Month: April 2008

Only Humans can Ensure the Value of Search in Your Enterprise

While considering what is most important in selecting the search tools for any given enterprise application, I took a few minutes off to look at the New York Times. This article, He Wrote 200,000 Books (but Computers Did Some of the Work), by Noam Cohen, gave me an idea about how to compare Internet search with enterprise search.
A staple of librarians’ reference and research arsenal has been a category of reference material called “bibliographies of bibliographies.” These works, specific to a subject domain, are aimed at a usually scholarly audience to bring a vast amount of content into focus for the researcher. Judging from the article, that is what Mr. Parker’s artificial intelligence is doing for the average person who needs general information about a topic. According to at least one reader, the results are hardly scholarly.
This article points out several things about computerized searching:

  • It does a very good job of finding a lot of information easily.
  • Generalized Internet searching retrieves only publicly accessible, free-for-consumption, content.
  • Publicly available content is not universally vetted for accuracy, authoritativeness, trustworthiness, or comprehensiveness, even though it may be all of these things.
  • Vast amounts of accurate, authoritative, trustworthy and comprehensive content does exist in electronic formats that search algorithms used by Mr. Parker or the rest of us on the Internet will never see. That is because it is behind-the-firewall or accessible only through permission (e.g. subscription, need-to-know). None of his published books will serve up that content.

Another concept that librarians and scholars understand is that of primary source material. It is original content, developed (written, recorded) by human beings as a result of thought, new analysis of existing content, bench science, or engineering. It is often judged, vetted, approved or otherwise deemed worthy of the primary source label by peers in the workplace, professional societies or professional publishers of scholarly journals. It is often the substance of what get republished as secondary and tertiary sources (e.g. review articles, bibliographies, books).
We all need secondary and tertiary sources to do our work, learn new things, and understand our work and our world better. However, advances in technology, business operations, and innovation depend on sharing primary source material in thoughtfully constructed domains in our enterprises of business, healthcare, or non-profits. Patient’s laboratory or mechanical device test data that spark creation of primary source content need surrounding context to be properly understood and assessed for value and relevancy.
To be valuable enterprise search needs to deliver context, relevance, opportunities for analysis and evaluation, and retrieval modes that give the best results for any user seeking valid content. There is a lot that computerized enterprise search can do to facilitate this type of research but that is not the whole story. There must still be real people who select the most appropriate search product for that enterprise and that defined business case. They must also decide content to be indexed by the search engine based on its value, what can be secured with proper authentication, how it should be categorized appropriately, and so on. To throw a computer search application at any retrieval need without human oversight is a waste of capital. It will result in disappointment, cynicism and skepticism about the value of automating search because the resulting output will be no better than Mr. Parker’s books.

Parsing the Enterprise Search Landscape

Steve Arnold’s Beyond Search report is finally launched and ready for purchase. Reviewing it gave me a different perspective on how to look at the array of 83 search companies I am juggling in my upcoming report: Enterprise Search Markets and Applications. For example, technological differentiators can channel your decisions about must haves/have nots in your system selection. Steve codifies considerations and details 15 technology tips that will help you frame those considerations.
We are getting ready for the third Gilbane Conference in which “search” has been a significant part of the presentation landscape in San Francisco, June 17 – 20th.Six sessions will be filled with case studies and enlightening “how-to-do-it-better” guidance from search experts with significant “hands-on” experience in the field. I will be conducting a workshop, immediately after the conference, How to Successfully Adopt and Deploy Search. Presentations by speakers and the workshop will focus on users’ experiences and guidance for evaluating, buying and implementing search. Viewing search from a usage perspective begs a different set of classification criteria for divvying up the products.
In February, Business Trends published an interview I gave them in December, Revving up Search Engines in the Enterprise. There probably isn’t much new in it for those who routinely follow this topic but if you are trying to find ways to explain what it is, why and how to get started, you might find some ideas for opening the discussion with others in your business setting. The intended audience is those who don’t normally wallow in search jargon. This interview pretty much covers the what, why, who, and when to jump into procuring search tools for the enterprise.
For my report, I have been very pleased with discussions I’ve had with a couple dozen people immersed in evaluating and implementing search for their organizations. Hearing them describe their experiences guides other ways to organize a potpourri of search products and how buyers should approach their selection. With over eighty products we have a challenge in how to parse the domain. I am segmenting the market space into multiple dimensions from the content type being targeted by “search” to the packaging models the vendors offer. When laying out a simple “ontology” of concepts surrounding the search product domain, I hope to clarify why there are so many ways of grouping the tools and products being offered. If vendors read the report to decide which buckets they belong in for marketing and buyers are able to sort out the type of product they need, the report will have achieved one positive outcome. In the meantime, read Frank Gilbane’s take on the whole topic of enterprise tacked onto any group of products.
As serendipity would have it, a colleague from Boston KM Forum, Marc Solomon, just wrote a blog on a new way of thinking of the business of classifying anything, “Word Algebra.” And guess who gave him the inspiration, Mr. Search himself, Steve Arnold. As a former indexer and taxonomist I appreciate this positioning of applied classification. Thinking about why we search gives us a good idea for how to parse content for consumption. Our parameters for search selection must be driven by that WHY?

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