We want to have our enterprise search work like Google. Really?

by | Sep 12, 2018 | Search

This is up there with the ‘2.5 hours spent searching’ and ‘80% of data is unstructured‘ comments. One of the differences between the 1st and 2nd editions of Enterprise Search was that I added in a section that went into some detail about the differences between Google web search and the requirements of enterprise search. The problem is that there is such a low level of understanding about how Google actually works (and in particular its business model) that a response that puts all the differences (and some similarities) together is not something to do in a couple of minutes. Of course now your organisation can have Google Enterprise Cloud Search but I suspect that you will need both your CIO and your CFO in the initial meeting as the likely budget and demand for integration and management resources becomes apparent. You would also absolutely want to be at Google Cloud Next 18 in London on 10-11 October.

But to come back to the statement, I always see this as an opportunity and not a challenge or a comment from someone who just doesn’t get it. It is an invaluable opportunity to talk about search because clearly it is on the mind of the person you are talking to. I ask them what it is they like about Google that their present search application does not give them. I’ve learned never to ask what the current search application is because they will not know and it immediately puts them on the defensive. I’m interested in finding out if it is performance related, the features of the user interface, the way that results are presented or the personalisation of results. I’m in pure listening mode, and I immediately start making brief notes to show that their comments are important to me and to the project. I’ve also learned not to try to respond there and then. I tell them that they have raised some very good questions, and that it would be really helpful if I could set up a meeting with them when they can show me how they make use of their current search application.

My experience is that once I get them in front of a terminal (never on an iPad) I have enough tools in my toolbox to discuss in real time the way that Google works and the way in which their enterprise/intranet search works. I also find out the extent to which they are making full use of the current application.  From there building a relationship that convinces them that I am on their side in making their search work better is easy and I end up with a list of requirements that I can add to the overall project list.

In short you have to play the long game. Search is an immensely complex technology and using technology as a response is never going to work, even with an experienced IT executive. The focus has to be on understanding not just how they search but why they search. 

Martin White