Enterprise Search and Context

Image: Breen Jones (link)

In my previous blog posts I talked about enterprise search and the reasons why search was not as good in the enterprise as it is in the enterprise.  The post was about why enterprise searches fail and that using social internal to an enterprise, enterprise search can be greatly improved.  +Joachim Stroh (@Joachimstroh) posted a comment on my blog that adds to my ideas.  He states:

"The traditional view is that content is coming from carefully curated repositories that are tied to corporate taxonomies that are tied to search facets. Way too complicated...."  

My response is absolutely correct! My thoughts are that if an employee has to do something beyond what is necessary for the job it probably won't happen.

So if employees are not helping other employees to find the valuable content they created, how do you improve search in the enterprise?  In my previous blog post, I mentioned that social business / E2.0 are both valuable ways to improve search results.  But there must be other ways to improve search.  In addition, social is way deeper than I could ever talk to in one blog post.  In this blog post, I will attempt to outline how enterprise search can be improved by providing search results based on the context of the employee performing the search.

As I did in my last blog post, I want to first analyze what are some of the tricks that internet search engines use to improve search results for each end user.  Internet search engines provide search results based on the context of who the person is that is searching.  They use the location of the person and provide results that are located closer to their current location.  Internet search engines keep track of each person's recent interactions and uses those interactions (which search results did they click) to improve search results. Internet search engines have now started the trend of incorporating end users social interactions to improve the results.  They are using a persons connections (relationships, who they are following, who they interact with most often) along with a host of other social information to improve search results. Each of these improvements to internet search is about providing search results in the context of person doing the search.  For example, when I search on a term, the potential that the search results are different for me vs. you are getting higher and higher.  These changes to how internet search engines provide search results to people is very powerful and a great way of providing the best results possible when there is a humongous amount of content in the internet.

So how does enterprise search learn from internet search?  Enterprise searches can do every one of these techniques to improve search in the enterprise.  And the amazing thing contextual search results is that I believe this is the one spot where enterprise search can do a much better job than internet search.  Enterprise's have a wealth of basic information that they know about employees.  While the internet search engines can learn from personal profiles, enterprise's can use information from the human resource systems along with personal profile information (internal and potentially even external (privacy could be an issue here)).  Enterprise search engines can learn from the interactions people have every day.  For example, the systems employees use and interact with each day can provide a wealth of information on how an employee does their job and what systems they use most. But interactions don't just happen with systems of record, but they also can occur on internal social platforms.  These social platforms can provide a large amount of information about who people are connected to, what interactions they have with other people, and the types of topics they are most interested in.   Lastly, by combining many of these pieces of information together, you can determine an employees expertise, which can also influence and improve search results for that employee.

In future blog posts, I plan on talking about the internal search engine topics.  This topic is so large and has so much potential that I will be creating several blog posts on how "employee context" can improve enterprise search.  Topics will include: the employee profile, the influence of interactions, the connections of employees and expertise of employees.  Each of these topics will review how they have the ability to improve search results for the employee.  So check back periodically to hear my thoughts on how enterprise search can be much better than it is today.

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.