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What to consider when developing enterprise search strategy

Finding information efficiently within a company is key for user productivity. Businesses should develop an enterprise search strategy to improve content navigation and discovery.

Searching for information within a business application and coming up empty-handed can be both frustrating and a waste of time.

To avoid any potential difficulties, an organization needs an enterprise search strategy in place to provide a unified and consistent search experience, no matter where it stores content.

Organizations create and store content in several systems, including ERP and CRM applications, document and content management systems, email and collaboration tools, file systems, intranets and corporate websites. Enterprise search helps users in any business department locate content despite the presence of silos. Without enterprise search, users must look for content across many systems and use the vendor's own search mechanism in each. Even when users find content, it may not be the content they were looking for.

Benefits of enterprise search software

Businesses have many enterprise search software options, such as IBM Watson Discovery and Salesforce Einstein Search. Organizations can analyze search platform options through a specification and selection approach that itemizes the capabilities of the search platform by weighing how important each feature is to the business.

Businesses that have already deployed some level of search capability, such as SharePoint, can include an existing search system in the specification and selection process, or it may not be appropriate. Instead, the business can turn on features and functions of the existing system to fill the gaps between what is in place and what it wants the system to do.

Enterprise search software can help an organization in the following ways:

  • Aid user productivity by reducing time to find information. For example, employees can use enterprise search to locate a document without needing to log in to multiple systems individually.
  • Reduce risk by highlighting sources of truth for the same content, such as several versions of the same contract that multiple people edited and stored in different systems. Another example includes highlighting missing content, such as an unfiled customer nondisclosure agreement.
  • Enhance business insights by showing structured and unstructured business content in the same dashboard. This could include displaying recent customer complaints logged in the CRM system alongside sales orders from the ERP system and sales contracts from the document management system (DMS).

Enterprise search systems enable businesses to mine unstructured content for information which they can display alongside structured data. Enterprise search is the business intelligence for unstructured content.

Even when users find content, it may not be the content they were looking for.

Businesses should consider the following steps when developing an enterprise search strategy.

Know what the end user expects from the system

First, organizations should create user stories. User stories describe interactions with enterprise search and provide businesses with insight on how to test the system. When creating user stories, businesses should survey employees to understand their roles and what they expect from the enterprise search system. Companies should also be familiar with their organization's information governance policies and confidentiality rules when developing the enterprise search strategy.

Next, businesses and end users must agree on critical success factors to measure success. Any project or initiative should have ways to measure success, which include time saved, number of content sources included in search and anomalies reduced. The most important measures are known as critical success factors.

After companies determine critical success factors, they should assemble consistent subject matter experts and sponsors from across the business -- including competencies from performance learning and development -- to drive adoption of a new tool or process for success. If no one uses a tool or process and instead relies on old ways of working, businesses cannot measure the value of the process.

Once organizations determine which new tools to adopt, they must build a roadmap of prioritized activities. Businesses should tackle high-priority content sources, first applying minimal but necessary metadata classifications. Once a framework and process are in place, companies can add more content sources and metadata.

Understand and organize content

Next, businesses should catalog taxonomy and metadata characteristics to support user stories. Tagging content helps improve the accuracy of search results. Tagging, or adding metadata, means making unstructured content structured. Then, businesses can process it alongside structured content.

After companies add structure to data, they must identify content sources, data structures and system integration capabilities. Structured content sources include CRM and ERP systems. Content within these systems contain data fields, such as name, address, product code and unit price. Unstructured content sources include file systems and DMSes. A file system has some structured content, including file name and directory path; however, the files themselves are not structured. A DMS contains structured data -- metadata tags, file names and version numbers -- but also unstructured data, which makes up the content of those files.

An enterprise search system must integrate with other applications to gather content for analysis. A mature enterprise search system can connect to many different business systems, such as enterprise content management, payroll, ERP and websites.

Next, organizations should map content lifecycles, specifically content ownership. Users create, change, store, archive and delete content. Understanding the flow and who is responsible for the integrity, accuracy and retention of content tells businesses who can help define metadata.

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