Moving from Search to Find: Anticipate the Next Big Problem

I’ve talked with a couple of IT leads that are thinking about putting in an enterprise search capability.
It always seems to come down to two basic options; search integrated with a collaboration / portal platform, or a dedicated appliance,
pointed at the G: Drive.

You know the G: Drive – every corporation has one (ok, sometimes it’s the F: drive, or the Common folder). I’m pretty sure the name is a throwback to the late 80’s, when DOS was still the foundation OS, and Novell was the preferred network operating system. A: and B: were for the floppies, C: and D: were for the local hard drives, and E:, sometimes F: were reserved for system shares and management stuff … leaving us at G: for the \COMMON folder.

File sharing at it’s finest, and really quite practical; but then, the dirty little secret of KM creeps in – organizing knowledge for a community is difficult! This shared area always becomes a no-man’s land of millions of folders, with zillions of files, multiple naming conventions, and a complete lack of rigor around keeping the folders neatly organized. As my old boss (the IBM VAR) always said: disk is cheap!

Enter the Search Appliance; Google’s is the most well known, and it’s actually quite nifty. You can point it to Windows and Novell shares, Domino and SQL databases, Office documents and PDFs, all sorts of content – and it will happily index everything and make it available for search via a comfortably familiar search page. Problem solved!

Well, ok, the first problem, which is often stated as We Don’t Know What We Know. And boy, does this get solved in a big way; once you get the community making searches and locating long-lost documents, people get the value pretty quickly.

Unfortunately (or, fortunately, depending on your point of view), we run into new challenges:

  • Knowledge Capture is Hard: It takes a certain set of skills to produce content that is meaningful and relevant – and searchable!
    • Warning: don’t go down the blind alley of trying to define a corporate taxonomy; unsustainable and irrelevant (see Google)
  • Security by Obscurity Has Disappeared: It’s surprising what folks may find on the shared folder – now that it’s easy to find it!
    • Fun Times: do a search on the word resume, see who’s looking to make a move (hhh)
  • We Don’t Know What We Should Know: The Google appliance comes with a suite of management reports, telling you lots of interesting things – my favorite being the report on queries that returned zero results. Talk about market research: the very definition of the Unmet Need!

If you’re with corporate IT and talking with the business about bringing in Enterprise Search, do yourself a favor and look ahead to the next step: Moving from Search to Find:

  • Training the company to create content that is searchable: making their knowledge easy to find.
  • Working with the various functional areas to identify what knowledge should be
    • defined and published openly (within the organization)
    • captured and published, but secured
  • … and what knowledge does not need to be published

This can be a big change management nightmare … when was the last time you got a group of highly creative, energetic professionals to agree on anything! Better yet, try convincing folks who base their job security on scarce tacit knowledge to write down the secrets of their success.

Still, you shouldn’t get too discouraged by all this. Most folks intuitively understand the value of captured, reusable knowledge; it’s why the Internet works, for goodness sake. Some even grasp the idea that a new form of power can be theirs. The critical point for you, IT professional, is that there is an inevitable next step
might as well start thinking about it now, while that shiny new search appliance is getting installed …

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James MacLennan

... is the Managing Partner at Maker Turtle LLC, a digital consultancy focused on creating value in ways that align with your strategy and drive engagement with employees, customers, and stakeholders. He is an active creator, providing thought leadership through on-line & print publications, and public speaking / keynotes.