Enterprise Search Failure

Change Direction
Image by: Phillie Casablanca - link)
How often do you hear someone say, "why doesn't our enterprise search work as well as Google search? Bing?" or "Why can't I find the content I want  to find." or "I can't believe our search engine sucks." or "Our enterprise has a very small fraction of the content that Google searches and I still can't find the content I am looking for." or "FIX IT!".

Fix it sounds so easy, but it isn't that easy.  Internet search is dramatically different than enterprise search.  While there are many technical  differences, the biggest difference is not technical by behavioural.  People creating content in the internet are creating the content with the hope that others will find it.  These people, creating content on the internet, have personal incentives (marketing, personal brand, selling a product) to have other people find the content they are creating.  They use many different techniques to improve the finability of their content.  So, what techniques do they use to improve their content?

They tag their content, they use Search Engine Optimization (SEO) sites to improve their content for search engines.  They use social media to  market their material, which also improves the findability of their content.  The more references to their content, the more likely the content will  show up in a search result.  By using social media, people are attempting to garner a loyal following that promotes their content (think free advertising).  And if they can use social media to have their content cross linked and promoted by other people, the chances that more people (directly connections and indirect connections) are going to see their content, which in the end is exactly what they are attempting to do.

Let's contrast this with what happens in the enterprise.  In the enterprise, employees create content typically for a specific group of people, not  intending for the content to be found.  In many cases, employees are not creating content to be shared. (There are exceptions but those are for  specific groups setup to share corporate information, such as a corporate communications teams).  In contrast, the vast majority of the enterprise is creating documents and information and not thinking about how the information could be found or discovered. They are not sharing and there are no  incentives (personal or corporate) to share the information.  In many organizations the tools the employees use to create content and store the content is not even setup to allow for the content to be easily found.  Enterprise search engines often are not even searching the repository where the content is stored.  While the technical connections are not available, the employee is not helping the rest of the company to find their content either.  For example, when the employee wants to let someone else know about their content, what tool do they first turn to?  eMail.  If you are lucky they send a link to the content.  If not, they send the attachment in the email.  The only people that benefit from the later is the sender and the recipient.  In addition, in both scenarios, search engines don't learn and improve relevancy when eMail is used.

What are some ideas on how to improve the search results in the enterprise?   Incorporating social media techniques into the enterprise is one method of improving search results in the enterprise.   By providing a platform for people to collaborate, share, and to tout what they are working on is just one step in improving search results.   If an employee can use these tools and the search engine can learn from the enterprise social media interactions, the search results will improve.  By providing these hooks, such as tagging of content, cross linking of the content, and getting more people to interact with each each other and with communities will improve the search results, much the same way social media improves the search results in the internet.

But that is not the biggest thing that needs to occur.  While a technology can be put in place to allow people to interact, interactions don't occur because of the technology.  Companies have to change their culture;  companies have to get their employees to think from a sharing perspective. They have to create information and documents with the realization that others can find it and learn from it.  Companies need to find the incentive for the employees to partipate and be active and to share.