Everyone Finds Results at Enterprise Search Summit 2010

May 13, 2010

Enterprise search is not just about search any more. When you start throwing things like e-discovery and social media into the mix, search within the enterprise becomes exponentially more complicated...and interesting. The Enterprise Search Summit 2010, held in New York City, May 11-12, took a look at some of the timeless questions presented by enterprise search, as well as the newest problems--and opportunities--in the space. From social media to business intelligence and analytics, this year's Enterprise Search Summit offered a range of topics to meet the needs of businesses of all kinds.

Marti Hearst, UC Berkeley professor and author of Search User Interfaces, kicked off the summit with A Look at the Human Face of Search: Designing the User Interface. Hearst urged search engineers to start thinking a bit differently. "Don't personalize search," she said, "socialize it."

And with that, the tone was set. Search is evolving and must focus on users and user-specific activities--and that was evident throughout the event.

According to Aberdeen Group's senior research analyst David White, the primary pressures driving enterprise search are increase employee productivity and improve decision making. This was echoed later in the day by Vivissimo's director of product management, Stacy Monarko, who said, "To improve search, first you must understand the business challenges." In her talk on Leverageing Your Most Valued Asset: Knowledge, she asked attendees, "How are you trying to create additional value for your organization?" And as speaker Bob Boeri, senior ECM consultant at Guident Technologies put it, "Documents are becoming inherently social... and the ecology of an organization includes its information assets, processes, people, and culture."

For some organizations, the ecology of search must also factor in location. Using a case study from what she described as a "top 10 energy company" with 50-100k employees, Lisa Derenthal, director of the Gimmal Group, explored the world of geospatial search in her session Expanding Our Notion of Search. During the process of creating a geospatial search tool for the company, Derenthal and her team had their doubts it would work. It was, however, a success and is now in later stages of prototype. Ultimately, Derenthal found that, "Spatial is critical to search success and worth the effort."

"Search is among the most disruptive innovations of our time. It influences what we buy, where we go, and what we believe," according to Peter Morville, president of Semantic Studios and author of Search Patterns: Design for Discovery. As the second day's opening keynote, Morville made sure that attendees knew just what was at stake, pointing out that, "In the era of the knowledge worker, we have to design for learning."

Making the stakes for effective search even clearer with her In Search of Search Panel, Sue Feldman, IDC research VP for search and digital marketplace technologies, told the crowd that "In the last few years, search has evolved from a 'nice to have' to a tactical, central piece for the organization.

Certainly, this was made clear in David Bean, CTO of semantic technologies at Attensity Group's talk exploring BI in the Age of Social Media. Searching inside the enterprise is hard enough, but as Bean pointed out, it gets even worse when organizations must factor in results from the open web. Companies wanting to monitor their brand on the web and glean business intelligence from various social media sites face an uphill-but critically important--battle.

As one company found out, a simple Google search for "Old Spice aftershave" and "disposable razors" proffers pornographic results, along with many other irrelevant pages that include hidden search engine optimization terms. However, that's not where the challenges end: emoticons, "slanguage," and sarcasm all present problems for search engines. With language and Web 2.0 cultures changing so rapidly, many of these problems don't yet have a satisfactory solution. Groups like Attensity, however, are working on making sense of this sort of "nonsense language" within the realm of search to help organizations make sense of it and increase their business acumen in the process.  

Interest remained high throughout the event, all the way through the final moments. Attendees crammed into Leslie Owens' concluding keynote on Wednesday to hear her take a look at The Future of Search. As an analyst at Forrester Research, Inc., Owens made the bold statement that, "the broad category of enterprise search is finished." That does not mean you're off the hook, though. "Today's knowledge workers demand role-specific, contextual search."

Owens' research confirmed much of what other presenters had been getting at throughout the event: Search is no longer just about putting a query into a box, and returning results. It must adjust to the way people work, which may mean offering relevant, accurate mobile search or recognizing the specific role an employee plays within a company to return more actionable, appropriate results.

Search is increasingly impacting and empowering every aspect of work inside the enterprise-and vendors, consultants, and practitioners are working hard to keep step. With that in mind, the Enterprise Search Summit now turns its gaze to its November event in Washington D.C. where it will join the KMWorld Conference, Taxonomy Bootcamp, and the SharePoint Symposium to explore search within this larger context in order to help businesses find meaningful results.