Enterprise search satisfaction – the impacts of technology, information and literacy factors. Part 1

by | May 15, 2018 | Search

Over the last two decades a significant amount of research has been undertaken into how people search on the web, especially by Microsoft Research. One visible sign of this research effort is ‘Interactions with Search Systems’ by Ryen White, leader of the Cortana Research team at Microsoft. The bibliography lists over 1600 research papers but none of these addresses the way in which employees interact with enterprise search applications. The reason for this is that there have been no papers published on the topic except for a few examples which take a very narrow view of the topic. A number of search consultants have a good anecdotal stories to tell about enterprise search behaviours but they are not based on anything approaching a rigorous base of sampling and analysis.

Now at last Dr Paul Cleverley and Professor Simon Burnett (Robert Gordon University) have published (in the Journal of Information Science) what is without doubt a landmark research paper on the factors that influence user satisfaction with enterprise search applications. There are three reasons for me applying the ‘landmark’ label to this paper. The first is the scale, with more than 1000 users in a large multinational company providing feedback over a period of two years. Nothing on this scale has ever been undertaken. Over the last sixteen years the company has implemented three different search applications.

The second reason is that Paul Cleverley is geophysicist who moved into information science roles in the oil and gas industry and then last year was awarded a PhD for his work on the use of filters and facets in enterprise search. So here is a discipline expert with a very solid understanding of research methodologies applying all his experience and expertise to understanding enterprise search behaviours. Moreover since six out of the ten largest companies in the world are in this sector there is at least a reasonable expectations that the outcomes will be similar in other large multi-national companies.

The third reason is that this paper proves that it is possible for research with an academic rigour to be undertaken within an organisation. Academics come up with all sorts of reasons for not attempting research within organisations – now this paper and its methodology shows that it can be done, and how it can be done. Hopefully others will now follow this lead.

The methodology is what is usually referred to as a longitudinal mixed methods approach. First feedback was obtained from the search user-interface to gauge satisfaction with the search outcomes. Second interviews were carried out with members of the thirteen internal and contract staff supporting the search application. The two data sets were then triangulated to highlight areas of agreement (all but two), dissonance (none) and silence (two). The study was longitudinal, with the same group of users being monitored over a period of two years. The interviews were coded so that a clear differentiation could be created between satisfaction and dissatisfaction. The areas of dissatisfaction were Technology Factors, Information Factors and Literacy Factors.

The analysis of the outcomes of the research is very thorough, and the paper closes with a definitive bibliography of almost 150 research papers, reports and books.

In Part 2 I will be considering some of the findings of the research project. The Journal of Information Science is a subscription research journal published by Sage but there is an open access Author Accepted version on OpenAir@RGU, which is the open access repository of Robert Gordon University, Aberdeen.

Martin White