Content still reigns

The challenge of search extends well beyond whatever product you might use. At least half the battle is the quality of the content, whether it’s extranets, intranets, internal files or a combination.

According to John McPherson, software group manager of IBM’s Institute for Search and Text Analysis, end-user satisfaction with a search result is often driven not by the quality of the search, but by the quality of the content. Developers working on implementing a search solution, he says, should consider the sort of information people search for and what information to make available. “The question becomes…what do applications have to do to make themselves searchable by a global enterprise search solution?” McPherson says. “That’s really neglected by many enterprises.”

It may be a case where a small effort can yield big results. The searches employees perform most often are surprisingly simple, according to search consultant Avi Rappoport: “How do I complete the FedEx form? Where is the vacation request form?” The most commonly asked question, she says: “What’s the company’s holiday schedule?”

Once you select a search engine, “You [also] need a process to ensure that content is created in a way that works best with search,” says Web content management expert Gerry McGovern. “I’m not just talking about metadata here. The way content is written impacts the ability of a search engine to effectively index it.”

For one thing, McGovern suggests getting rid of badly written, out-of-date intranet content. “Don’t expect the magical search engine from the sky to swoop down and fix this most basic and fundamental problem,” he says.

The flip side to enterprise search is to not make the wrong content available. National Instruments, which makes sophisticated software and hardware tools for scientists, was in the process of opening up files within the company to its Fast Enterprise Search Engine. Security red flags were raised almost immediately, according to Jeff Watts, the company’s search and community manager.

During an early test of the search function on standard intranet files, such as PowerPoint and Word, Watts said, “We started seeing all kinds of information that should not be there—people’s credit card numbers, legal proceedings, spreadsheets of people’s salaries, Social Security numbers.” It was a clear indication of the need to educate users about what kinds of data to store on the network, Watts says. “So the search [tool] is helping us fix a problem that we didn’t realize we had.”

Fast Search, like all products in its class, offers options to address the security issue. Enterprise Search Engine offers the option of creating separate indexes for intranet and extranet content, or a security module that decides what a user can view on a search-by-search basis.

Back to feature: Search Engines Look for Answers Inside the Enterprise

About the Author

Linda Briggs is a freelance writer based in San Diego, Calif. She can be reached at [email protected].