The ComputerWorld Canada view: Search no more

Out of nowhere, it seems, the news has been full of enterprise search-related stories, including the acquisition of long-time player Fast by Microsoft and the release of user- and human-powered search engines like Wikia Search and Mahalo.

This stealth ninja of applications could blindside a lot of IT managers. It has a lot of trendy aspects — from user-driven content to proper information management to business input — and also requires both tact and cunning. Enterprise search involves the three players — the IT manager, the brass and the users — in a deadly game with a lot of pitfalls, but there are a few ways to get out alive.

Employees use Google with the greatest of ease. “There can be a challenge around search pages, as they need to be simple and comprehensive,” said Leslie Owens, an analyst with Forrester Research. “Users want to enter typical queries, and don’t use the Advanced Search option much. They also expect it to work without training.”

Getting the right answer back is getting more and more difficult for them, too. Internet searches are becoming an important part of the average person’s workday, but the growing legions of search engine optimization firms, keywords, and tagging often results in useless or skewed answers.

Receiving good search results on the corporate side can be a real challenge, too. Many enterprises have messy back-ends, filled with reams of redundant data and ill-constructed repositories. Unless required by compliance laws or a constantly searching staff, these back ends become data graveyards.

So, if you want to find something, you need to have somewhere to look. You need to sit down with management and hash out a solid plan for who needs what, where that is, and how to get at it. Said Mitch Joel, president of Montreal-based digital marketing firm Twist Image: “Technology needs to be the facilitator, not the barrier.” While it may be the brass’ fault for not having a serious long-term data management strategy, it will blame the IT manager, anyway. It’s a smart move to go to the C-level suite with a great information strategy, instead of waiting for the CMS-related shrieking to start rolling down from on high.

Security concerns should be a priority, and better routing of information — both of these can be taken care of with contextual searches, according to Forrester Research senior analyst Ken Poore. Log-ins can be set up to route users to the information they need most (and protect certain types of information), whether it be a specific repository, IP address, intranet portal or application resource, he said.

Trolling the logs and conducting usability testing should give you a trove of information that people commonly look for, allowing you to build a database of records that translate into useful results for the future, according to Owens.

Don’t be afraid to chase after the users to take responsibility for their searches. With the brass hard at work on sorting out the future of their data from the top down, it’s up to the IT manager to work from the bottom up to instil a more user-driven culture in the enterprise. Even the most controlling of managers should get behind the effectiveness of tag-enhanced searches, and reap the productivity gains to be had from more useful search results.

That’s something that everyone wants to find.

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