Month: August 2008

Enterprise Search: Case Studies and User Communities

While you may be wrapping up your summer vacation or preparing for a ramp up to a busy fourth quarter of business, the Gilbane team is securing the speakers for an exciting conference Dec. 2 – 4 in Boston. Evaluations of past sessions always give high marks to case studies delivered by users. We have several for the search track but would like a few more. If one of your targets for search is documents stored in SharePoint repositories, your experiences are sure to draw interest.
SharePoint is the most popular new collaboration tool for organizations with a large Microsoft application footprint but it usually resides with multiple other repositories that also need to be searched. So, what search products are being used to retrieve SharePoint content plus other content? A majority of search applications provide a connector to index SharePoint documents and they would not be making that available without a demand. We would like to hear what SharePoint adopters are actively using for search. What are you experiencing? If you would like to participate in the Gilbane Conference, and have experiences you to share, I hope you will get in touch and check out the full program.
On a related note, I was surprised, during my recent research, to discover few identifiable user-groups or support communities for search products. Many young companies launch and sponsor “user-group meetings” to share product information, offer training, and facilitate peer-to-peer networking among their customers. It is a sign of confidence when they do help customers communicate with each other. It signals a willingness to open communication paths the might lead to collective product critiques which, if well organized, can benefit users and vendors. It is also a sign of maturity when companies reach out to encourage customers to connect with each other. May-be some are operating in stealth mode but more should be accessible to interested parties in the marketplace.
Organizing functions are difficult to manage by users on their own professional time, so, having a vendor willing to be the facilitator and host for communication mechanisms is valuable. However, they sometimes need to have customers giving them a nudge to open the prospect of such a group. If you would value participating in a network of others using your selected product, I suggest taking the initiative by approaching your customer account representative. Communities for sharing tips about any technology are important but so is mutual guidance to help others become more successful with any product’s process management and governance issues. User groups can give valuable feedback to their vendors and spur product usage creativity and efficiency. Finally, as an analyst I would much rather hear straight talk about product experiences from those who are active users, than a filtered version from a company representative. So, please, reach out to your peers and share your story at any opportunity you can. Volunteer to speak at conferences and participate in user groups. The benefits are numerous, the most important being the formation of a strong collective voice.

Researching Search with Intent Firmly in Control

I have hit on intent before and our latest member of the Gilbane blog team, Fred Dalrymple has joined the theme with his entry this week. Welcome Fred! You have given me an opening for an already planned topic, how to conduct research for enterprise search tools, those that go beyond the search box. Actually, this guidance is appropriate for the selection of any technology applications.

Getting intent solidly defined is important for so many reasons, many of them relating to solving a business problem and the expected outcomes. Knowing what these are will give you the framework for isolating likely candidates, efficiently. A second critical reason for having strong intent is to stave off project scope creep. As a former vendor, and now consultant, I see this play out repeatedly as product research ensues. Weak backbones in selection team members or flimsiness of their business case leaves openings for vendors to promote additional features, which often distracts from what is really needed.

So, armed with the right skeleton, a strong framework, a core scaffolding you are ready to approach your research systematically. Four paths are open to a study team; I recommend using all of them, in overlapping passes. Discovery about products, product performance in real-world scenarios, vendor business relationships with their clients, and the user community you will be joining are all targets that need to be exploited.

Discovering a user community on-line that might have expressed a potential problem with a vendor or product, should drive you back to do more research to discover potential limitations or why a user might be having a problem that they brought on through inappropriate implementation. Iteration in research for technology requires perseverance and patience. A comment on each path to research might be helpful:

  • Online research – This requires creativity and the most persistence to verify and validate what you find. I am amazed at how superficially many people read any content. We may be taught that good business writing requires a clear statement in the first paragraph of what follows with a solid summary at the end, but most content does not follow “good” business writing practices. You need to read between the lines, think about what is not being said and ask yourself why, follow every link on the sites of vendors under serious consideration. Look at vendor news notes and press releases to see how much activity is going on with product advances or new installations, and read descriptions of customer implementations to see how closely those deployments match your business need. Finally, search those customer names on the Internet in conjunction with the product name. This may retrieve public content that sheds more light on user experiences.
  • Professional groups – Professional organizations in which you participate are fertile ground for asking about what others in similar situations to yours are using. As you get closer to a final choice, go back to others you know personally or professionally to get answers to the direct question, “have you had any problems with this product or vendor?” and “what is the benefit of this product for you?”
  • Societies and academic institutions – These organizations publish content that may have a cost associated. When you consider thousands your organization spends on a selection process (in people time), contracting, licensing, implementation and deployment, it is wise to have a budget of several hundred dollars for reports that give detailed product evaluations. Get recommendations of librarians and peers as to publications’ authoritativeness.
  • User and analyst blogs and industry publications – The same guidance holds for industry publications as for societies and academic publishers but you will also want to pursue blogs of users and analysts. Users are a great source of discovering tidbits about products and vendors but continue beyond what you discover to see if the comments are isolated or follow a pattern.

This is a longer commentary than I intended but the core of my intent needed flesh, so there it is.

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