenges of integrating the search experience, re-defining access privileges, checking out the effectiveness of document filters and re-tuning the search application.

Engaging Search

Employees expect search to work, preferably as well as Google. It is not about search usability as stress reduction. If employees know that they can trust the search application to deliver, then they will feel that the organization values them as individuals who have information to find and knowledge to share.

The theme of this issue is employee engagement. My experience over the last few years is that the closer the search application meets the requirements of employees, the more engaged they will be.

Three questions to end with:

  1. Is "enhancing employee engagement" an objective of your search strategy?
  2. Have you checked out how well your search application supports finding people and expertise?
  3. Is there a plan of action to make sure your search application can cope with a merger, acquisition or divestment?

Image courtesy of vector illustration (Shutterstock)

Editor's Note: Martin has been diving deep into the world of enterprise search. To read more, check out Search in 2013 Will Become a Business Critical Application