For the past several years, the search spotlight has been focused on optimizing the discoverability of content on the public internet. The super powers of web search— including Google, Yahoo!, and Bing —have been duking it out for clicks and attention for years. Although it may get less press, information and technology executives everywhere have actually been trying to emulate data discoverability of both structured and unstructured corporate data as well —but with limited success. Ultimately, internal information discovery is all about enterprise search, and it is often the key to optimizing efficiency and productivity in an organization.

Data Integrity and Availability Are Vital

Your organization might be a government entity, a financial services provider, a regional utility, or a law firm. Regardless, recent IDC findings say that all information workers spend, on average, about two and a half hours a day searching for information that is necessary for them to do their job. Gartner says the costs to a 500 person company without a solid enterprise search strategy can be up to $2.4 million per year in lost productivity and inefficiencies.

Information workers are accustomed to the public internet experience of Bing or Google: they enter a keyword or search phrase and trust that the most relevant information will be found on the first page, or even among the first handful of results. Workers expect the same accuracy from their internal corporate search experience, and often become frustrated when they can’t find what they need within an average of four minutes. This is where enterprise search comes in.

What is Enterprise Search?

According to TechTarget, enterprise search is the “organized retrieval of structured and unstructured data within an organization,”which when properly implemented, “creates an easily navigated interface for entering, categorizing, and retrieving data securely, in compliance with security and retention regulations.”It’s a pretty comprehensive definition and covers a lot of information management real estate. Crucially, an effective enterprise search has access to both structured data, stored in applications like SAP, Oracle, or Microsoft Dynamics ERP or CRM, as well as unstructured data, which includes e-mails, documents, intranet sites like SharePoint, instant messaging, and other internal video or audio files. However, it must also provide the following:

  • Data security. As you find and retrieve information from archive or storage, you want to ensure the data doesn’t get hacked in transit or when it is at rest. Your search solution should also only provide results that the user has the rights to view. Ensuring that information is only available to those entitled to it is crucial.
  • Categorization of data. Metadata quality is a major factor in how quickly and effectively information is found by privileged users. Establishing an optimized taxonomy of metadata and/or folders in which users can place documents has a great impact on the speed at which information is retrieved. Tagging documents by author, date, subject, and other critical identifiers also aids users in finding the right information.
  • Easily navigated interfaces. Providing a clear“window”into your data allows users to easily retrieve information through simple or Boolean searches. In addition to this basic window, users are also demanding information accessibility on mobile or BYOD devices.
  • Compliance requirements. Beyond the discovery of information, executives must have the ability to find large batches of documents, e-mails, or other content so that they can be made available in the context of, for example, an audit or in the face of litigation.

What is Federated Search?

At its core, enterprise search is about accessing, indexing, and querying repositories effectively. You may choose to crawl repositories directly in order to index information, but you can also consider using another approach: federation. Federated search specifically refers to searching the data across your enterprise while also leveraging the insights provided by existing native search engines and the indexes they store. Because the top-level search engine doesn’t have to drill down into all of the repositories individually, instead trusting that the native search engines have done their jobs effectively, federated search can improve the speed and accuracy of search results. Additionally, individual native search engines can be scheduled to index their data at different times, so that performance and accuracy isn’t degraded by your combined content stores searching all at once.

Starting from Square One

If you are just starting down the road of enterprise search within your organization, it might seem like it’s all uphill from here. However, there are baby steps that you can take down the path of enterprise search readiness before embarking on a full-scale journey with a consulting provider. After all, starting the process of preparing your internal content for effective retrieval now is better than leaving the problem to grow even more unmanageable.

Here are some small steps to get started:

  • Take an “Information inventory”of your data repositories. Identify which of your departmental data stores are walled from your other systems, and determine if there might be opportunities for efficiency by integrating them with your other corporate applications. If the system isn’t interoperable with the rest of your information ecosystem, would it be worth replacing that system with one that could gel with the rest of your systems? Could there be redundant processes taking place in your business which could be streamlined by “knocking down walls”between your business functions? Could your information workers get access to more reliable data by getting a better structure in place for document versions and classification?
  • Do some quality assessments on your data. Is there antiquated data that is no longer required or valuable, even for regulatory requirements? Are your employees getting stuck wading through old information before they can find more recent, relevant information? Can you archive older information so users aren’t missing out on the most current content?

o     Talk to your users. What do they do if they can’t find a document or data within their system? Do they search for it for a long time until they finally find it, or are they giving up and creating a new version to add to the repository? Are they asking colleagues where to find the information?

o     Assess your productivity. How does time spent searching for information impact your company’s productivity? If reliable data can’t be found, does that mean leaving projects uncompleted or does it expose your firm to liability?

Teaming Up with an Experienced Guide

Once you have done some internal investigation and gap assessment, working with a provider of Federated or Enterprise Search consulting services can lay out a roadmap for implementing “Search Engine Optimization”both within your firewalls and within the reach of your systems into cloud applications. Typically, you will be guided in taking steps to:

  • Work with your departments to establish consistent document profiling processes. If there are rogue SharePoint collaboration sites, or documents hidden away on individual PC or Cloud hard drives, get your users to add them to an Enterprise Content Management system.
  • Ensure there are device-agnostic ways for users to access unstructured content. Find out if apps such as Open Text Core, Microsoft SharePoint Online or Alfresco in the Cloud are the right fit for your business, based on your overall information ecosystem. When integrated with your structured data systems, these unstructured content repositories can put “content in context”in search results— users spend less time searching, and more time working with reliable data.
  • Migrate content from disparate repositories, or integrate applications that are compatible. In some cases, federated searches across multiple systems are more effective. To do this effectively, you will also create “master data management”strategies for data quality. If there are duplicate files, for example, you will then have established parameters regarding what should be deleted and what becomes the trusted source of information.
  • Additional steps include the establishment of effective retention schedules for electronic and physical records; the identification of which native application search engines are the most reliable; and the implementation of an automated classification of documents and records, as human classification can be inconsistent, incomplete, and/or unreliable.

Now you know both the importance of efficiency in information discoverability andthe basic steps to beginning to implement federated or enterprise search within your own systems. But, maybe you’re still unsure of how to best take advantage of these types of search in order to improve the discoverability of your organization’s information assets. General Networks has been dedicated to helping organizations like yours make information available, reliable, and secure for the past twenty years. Be it:

  • In the office, among your own systems;
  • In the field, at a customer location or on a job site;
  • At conferences, court proceedings, or meetings about mergers and acquisitions;
  • At home;
  • And even abroad as you travel around the globe with mobile devices.

You don’t have to go it alone to tackle search optimization within your enterprise. General Networks is here to talk.