Are Disparate Systems Seeking Unified, Enterprise Search?



The amount of email we get from public relations organizations as members of the technology media is astounding. Sometimes we catch one right before deleting what smells like spam, lean back in our ergonomic office chairs and think: Is this so obvious that presenting it as research feels a bit like gazing at the glistening ocean from a sunny pier and noticing that there's a ton of blue water out there?

That's how I felt when I saw an email recently (and Baseline story) from the organization AIIM in a research/market intelligence announcement on enterprise search. AIIM states the following as its lead finding:

"Finding information on the Web is easier than finding information in an organization. 82% report that their experience with 'consumer Web' has created demand for improved enterprise findability."

Findability? That is an interesting choice of words. Reminds me of Wessonality-- the jingle Florence Henderson used to sing in the 70's about the glories of Wesson oil. If only your company could turn a switch, sprinkle some Web 4.0 powder around the data center and allow search to bestow its ease-of-use findability gifts.

I'm fooling with you, AIIM. You're doing decent work supporting (and underwriting) the enterprise content management industry. I'm simply not surprised in the least by your lead finding that the free, open-to-the-world Internet is a better, easier place to find information than the systems people use at work.

After talking to Carl Frappaolo, VP of Market Intelligence at AIIM, "findability" is defined as the art and science of making content findable. Ok, that is somewhat acceptable and straightforward, but even Carl admitted after I pointed it out that it did feel a little like a marketing buzzword. To Frappaolo's credit he explained that what may appear as a buzzword is an attempt to broaden the thinking and limitations of enterprise search. He explained that when we generally talk about search, it's about users learning how to use that one specific technology's predetermined functionality. Users have to respond to the limitations of search-query functionality and interfaces. They have to conform.

"The burden of success with search is on the user," said Frappaolo. "With consumer-focused search there are real strategies for the conversion of a sale of a product or with relaying relevant ads. At work, it's just not the case. We found that the majority of people are using 4 or more search tools in a typical work week."

The implication here is that companies don't have real strategies for using data beyond their intended purpose, and I couldn't agree more. It would be fantastic if one, unified search tool were the portal for all things networked at work, but let's be clear here: Companies aren't in business to make everything find-able.

The real fact is that the notion of anywhere, anytime "findability" is not generally a business need. When you consider the volumes of complex IT systems living in data centers for gigantic, global corporations, the concept of making search or findability or whatever you want to call it the must-have practice is not something companies are dying to necessarily invest in or tie together. Not with all the business-driving technologies that companies are under pressure to deliver on.

"Internal search in companies is definitely in silos. Enterprise search is a tricky thing. You have departments that are territorial. There are fiefdoms and politics here to consider. And for legal reasons, there are many companies that can't have other departments seeing or sharing their data," says Bill Hayduk, President of RTTS, a software quality firm that services Fortune 500 companies in New York City and elsewhere in the U.S..

"In financial services, enterprise search will never happen," says Hayduk. "Conceptually, it's a great idea when everything is in a Web format, but reality is very much something else. There are a whole lot of technological challenges. You have to think about who is looking at what and how to manage that, not to mention categorizing and deciding what to classify and who has access and at what level... There are real security concerns here."

Hayduk continued: "The only place I could see this happening are for those companies that are document intensive, like in the legal industry or legal departments of companies," says Hayduk.

Frappaolo generally agreed that search is in silos in the enterprise, and that companies and IT organizations focus their energy on driving business and maintaining the relevant systems. He also agreed that security is a major operational concern for management in this process.

"Part of the findability argument has to include security. The system platform should have access control and needs to have a real strategy behind it," said Frappaolo. "But I would argue, much like Dr. John Halamaka, the Chief Information Officer and Dean for Technology at Harvard Medical School does, that security should not be the impediment to using and sharing the right data for the right audience. Don't turn your back on library science. You need to respond to user interaction with content."

When asked about who is using enterprise search in a broad and bold way now, Frappaolo talked about a project at a large financial services organization in the Midwest, that he could not name, unfortunately. He was careful to point out that this company was starting small in its legal department and finding success with plans to roll it out further. It seemed like a departmental project that has defined needs for itself.

And so it begs the question: does everything in an enterprise need to be searchable?

"Probably not," admitted Frappaolo (here's an interesting post from Frappaolo in response to questions on the findability research in his blog takingaiim.com).

There are some excellent arguments, and technologies, for unlocking lifeless, flaccid data and making it more useful to your business. Business intelligence, right? Those of you looking at business intelligence technologies or just adding better search to one or two systems could inevitably come to the conclusion that this is another project that has its own set of issues, dependencies, and of course, costs. There will be costs for the manpower needed in data classification and indexing, and costs for continued management. For many large enterprises, having some focus on the charter of any business intelligence or search functionality project is going to get tied to the needs of real business drivers that show value in increased productivity and efficiency.

But we're a long way from there. Who's going to do that work?

"Some of the challenges companies are facing come in the tagging of content. Once you've come up with a classification system and agreed-upon organizing strategy, there is tagging. It's additional work that gets pushed on to employees and, as of now, is not one single person's job. People don't want to do it," said Frappaolo. "Some may do it, and much of it is incomplete. There are some technologies that can auto-fill tags, but if it [the system] feels that it is not complete, it triggers a process emailing users to complete the tags...This has limited success."

Lynda Moulton, lead analyst at The Gilbane Group, points out in her vendor-sponsored research "Enterprise Search Markets and Applications: Capitalizing on Emerging Demand" the following:

"Major corporations and government agencies do not have installed and operational a single search application that covers all possible electronic content in the enterprise for retrieval in a single search interface. Some large professional services firms come close to that model, as do some small to medium businesses (SMB). Mostly, there are thousands of instances of search applications being deployed throughout enterprises of every type. Usage, at present, is in the phase this analyst would call largely experimental or "hit or miss."

I guess the key word in the title of her research is emerging demand, because by the look and sound of it, demand is small even if users want to find work information easier.

Is your company working on enterprise search? Tell me about it.