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By CIOinsight

Is Search the Answer?


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: Getting Critical Data Out of Heads and Into Circulation">

Getting Critical Data Out of Heads and Into Circulation

When a company name makes the leap from proper noun to active verb, you know there's just a little bit of hype in the air. Google Inc. has, of course, become synonymous with "search."

Who hasn't spent a few hours online "googling" themselves (and others) to see what information comes up? Google's revolutionary technology has changed the way people think about gathering relevant information from disparate sources. And the effect is even being seen in the suddenly popular market for enterprise search tools.

"Google is the rising tide" that is lifting up all search technology companies, says Whit Andrews, a research director at Gartner Inc.

Despite its current buzz factor, however, enterprise search technology hasn't advanced all that much in the past five years, according to Laura Ramos, a vice president at Forrester Research Inc.

The major technological difference is that a company can now deploy one search solution for all its applications and databases, whereas in the past each application had its own search function.

Check out eWEEK.com's for the latest news, views and analysis on enterprise search technology.

That means that e-mails, Microsoft Word documents, Excel spreadsheets and anything else related to a specific topic can be returned in one well-executed search. But that is not exactly a quantum leap forward.

The hype factor can be easily measured by one simple comparison: While some vendors claim the market for enterprise search is around $10 billion, Ramos estimates it's only a fraction of that—roughly $700 million.

"It's all hype driven around a very public IPO and the brand that Google has built in the Internet search space," says Ramos.

All of which is contributing to some basic misunderstandings about enterprise search technology.

"The market expectation is that you can buy Google and all your problems will go away," Ramos says.

In reality, the growing challenge of organizing and properly labeling the reams of data that most companies are required to store continues unabated. Analysts estimate that over 80 percent of corporate data is "unstructured," or does not reside in an indexed, organized, easily searchable database.

And without the thoughtful indexing of this information, even the best search engine will be just as confused as are most employees.

The news isn't all bad, though. Better search capabilities, facilitated by better content management practices, can improve your company's efficiency and cut costs by helping employees find information faster.

Content management—how information is classified, where it is saved, and the rules created to help users get the most appropriate answers to their queries— is key to getting the most out of your search tool, whether you buy a new product or not.

As Ramos says, "There is a direct link between the quality of the content management and the success of enterprise search."

Ask your chief technologist:
  • Do we use an enterprise search engine? For what business purpose?

    Ask your executive team:
  • In what areas would better knowledge management improve corporate performance?

    Discuss with your CFO:
  • The costs versus benefits of overhauling our content management system.

    Story Guide:
    Is Search the Answer?

  • Getting Critical Data Out of Heads and Into Circulation
  • Content Search is Only as Good as Your Content Management
  • Done Right, the Payoff From Search Can be Huge
  • New Features, Deeper Integration Will Make Search Richer

    Page 2

    : Tactics">

    Content search is only as good as your content management.

    At Austin, Texas-based National Instruments Corp., a $514 million manufacturer of sensitive digital instruments for engineers and scientists, enterprise search is critical on several fronts, says Jeff Watts, the company's search and community manager.

    National Instruments' products are highly technical, so call-center support plays a big role in maintaining customer satisfaction. In fact, all of the company's frontline tech support reps are degreed engineers. To help keep calls—and costs—down, National Instruments created a massive database with hundreds of thousands of documents, all of which can be searched and accessed online by any of the company's 25,000 customers (in 90 countries) in a matter of seconds.

    "We make every effort to push customers to use the Web first," says Watts. In fact, he adds, customers who want to speak to an actual call-center rep are encouraged to first qualify their questions online and get a support number, thus giving agents time to find the information (using the same search tool, by the way, as the customers) they need in order to successfully field the call. That's significant, considering the company averaged 350 support requests per day in 2004.

    But the search engine, from Oslo-based Fast Search & Transfer (FAST), wouldn't be worth a dime without the intense content management effort Watts oversees.

    "Creating the content is a massive companywide effort," Watts says. As many as 1,000 employees at NI are involved in writing content, from application tutorials to troubleshooting articles. Each document is carefully classified and stored so that users will be able to find it easily.

    Tagging and classifying data is an expense that many companies overlook when it comes to search, says Joseph Busch, principal of Taxonomy Strategies, a San Francisco-based consultancy.

    While companies such as Google make searching for information look easy, "it would be a real disservice to imagine that this is going to be a plug-and-play solution," he says.

    Check out eWEEK.com's for the latest news, views and analysis on enterprise search technology.

    "It needs to be painstakingly configured in order to really make it work." For example, software programs don't always associate files with the proper keywords, which forces companies to sift through documents manually and add keywords file by file.

    Furthermore, to create a solid taxonomy for data—which is key to ensuring that documents can be searched properly—that data needs to be tagged with "metadata," which assigns content and context information to any given file, including subject matter, type of file, last modified date and other information.

    Ananthan Thandri, vice president of IT at Cadence Design Systems Inc., a leading maker of CAD-CAM software, agrees that search alone won't solve the problem of getting relevant data.

    Cadence, which has been using search products from Verity Inc. since 1998, puts all employees involved in creating content to work on properly assigning keywords and affixing meta-tags to each piece of data—more than 1.1 million documents.

    "We spend a lot of time on tagging and making sure we have our taxonomies set properly," he says.

    While you're sorting out the content management issues, be sure to consider sensitive and personal data as their own separate categories, protected from general searches.

    National Instruments found that employees often save personal information to internal databases without knowing it. "Before we had search, people saved a lot of things on the public intranet that shouldn't have been there, but it was next to impossible to find. Now our new search engine has crawled all of that.

    So it's not difficult for one employee to accidentally find personal information about someone else," Watts says. Getting people to be more mindful of where they save their data has been a challenge, he says, and Watts and his team are drafting guidelines.

    Because of that, the company has been wary of adding more searchable databases until it can be sure that sensitive documents are saved to the proper servers. Watts estimates that at least half the company's content is still not on the system as a result.

    Ask your data managers:
  • How is new content created and indexed in our company?

    Ask your it department:
  • How much time do we spend tagging our data?

    Ask your CTO:
  • Is there a better way to organize our data for faster retrieval?

    Story Guide:
    Is Search the Answer?

  • Getting Critical Data Out of Heads and Into Circulation
  • Content Search is Only as Good as Your Content Management
  • Done Right, the Payoff From Search Can be Huge
  • New Features, Deeper Integration Will Make Search Richer

    Page 3

    : Benefits">

    Done right, the payoff from search can be huge.

    About three years ago, QCSI, a Phoenix-based healthcare software development firm, had a problem.

    The feature sets of its product offerings had quadrupled, which left only about 10 percent of the company's employees "knowledgeable" about those products—roughly 15 people out of 150.

    These employees were constantly deluged with questions from their coworkers, business partners and customers—and often had to answer the same questions over and over again, like a breed of human search engine.

    "About 90 percent of the company's information resided in the heads of about 10 percent of our workforce," says Matt Denison, executive director of knowledge transfer at QCSI.

    One employee, Denison says, had more than 2,000 form e-mails at the ready—each one responding to a different question that she was asked repeatedly.

    So QCSI's executive team created what it calls the knowledge transfer program. First, Denison interviewed each employee and rated their knowledge based on 14 parameters.

    At the same time, he asked the knowledge experts to devote a majority of their time to developing frequently asked questions, which were then reviewed and collated.

    That information became part of a companywide training program that taught QCSI employees how to solve more than 200 product-related problems.

    Once the data had been gathered and organized, Denison deployed an enterprise search portal, using software from Entopia Inc., that gives employees and clients access to nearly 100 gigabytes of corporate data.

    Although he won't disclose actual figures, Denison says the payoff has been huge. For one thing, the new search capability allowed employees to find information more quickly, which helped QCSI deliver a new software application on time and with the fewest number of bugs of any previous product release.

    Check out eWEEK.com's for the latest news, views and analysis on enterprise search technology.

    "That's something we all attribute in part to operating with this common knowledge," says Denison. What's more, he says, the search application saves each employee 20 minutes per day, which translates into roughly 150 hours of freed-up time per week companywide. "That's big bucks," he says.

    Depending on your company's needs, you may not have to spend anything to improve search results.

    "Never spend money first," says Gartner's Andrews. "Get the search log for the past three months and find out what people are looking for."

    Then, he says, take the top 100 terms, assign business owners to the content and have them create 100 pages that address those issues. "You do that," he says, "and suddenly things start getting better—and you didn't even have to spend any money."

    Ask your line-of-business managers:
  • Is crucial information widely available to employees who need it?

    Ask your call-center manager:
  • How long does it take our people to find the data they need to answer queries?

    Ask your CTO:
  • What is our current search log telling us about our content management?

    Story Guide:
    Is Search the Answer?

  • Getting Critical Data Out of Heads and Into Circulation
  • Content Search is Only as Good as Your Content Management
  • Done Right, the Payoff From Search Can be Huge
  • New Features, Deeper Integration Will Make Search Richer

    Page 4

    : Future">

    New features, deeper integration will make search richer.

    Even as some search engines are being used to dehumanize knowledge management, others are reintroducing the human element.

    The truth is, people are always going to be the best sources for some types of information.

    And with that in mind, search software vendors are increasingly adding expertise location services to their offerings, thus allowing employees to go straight to the source for a particular query.

    At ABN AMRO, the Amsterdam-based financial services giant, for example, employees who submit queries to the company's search engine are given not just relevant documents, but instant access to the authors of the content.

    "People often want to find someone to talk to rather than read a document," says David Kemp, development and communications director of the wholesale client legal department at ABN AMRO.

    The company's search software, provided by Autonomy Corp., creates a virtual online community around specific topics—employees can find out not only who the experts are, but also who else is looking for similar information.

    Using search queries themselves to do deeper data analysis will also be a future enhancement, says Forrester's Ramos.

    She envisions analyzing search queries to find content gaps, determine how users are looking at data, and tailor content to specific users.

    This is already happening at Capital One Financial Corp., where enterprise search is used to help call-center reps answer questions more rapidly. To make sure that employees have all the information they need, managers look at the list of search queries regularly to see how many were unfulfilled.

    If they discover a group of similar queries with no answers, they know it's time to create new content that addresses the issue.

    Like all data tools, enterprise search will forever be at the mercy of the quality of the data. "There's no magic in enterprise search," says Busch of Taxonomy Strategies. "Do people expect to buy an ERP and plug it in and magically have control over their entire company? Of course not. Common sense tells us that enterprise apps require care and feeding, and there's no exception here."

    Ask your database managers:
  • Could search analytics help us identify holes in our knowledge management?

    Ask your e-commerce team:
  • Could better search tools improve customer service?

    To download a Fact Sheet, click here.

  • This article was originally published on 04-05-2005