The interview below was originally published by April Allen on Knowledge Bird, and is reproduced here with permission.
The final KMLF meeting of 2014 was a panel discussion about enterprise search. Brett Matson, Managing Director of enterprise search provider Funnelback, revealed some interesting insights that I wanted to capture in this interview. Brett used to work in the search industry as an engineer for the CSIRO, before starting Funnelback in 2006, so he knows a bunch about search and how people use it.
Where Google has succeeded, the enterprise still struggles. According to APQC research, only 53% of firms rate their enterprise search as effective or very effective. What do you think is happening with the rest?
The 53% in the APQC research relates to federated search, which is the idea of having a search engine query third-party search engines and combine the results. This is generally ineffective because it’s difficult to rank heterogeneous results against a common baseline, and you also can’t use tools such as faceted navigation.
However, there is a general dissatisfaction with enterprise search technology and it’s these kinds of statistics that have led Funnelback to adopt a new approach. We believe the top three causes of dissatisfaction are:
1. Lack of Ongoing Investment in Enterprise Search
Organizations too often consider enterprise search to be a fixed-duration project, rather than an ongoing investment. Users change, needs change, and information changes. Search engines can cope with this to an extent, but the can’t offer the same effectiveness as a human assessing business needs. Organizations need training and guidance on where the quick wins are in ongoing investment in optimising enterprise search. Google only succeeds on the global Web because it has thousands of people doing this constantly
2. Re-inventing the Wheel
Enterprise search budgets are often consumed in developing complex search interfaces and applications from scratch, instead of focusing on configuring off-the-shelf solutions to fit business needs. An enterprise search product should have pre-assembled, best-practice templates for a range of different search requirements (e.g. eCommerce search vs. events search vs. courses search) to allow implementation effort to focus on the business aspects of the solution.
3. Only Solving Part of the Problem
Most enterprise search products attempt to rank information with respect to its relevance to a text query, but ignore other significant factors that detract from search effectiveness.
A holistic enterprise search solution should include:
Do you think an enterprise taxonomy is important?
We don’t often come across organizations that have enterprise taxonomies. If done well, they can provide benefit to many aspects of knowledge management, including making better use of technologies such as text analytics. However, it’s a significant investment that can fail to pay off if implemented ineffectively. The two main problems are:
1. The taxonomy is not aligned with how the organization uses information.
This can be a result of the taxonomy classifications not reflecting the way people attempt to find information. It can also be due to an onerous system for classifying content.
2. Information systems, such as enterprise search tools, being unable to leverage the taxonomy effectively.
Instead, we recommend organizations invest in a behavioural taxonomy. This includes assessing:
It’s this kind of information that informs smart decisions around:
Following the Pareto principle, if you can ensure that 20% of searches work effectively then 80% of the information needs are addressed. This small amount of effort pays large dividends.
After I’d read Weinberger’s book, I was convinced tagging and faceted search in the enterprise was in our future. So, I was surprised to hear you say at our KMLF meeting that most Funnelback users don’t tag documents. Why is that?
I suspect it’s a cultural issue rather than a technology one. The ability to tag content in enterprise search is powerful because it’s not limited to a single data store; users can tag content whether it’s in an EDRMS, file share, social media channel, intranet, or third-party website. Funnelback provided a means to do this, but users didn’t see any immediate value in tagging content, so chose not to.
In hindsight, we would have benefited from complementing the technology with a cultural program of educating users on the benefits of tagging and sharing, and optionally gamifying the experience to reward and incentivise.
On the other hand, in the last 10 years, faceted search has evolved from a technology used almost exclusively on eCommerce sites, to an out-of-the-box feature in every Funnelback deployment, including intranets, databases, and enterprise search. It’s popular because it’s intuitive and provides immediate value.
What are the first important steps for any large organization embarking on a new search strategy?
The first question every organization should ask is:
Who are the stakeholders affecting the success of our organization and what information do they need to maximise our success?
At a more practical level, this includes questions like:
Without asking these questions, organizations sometimes assume that searching everything with a single query (access controls permitting) is the answer. Sometimes it is the answer, but it can be a more complicated and costly exercise than necessary. For example, do users want to use an enterprise search tool to search their own email, or would they prefer to use the search on their mail client?
When an organization proceeds with implementing an enterprise search solution, what sort of management and maintenance resources, if any, should the organization be prepared to commit?
At a minimum, search analytics should be checked monthly with the following questions in mind:
We also recommend having an expert conduct an annual or bi-annual health check to assess all aspects of the search system, including crawl scope, ranking quality, search filters, etc., as well as ensuring the system is aligned with changing business needs.