Like all IT nerds, my smartphone is always within arm’s reach to answer any question. “How powerful was the computer on the first lunar lander?”, “What was the original Metallica line-up?” or “How does an MRI machine work?”.. Within 30 seconds I’ll have an answer. Yet if we have a question about the content generated by our very own organizations, we know we’re in for a long painful process that may not yield results. As a consultant, I see this problem at almost every customer. In the age of knowledge how can a problem this fundamental be so widespread?
The primary cause of the problem comes down to organization’s failure of understanding and embracing search as a primary method of navigating content and data. Search is often a second class citizen for navigating the organization’s content as most organizations focus on hierarchies to navigate their content. A content hierarchy is the folder structure on your computer, the site structure on your intranet or the menu/sub-menu structure on your site. For the amount of content in a typical company, a content hierarchy simply doesn’t scale as a navigation mechanism. There was once a time that even the internet was navigated in hierarchies. Yahoo’s big draw-card was the category/sub-category listing of websites. Ultimately, content becomes unmanageable this way. We’ve all experienced not being able to find a file on our own computers using the folder structure that we ourselves set up. Tagging is a step up from a pure folder structure but ultimately also fails for similar reasons.
This is where search steps in. The modern user is comfortable with search as their primary method for navigating – I even navigate my phone contacts this way. It’s worth noting though, that simple search also starts failing with enough content. The modern search actually uses more than just your search text to search. The search is done with a specific content of who you are, where you are, your previous searches etc. to ensure better results for you.
In contrast to organizational search, it’s worth taking a quick (simplified) look at what makes Google and Bing so effective at finding the content you are looking for.
1. You create a new blog or site
2. Google bots crawling the web index your content. This index contains such information such as what words and location are associated with your content.
3. Google estimates your page authority, based primarily on the number and authority of links to your site.
Now when a user performs a search, Google determines firstly which content matches the search text. Secondly, Google then ranks these results based on the scoring of the text match and, more importantly, the page authority.
Now, contrast this to an enterprise search. The search crawls the content ..but estimation of page authority gets a little trickier. As it turns out, links to your content isn’t an effective way of scoring the content in an organization. So what is needed to effectively rank those search text matches, which could be thousands of documents? This next step is where many enterprise search configurations fail. The answer is that the indexer needs to categorize the content and relate it to an author in a department. When a user does a search, the engine must rank the results based not only on who the author is in the organizational chart but also who the user who performed the search is. In other words, content which is closer to me in the organization (e.g. my manager, subordinates or team) must rank higher. In addition, content that matches my interests or projects should also rank higher. This can only be achieved by purchasing a suitably powerful enterprise search solution and ensuring it’s configured and managed correctly.
Every day, countless people are spending hours of their lives creating knowledge and content for their enterprises: policy documents, tender responses, technical specifications, strategies etc. Only to have this content lost in the sea of noise the moment it’s saved to their intranet. Seems like a bit of a waste not to allow their relevant content to show up in your search doesn’t it?