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For years now, a number of reports have provided valuable insight into the state of play in enterprise search. Notably, for five years Findwise conducted an annual Enterprise Search and Findability survey, but sadly the survey appears to have fallen by the wayside after the company's acquisition by EVRY. AIIM also created a report on the topic in 2014 and Jane McConnell covered search satisfaction in her Organization in the Digital Age studies. The overall picture these reports painted was one of companies failing to meet the expectations of their employees for dependable access to enterprise-wide corporate information. 

I was therefore very interested to receive a benchmarking report on search performance from Kurt Kragh Sørensen, the founder of IntraTeam. IntraTeam has been steadily ramping up its intranet benchmarking service to members of its communities in Scandinavia and now has around 250 organizations in its database. The community relationship makes the honesty of the responses very high and very helpful. The IntraTeam community for search managers is the only one I am aware of, and I’m looking forward to leading a discussion on multi-lingual search at a meeting later in November.

Related Article: When it Comes to Intelligent Search, Don't Expect Magic

Enterprise Search Progress? Minimal

You can imagine my disappointment when the results indicated few signs of progress. 

Only 24 percent of respondents reported it was easy or very easy to find the information they needed (emphasis on ‘needed’) to do their job. There was almost a direct correlation when comparing ease of use with search satisfaction. With that level of dissatisfaction, you would think search managers would take action to find out the problems, but only 13 percent had a feedback form on the search results page. That is beyond belief. 

One of the main reasons for the low levels of satisfaction was poor information quality, along with technology issues and a lack of internal training and support. Yet only 16 percent of respondents reported having a search strategy and less than half have anyone looking at content quality. 

Search logs provide some visibility of search success and failure, yet only 20 percent of organizations look at logs on a monthly basis and 23 percent on a quarterly basis. By the time problems arise it is too late to fix them and regain at least some degree of confidence in the level of support being given to search. Worse yet, 40 percent make no effort to look at search logs.

Related Article: A Sign of Search Progress, From an Unexpected Place

Are Your Employees Really One of Your Assets?

One of the most important roles of a search application is to find people. More than half of respondents said that people search offers significant value to the organization, but 25 percent of organizations do not provide this feature. Over 40 percent do not provide an option to find people with specific expertise. This is technically quite challenging but by no means impossible. These results suggest to me that the business is not prioritizing capitalizing on the knowledge of employees. One of the important elements of successful expertise location is a taxonomy of skills and expertise and yet only 11 percent have a metadata structure for expertise.

Related Article: Diagnosing Enterprise Search Failures

A Plan for Action

After 20 years in the search business I know what needs to happen to effect change. In no particular order:

  • Organizations must understand that if employees can’t find information then they cannot use it or share it, so collaborative working becomes very difficult.
  • Every organization that depends on high quality information should undertake a survey to find out just where they are on the employee search satisfaction scale. You can find suggestions on how to do this in my recent report on how to achieve enterprise search satisfaction.
  • Training courses need to be made available so that search managers can built on the efforts of others. Agnes Molnar is setting an example here.
  • Universities (especially the Information Schools) must start offering Master’s courses in search management. There are probably around 500,000 enterprise search implementations around the world, so there is a very substantial market for graduates.
  • Search software and integration companies need to be much more open about the complexity of enterprise search and move away from endless white papers on artificial intelligence and machine learning. When the extent of the dissatisfaction becomes obvious, the blame will go to your technology. Start talking about how best to implement and manage your applications.
  • Every page of an intranet has a search box. Intranet conference organizers need to be giving program space to search managers with success stories to tell. I give credit to IntraTeam which has had a search stream built into its IntraTeam Event for many years. (The next IntraTeam Event takes place in Copenhagen in Feb. 2019.)
  • Academics need to conduct research into adoption issues with enterprise search so we can eliminate the folk tales about how search is undertaken in the enterprise. While roughly 50,000 research papers on information retrieval and web search are available, there are — at most — 50 on enterprise search.

Is anyone out there listening?