fingers crossed for good luck after making a wish
PHOTO: Artotem

I am always impressed by people who are brave enough to provide a forecast for the year ahead. I spent several years in the mid-1980s in technology forecasting and I read the reports now with a mixture of amusement and embarrassment. So instead I am setting out things that I would like to happen, in the hope that the people in a position to deliver feel they have at least one supporter. There is no order of priority.

A Collective Argument for the Potential of Search

There are probably 50 or so vendors of enterprise search software and a similar number of integration companies with expertise in search. They all face a common challenge of communicating the potential benefits of their applications and experience to would-be customers. I’d like to see a federation of these vendors (or should it be an orchestration?) that, if nothing else, can develop some marketing communications material on the benefits of search written in a style that will convince senior managers to free up some budget.

Related Article: The Enterprise Search Market Looks Up Following Recent Investment Rounds 

Managing Babel

Vendors rarely consider the challenges involved in managing collections of enterprise information in multiple languages. In most countries of the world, legal, HR and other regulatory and compliance documents are invariably in the local language. English versions may be available, but that raises the question of whether or not they are official versions. Then the issue of deduplication has to be considered. 

Searching for people is a problem in itself. If you don’t believe me take a look at this table from Basis Tech.

I’d like to see much more clarity from vendors on what they can provide in this area and a greater awareness amongst organizations of the possible holes in their search applications.

Related Article: Searching for Information in the Tower of Babel

Connectors and Federated User Interfaces

Quite a number of vendors offer connectors to support federated search, with Microsoft very active in the promotion of its new range. I would like to see far more attention paid to how the user interface is going to be managed in these cases, especially in Office 365. Adding one other enterprise application might be straightforward, but beyond that, the interface will turn into a nightmare. White’s Rule for Federated Search is that the complexity of connector and UI management increases as the square of the number of applications.

Balancing Search and Information Architecture

The chapter on search in "Information Architecture for the Web and Beyond" runs to 50 pages. Designing with wireframes (no matter how glitzy they may be) fails to accommodate the balance needed between search and information architecture, a balance that will vary from one user case study to the next. One size does not fit all. I can always tell if the design team understands search by the quality and relevance of the facets displayed on the screen. It is usually immediately obvious that there has been no user testing, with none of the facets having any relevance to the subject matter of the web site or intranet.

Related Article: Intranet Migrations Call for Careful Attention

Quantifying Productivity Gain

The IT industry increasingly relies on a marketing pitch about improved productivity through the use of its products. I would like to see vendors presenting a methodology for calculating current and potential productivity, preferably after reading James Robertson’s critique of productivity as a metric. If the business case does enhance productivity then this should be demonstrable through metrics. Otherwise it's a fake pitch.

Related Article: Has Productivity Slowed or Are We Using Outdated Measurements?

Quantifying AI Benefits

Related to the measurement of productivity, I’d like to see some sensible quantitative metrics on the improvement to enterprise search performance through the use of artificial intelligence (AI). It should be easy. You have your results without using AI (A) and using AI (B). By running an A/B comparison, the benefits of AI should be immediately obvious. Shouldn’t they? 

I can see AI providing some value in sorting through what I might call "corporate policies," but I have yet to be convinced it makes any difference to the long tail of subject enquiries. I would be pleased to be proved wrong. Will someone take up the challenge this year?

Related Article: Will AI Rescue Enterprise Search?

Together We Search – if Only We Could!

No commercial applications enable members of a team to search, as a team, for the information they need to achieve their objectives. This is an area of concern. Over the last few years a substantial amount of academic research has been conducted into the benefits and challenges of what is referred to as collaborative information seeking (CIS). To me it seems paradoxical that the fundamental working model for an organization is "the team," yet no vendor currently supports information seeking in teams. This could provide a substantial first-mover benefit for the intrepid vendor entering the space. 

Is anyone out there listening?