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Enterprise search engine business case relies on numbers – and more

Enterprise search should be the easiest technology to build the business case for and actually quantify the return on investment. Consultants say it’s all about hard numbers.

Calculating the potential return on investment (ROI) of a particular technology can sometimes be more of a guessing game than an exact science. How long before new networking equipment or an improved customer relationship management system pays for itself? Hard to say, in many instances.

That typically isn’t the case with enterprise search engine technology.

“Of all the technologies that I cover, in my mind [enterprise search] should be the easiest technology to build the business case for and actually quantify the ROI,” said Adriaan Bloem, a Netherlands-based analyst at content management consulting firm Real Story Group. “With enterprise search, you don’t have to rely on subjective factors. With search, it’s much more about hard numbers.”

For example, the average knowledge worker spends 9.5 hours per week simply looking for information, according to market research firm IDC. If using enterprise search software cut that amount of time in half within an organization, it would free up more than half of a work day each week for affected employees to engage in more productive tasks. In financial terms, you could equate that to saving more than half of a day’s pay per employee.

Of course, successfully making the business case for investments in enterprise search technology involves more than just numbers. Proponents should also focus on promoting specific use cases to help illustrate the technology’s potential, said Lynda Moulton, senior analyst for enterprise search at Outsell’s Gilbane Services, a content management consulting firm in Cambridge, Mass.

What’s missing without enterprise search
As part of that process, Moulton recommended pointing to examples where finding information faster would have translated into increased revenue for a company. “There are a ton of anecdotes in any enterprise about failed [business] projects because content wasn’t available or available in time,” she said.

For example, perhaps a sales team lost a large deal because it couldn’t find information that was needed to answer an important question from the prospective client in time. Or maybe an organization lost a contract with a government agency because data required for an audit couldn’t be located by a given deadline. In such cases, “you sell [business executives] on the risk” of not investing in enterprise search tools, Moulton said.

Even after an enterprise search engine purchase is approved, it’s important to show management how the technology is helping to improve employee productivity on an ongoing basis in order to secure continued funding and win approval to expand a deployment to other parts of an organization.

Again, a combination of hard numbers and illustrative examples is helpful and should be readily attainable if the implementation is managed properly, Bloem said. As an example, he said that if a company deploys a search-based application to help its call center representatives find information needed to answer questions from customers during phone calls, project managers could measure the average time per call and the volume of calls handled by each rep before and after the deployment.

Quick wins for enterprise search engines
Randy Woods, executive vice president of Toronto-based consulting services firm Non-Linear Creations Inc., advocates a similar approach to building the enterprise search business case, stressing that it’s critical to do your homework up front and focus on quick-win projects that can help prove the technology’s value and pave the way for a larger deployment.

“First, you must determine how search is currently used in your organization and where knowledge and information resides,” Woods wrote in an October 2010 whitepaper on the topic of enterprise search ROI. “Then identify which search scenarios promise the most value for the smallest investment.”

If, say, a large accounting department is spending a significant amount of time each week tracking down financial information, deploying an enterprise search engine might reduce the time that’s required and save the company money in the process. But a deployment to so many users will cost a lot and take time to pay for itself. It might be better to initially target a smaller department, where the technology can be put in place more quickly and the expected cost savings can be realized in a shorter length of time. That way, corporate executives can see the benefits of enterprise search software in action before being asked to approve a broader implementation.

To help seal the deal for enterprise search investments, Moulton also recommended drawing a connection between the technology and the long-term success of a company by stressing the importance of maintaining institutional knowledge built up over the years. “You need to be building for the future, and you can’t do that if you haven’t maintained [access to] the legacy content of the organization,” she said.

Jeff Kelly is a freelance writer.

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