Enterprise search – the state of the art

by | Jul 10, 2019 | Digital workplace, Search

It is with some relief that I have been reading the latest contribution from Paul Cleverley and Simon Burnett (Aberdeen University) on the topic of enterprise search.  They interviewed four  enterprise search experts from academia and practice, four search technology vendors (two dominant vendors and two small/start-ups) and ten organizations (from oil & gas, pharmaceutical, government, aerospace and retail) a total of eighteen participants. Interviews were conducted individually over the phone, with each interview lasting between 30 minutes to 1 hour. Notes were transcribed and a process of thematic mapping undertaken to identify the key themes for synthesis which were then compared to the literature. I should add that Paul Cleverley has considerable experience as an enterprise search manager. 

The authors identified ten themes

  • Google & Alexa Habitus
  • Technology Vendor Propaganda
  • Rise of OpenSource and democratization of standard search technology
  • Executive Understanding and Business Case
  • Business Influencers
  • Ownership and Governance
  • Information Management and Knowledge Organization
  • Information Literacy and behaviour
  • Enterprise Search Use Cases
  • Search Tuning

In their paper the authors present the verbatim comments but for me this list of ten themes alone is of great interest.  I come up against them time and time again in projects and at last there is confirmation that these really are the difficult problems in enterprise search management, no matter what the size of the company or the business sector that it works in. The issues are fundamental and intransigent to solve. For certain, technology alone is not a solution and as the authors have noted in an earlier paper on search satisfaction, technology, content quality and search literacy all have to be addressed if appropriately high levels of search satisfaction are to be achieved. This work catalyzed my own report Achieving enterprise search satisfaction in which I summarise recent research related to improving search performance.

Without exception all these themes arise (albeit at various levels) whenever I walk into a new client. The client is usually surprised that the themes are in fact common to all organisations trying to enhance the performance and satisfaction of their search applications. Apart from the BSC IRSG Search Solutions event in November each year there is no ‘broad spectrum’ forum for search managers to share their problems, aspirations and solutions. It is a great shame that for commercial reasons the Enterprise Search Europe event did not continue beyond 2015. In my view this research indicates that vendors, integrators and search managers have common problems and it may take a cooperative approach to resolve them. The scale of the challenge makes it even more surprising that the forthcoming Gartner Digital Workplace Summit 2019 totally ignores the topic of enterprise search development. 

Martin White