A study conducted by AIIM in May has found that enterprise search is still lags behind consumer-oriented search when it comes to helping people find the information they need inside the firewall, but enterprise employees may have unreasonable expectations based on their experiences on the consumer web.
As Carl Frappaolo, VP at AIIM points out, part of the problem is that information is spread out across the enterprise. "As the volume of information has increased, the pain of finding enterprise information has increased and now encompasses the need to search and access across the digital landfill of file servers, e-mail inboxes, digital desktops, and content management systems. Despite the advances made in search on the Web, enterprise search leaves most users frustrated."
One advantage that consumer sites like Amazon and Google have in helping people find information, explains Dan Keldsen, director of market intelligence at AIIM, is that these sites were built from the ground up with express purpose of getting people to an answer, in spite of the number of possible results to any query, while enterprise repositories have been stacked up over time leaving people with too many places to look for information.
"It’s not that people don’t have search or other tools and techniques to find information. They have too many tools. They have search in their email client, search on the web, the sales force automation software has its own search [and so forth]." The trouble is most organizations don’t have tools to search across everything, he explains. In spite of the fact that federated search has been around for some time, he says, most organizations don’t have it because it’s tricky and expensive to implement.
Therefore it’s not surprising that 82 percent of those surveyed by AIIM agreed or strongly agreed that their experience with the consumer web has "created increased demand for enterprise findability." Whether that’s realistic or not, matters little, says Keldsen, because we have to face the fact that these users are frustrated for whatever reason. "Should we be frustrated that this is what people think and feel, or face it because it’s reality?" he asks.
However, Susan Feldman, an IDC analyst who covers search technologies, cautions us not to read too much into the effectiveness of today’s search tools based on these findings alone, because there are a lot of factors in play when implementing a search tool in the enterprise. "It’s important to distinguish between the technology of search and its various implementations," she says. "Search itself is a powerful tool. If it is deployed effectively, then it becomes invaluable. If it is hidden behind ineffective interfaces, and not linked to tasks that information workers are engaged in, then it will be ignored. These questions were not asked in the AIIM study." Of course Feldman only had access to the data AIIM released, not to the full study. Feldman points out that IDC data shows that search can be highly valued, or seldom used. The trick is in the design of the interface, the choice and deployment of features, and the integration with other enterprise applications.
Frappaolo agrees with Feldman's overall take on the nature of enterprise search. He says that "her comments are the essence of the bulk of our findings and discussion in our soon to be released comprehensive report."
He goes on to say, "I don’t think the technology is failing us, I think it’s the way we are using the technologies," but he adds, "If I can’t find my content, it doesn’t exist." What’s clear is that employees face a huge amount of information, and Keldsen says much of this information is not found on the company’s internal-facing web sites. In fact, 69 percent of respondents said that less than half of the company’s information was available online. What’s more, the study found that 49 percent of respondents said their organizations have no formal goal for increasing the ability to find information (what AIIM and others call "findability").
AIIM’s research indicates, however, that even with all this, people consider the commercial experience average so they aren’t asking for much in their enterprise search, but they are asking for more. Until enterprises devote more resources directly to search, Keldsen says, something akin to a "Chief Search Officer," we might not see major improvements in the perceived experience. In the end, users have to understand, that it’s harder to implement search in the enterprise than it is on a commercial website, but at the same time the powers that be in the enterprise can’t simply rest on the search tools found in each application or use the excuse that it’s too hard to implement unified search. They need to develop an overall enterprise search strategy to help employees find the information they need wherever it is stored.