Tag: Researching search

Launching Your Search for Enterprise Search Fundamentals

It’s the beginning of a new year and you are tasked with responsibility for your enterprise to get top value from the organization’s information and knowledge assets. You are the IT applications specialist assigned to support individual business units with their technology requests. You might encounter situations similar to these:

  • Marketing has a major initiative to re-write all product marketing pieces.
  • Finance is grappling with two newly acquired companies whose financial reports, financial analyses, and forecasts are scattered across a number of repositories.
  • Your Legal department has a need to categorize and analyze several thousand “idea records” that came from the acquired companies in order to be prepared for future work, patenting new products.
  • Research and development is attempting to categorize, and integrate into a single system, R&D reports from an existing repository with those from the acquisitions.
  • Manufacturing requires access to all schematics for eight new products in order to refine and retool manufacturing processes and equipment in their production area.
  • Customer support demands just-in-time retrieval and accuracy to meet their contractual obligations to tier-one customers, often from field operations, or while in transit to customer sites. The latter case often requires retrieval of a single, unique piece of documentation.

All of these groups have needs, which if not met present high risk or even exposure to lawsuits from clients or investors. You have only one specialist on staff who has had two years of experience with a single search engine, but who is currently deployed to field service operations.

Looking at just these few examples we can see that a number of search related technologies plus human activities may be required to meet the needs of these diverse constituents. From finding and assembling all financial materials across a five-year time period for all business units, to recovering scattered and unclassified emails and memos that contain potential product ideas, the initiative may be huge. A sizable quantity of content and business structural complexity may require a large scale effort just to identify all possible repositories to search for. This repository identifying exercise is a problem to be solved before even thinking about the search technologies to adopt for the “finding” activity.

Beginning the development of a categorizing method and terminology to support possible “auto-categorization” might require text mining and text analysis applications to assess the topical nomenclature and entity attributes that would make a good starting point. These tools can be employed before the adoption of enterprise search applications.

Understanding all the “use-cases” for which engineers may seek schematics in their re-design and re-engineering of a manufacturing plant is essential to selecting the best search technology for them and testing it for deployment.

The bottom line is there is a lot more to know about content and supporting its accessibility with search technology than acquiring the search application. Furthermore, the situations that demand search solutions within the enterprise are far different, and their successful application requires far greater understanding of user search expectations than Web searching for a product or general research on a new topic.

To meet the full challenge of providing the technologies and infrastructure that will deliver reliable and high value information and knowledge when and where required, you must become conversant with a boatload of search related topics. So, where do you begin?

A new primer, manageable in length and logical in order has just been published. It contains the basics you will need to understand the enterprise context for search. A substantive list of reading resources, a glossary and vendor URL list round out the book. As the author suggests, and I concur, you should probably begin with Chapter 12, two pages that will ground you quickly in the key elements of your prospective undertaking.

What is the book? Enterprise Search (of course) by Martin White, O’Reilly Media, Inc., Sebastopol, CA. © 2013 Martin White. 192p. ISBN: 978-1-449-33044-6. Also available as an online edition at: http://my.safaribooksonline.com/book/databases/data-warehouses/9781449330439

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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