Martin White Search is Critical to Informed Decision-Making
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By Martin White


Martin White discusses discovery and its function within the information lifecycle. He covers areas such as why search is an essential part of decision-making and why search support teams are critical to success.


Of all the elements of the information lifecycle, the one that is of particular interest to me is discovery.

I can still recall the day in 1975 when I first saw a demonstration of the Lockheed Dialog online search service. It seemed akin to magic. Over the last few years my attention has shifted to enterprise search, and I'm in the process of finalising the text of the second edition of my book "Enterprise Search", which will be twice the size of the 2012 edition.

Comprehensive Surveys Shed Light on Search

Over the last few years a number of surveys have been carried out about the use of information in organisations and the role of search in making it visible. The two most comprehensive surveys come from AIIM (primarily North American respondents) and Findwise (with a good response from Europe).

There is very good correspondence between these surveys. The most striking outcome of the findings is that around 80% of organisations regard information as being of business critical importance, but only around 20% report that search works well. 

This visibility gap has been obvious for several years but very few organisations seem to be taking active steps to improve search satisfaction.

Search to Support Decision-Making

The primary metric of search satisfaction is trust; you need to be able to trust a search application (and the same goes for external search) to deliver all the information that is relevant to you in making a decision that will have implications both for the organisation and you personally. 

In effect, search is a decision support application. No one searches just for the fun of it, or just to find information. That information is needed, directly or indirectly, to support a decision.

One metric that I use is FYOR, or Find Your Own Report. I ask a senior manager to search for a document for which they have responsibility but without using any of the words in the title. The reason for this is that a) only they know what the title is and b) search applications tend to bias the ranking of reports based on words in a title. 

The outcomes are fascinating. Their document is probably three or four pages down the results list and in addition several other people seem to have written similar documents. Try it yourself!

Search Support Teams are Critical to Success

A failure to find information through a search application is very rarely a problem of the technology. Almost always it is because there is no search support team to monitor search performance, support users, carry out test searches, manage "best bets" and make sure all relevant repositories are, in fact, being searched. 

In most organisations this would need a team of two people as well as IT support. If you have more than say 3000 employees, then a team of three, if not four, would be needed. This would certainly be the case with an ERP application

The reaction to the headcount request is that "all the organisation needs is Google", forgetting the $4bn research investment the company makes each year and that books on "how to get the best from Google" run to several hundred pages. Does your search application have a 200-page handbook?

Search Strategy and Ownership

Search is a core technology in making information visible to everyone in your organisation. No other enterprise application (finance, HR, ERP) has anywhere near the same level of "touch". There should be a search strategy that is linked into an information management strategy. 

Above all, search has to be owned by the organisation and resourced in line with the importance of making information visible to all who, each day, are making decisions that could change the direction of the organisation for the better. 

Find Out More

In the Subscription Article "Eight Steps to Good Management for Visible Information", Martin White analyses the information lifecycle and covers salient points for each of the eight stages. He also details five steps to improve the visibility of information through an information lifecycle approach.

This Blog Item is part of the FreePint Topic Series "Making Information Visible". 

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