Enterprise demands consumer-style search

Organizations find it a "challenge" to present "consumer" experience on top of behind-the-scenes mechanics of enterprise search, says IBM executive.

Enterprise search needs to take into consideration more parameters than consumer Web search, and yet present it in a consumer-friendly wrapping for business users, say industry voices.

With business users more accustomed to hopping on the Web and performing searches today, enterprise search has to keep up with consumer search, while including the additional parameters and layers that effective enterprise search demands.

Cheong Weng Seng, IBM's collaboration Asean sales executive, told ZDNet Asia in an e-mail interview that enterprises are finding it a "challenge" to present to users a "consumer" experience on top of the backend mechanics of enterprise search.

Singapore systems integrator NCS, had said in a previous interview that the country's workers are more interested in search, thanks to the Web, and demanding enterprise search tools similar to what they are used to. As a result, users are turning away from the "traditional" enterprise taxonomies and embracing natural language search, it said.

Cheong agreed: "Largely influenced by the consumer search experience, enterprise users have a set of clear and demanding expectations about how enterprise search should look, feel and perform."

Unlike the consumer Web, enterprise search must be tuned by the IT department to correctly reflect relevant results, he said.

Tied to this is the practice of knowledge management, which involves linking an organization's intellectual properties--in the form of data--with domain knowledge of its employees, and translating the information to be used in business strategy and practice, Cheong noted.

Toeing the line between enterprise and consumer search has been tricky for enterprises.

In 2006, IT analyst firm Gartner, noted that Google's enterprise search appliance offerings were immature compared to the competition, and advised enterprises to look toward enterprise-specialist offerings. The Internet search company last year announced its version 6.0 search appliance has been amped up to handle "billions" of documents.

Social functions of enterprise search
The world of knowledge management has also evolved to include social aspects, Cheong added. "According to a survey by Harris Interactive, two thirds of those polled required the help of colleagues who have the relevant knowledge or expertise to complete a task, but needed help in finding them.

"If you're faced with a problem, you're more likely to call a helpdesk than search for the answers in a manual," he said.

As a result, wiki, blogs and platforms such as Facebook and Twitter, form an additional layer of information for enterprise search now has to incorporate, said Cheong.

James Chia, head of Fuji Xerox Singapore's document solutions group, said enterprise content management tools have also evolved to include Web 2.0 platforms for users to share information with colleagues.

Information from these disparate sources are filed together with other records belonging to the enterprise, he said.

Locating the right data amid a company's crowded database then requires better search capabilities.

Putting new layers of information for an enterprise differs from that of consumer Web, said Cheong. For example, one way social media gets indexed with the correct relevance in an enterprise is through tagging. This practice enforces peer review to correctly classify data, increasing contextual relevance, he explained.

Chia said enterprises require richer search capabilities tied to job functions: an engineer searching for "experts" more likely wants the results to be related to his field or research area, for instance.

Enterprises also need added parameters, such as finding who else frequently searches for the same information. Such information could go toward linking up with relevant contacts, and hence, saving time, he explained.

Cheong further noted that the practice of taking into account the number of inbound links to a document, to increase its weightage, is only relevant for Web searches. "In enterprise search, the number of hyperlinks is limited so the relevance ranking based on links is not useful.

"Other factors such as content, context, and reuse of the document might be considered more important," he said.

Lan Chi Fei, Canon Singapore's senior marketing manager for business solutions and business imaging, said in an e-mail that enterprise search data needs to be retained over a period of time for regulatory compliance, yet, indexed efficiently enough so that it can be readily available when required.

"Accountability of information is the key differentiator and document management software that allows enterprise to store data securely and efficiently holds the key to successful enterprise search," said Lan.