I used to view enterprise search as a monolithic application that acted as an integration platform. But when it came time to write the second edition of "Enterprise Search," my view had changed. I now see enterprise search as a vision and strategy, and not as a single application.
Miles Kehoe wrote an excellent overview of the enterprise search landscape. In this article, I'd like to build on his points and look at some of the emerging markets and opportunities.
Most Common Queries? Applications
The number of applications an IT department manages is never fully understood or appreciated by the organization. For example, when you walk into an office for a meeting, the reception desk will use a specialized application to register you and create a badge. Finding an application is a serious challenge for employees, especially if it's one they haven't used for some time.
When you look at a company's search logs, the most common queries are often related to applications. In one recent client engagement, we didn't see a subject topic until the 113th position on the list of common queries. The most common search was for the employee self-service application which had recently been rebranded with a new name.
The reasons why people search for applications ranges widely, including finding a description, opening up the application's home page, linking straight to a specific task or tracking down who can provide authorization to access the application. Many queries were just versions of what employees thought was the correct acronym or short term. Search teams should spend some time curating these links and seeing which might benefit from a "best bet" presentation.
Related Article: Diagnosing Enterprise Search Failures
Vendors Should Take an Active Role in Search
At a recent AIIM Leadership Summit in London, I suggested to the vendors present (who all offer content services applications) that they should care about how employees find their application. The vendors currently focus on ensuring the application functions correctly and that the integration with other systems is robust, which makes sense. But it seems few have paid attention to how their application would be discovered and used. I suggested they include finding out the positioning of their application on the query log list as a regular point of discussion with their customers.
Related Article: Unpacking the Complexities of Enterprise Search Behavior
The Need for Federated Search
Many of these content services applications have an embedded search feature. In cases like these, it's even more important to consider the link between the application and the enterprise search application. There are many ways of enabling federated search but they all have limitations, not only at the crawl and index phase but also in how to present the information gathered from the many different applications. If a user finds a particular application appears to give them highly relevant results how easily (if at all) can they search the native application, ideally within the current search session? Will they be disappointed or enthralled by the user search experience they are presented with?
Organizations also need to provide federated search across networked shared drives, both at a local level and also at an enterprise-wide level. This requirement can be a challenge for many search vendors who are more used to searching through large single repositories in what might be described as "classic enterprise search." A lack of governance on file naming, version management and folder structures makes it very difficult to harvest and use metadata as a component of relevance ranking. In some cases these shared drives may predate the introduction of the current system (for example SharePoint), but some of the content found within these drives may still be valuable and acting as an important archive.
Related Article: Unravelling Federated Search
Open Source Search in Intranet Products
Kehoe's article mentioned the growing use of open source search and this is especially evident in intranet products that are not based on the Microsoft platform. A recent request for information sent to UK intranet vendors revealed many are using both Lucene/Solr and Lucene/Elastic as a search application, and several said they saw high performance search as a key value proposition over SharePoint, especially in cases where the intranet search also needed to work across other enterprise applications. This is an important consideration when planning to use the intranet as a portal to a broader digital workplace.
Related Article: Enterprise Search in 2018: What a Long Strange Trip It's Been
The Long Arm of Invisible Search
Even the most organized IT department may be unaware of how many specialized search applications are operating within their enterprise. A couple of years ago I persuaded a client to audit the applications that had a significant search functionality. The catalogue ended up with over 50 such applications, tucked away in a range of departments. This is especially the case in companies with a large research department where there is a requirement to search both internal and external content.
Time for a Strategy
Search is increasingly pervasive in most organizations, especially as open source enables teams and departments to build their own with open source search. Now might be a good time to audit your own organization. Use this audit as an opportunity to consider how your search program is being used, supported and developed from an enterprise-wide perspective.
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