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.

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