By Doug Miles, Director of Market Intelligence, AIIM

Search engines are so powerful and fast that when consumers need to locate information online, it is generally found within seconds. But are workplaces searches as efficient and effective? If people need to locate an old customer email, a presentation from a few years ago, an important contract, or check a Twitter update, how long would it take them?

Too long, I would suggest. The ability to quickly locate information in email archives, content systems, social media and more is considered an essential part of modern business, a key tool required by knowledge workers the world over. It is also increasingly needed for compliance and audit, yet few businesses are providing their knowledge workers with the right tools to find content and information when they need it.

AIIM recently conducted global research that revealed that just one in ten organisations have an enterprise search capability, and more than half of the organisations surveyed show little maturity in their approach to enterprise search, with no strategy, no allocated budget and no identified owner. This is despite 71% of business leaders believing it is ‘vital’ to productivity, effectiveness and compliance. So what lies behind this disconnect and what can businesses do to help their knowledge workers more than they are currently?

The value of enterprise search
There was certainly no issue with businesses questioning what enterprise search tools could offer their organisation. 37% of our respondents felt that search was ‘vital’ to the productivity and effectiveness of their employees, with a further 34% considering it an ‘essential’ requirement. Research, design, customer response, case-work, litigation and many other business functions search for information as a fundamental part of their day-to-day roles, and we all know that the inability to find an existing document within a short space of time will inevitably require the creation of a new one. Not only does this sap productivity and morale, but it also invites errors as workers rush to complete the new document as quickly as possible. Decision-making in almost all areas of business is driven by the ability to find and assess past knowledge.

When it comes to content types that workers are searching for, the most obvious are office files and PDFs, and of course, emails. 60% of our research respondents considered it important to be able to search structured content in corporate databases such as ERP, CRM and HR, and here the concept of a unified or enterprise search portal helps pick up search results from wherever a match is found. Next came drawings and maps, needed by a surprisingly large 51%, photo images (46%) and video (35%). Obviously there is a big difference in the search technology needed for searching within a drawing, image, video or sound file as opposed to picking up on external metadata tags, but such technologies do exist and can be very effective, albeit that currently their use is often confined to forensic applications such as copyright ingringement or CCTV analysis.

What lies behind the lack of enterprise search?
Despite the high importance attached to search, 43%of respondents admitted that they have only basic search tools, and a further 39% can only search within discrete repositories, creating issues of different logins, different taxonomies, and different presentation of search results. Only 11% have enterprise search across the organisation.

Perhaps untypically, budget was cited as a major reason as to this lack of search tools. Only 12% had an agreed search strategy, and only half of those have a specific budget. There is also a distinct lack of dedicated and trained staff and because of this, little in the way of agreed taxonomies or vocabularies, or metadata standards. Ownership of search was another major issue. For more than half of respondents, the IT department currently has responsibility for search, but only half of those are happy that this should be so. The records management department are in charge in 24% of cases, but 54% would like to see them take charge.

How to get serious about search
Those who currently do not have any search tools are most likely to acquire them as part of an ECM/DM/RM project (42%), but a major litigation case or a compliance issue would be the next most likely to trigger an evaluation. This is potentially too late, so any organisation should address enterprise search sooner rather than later.

The first step is to set out a strategy for search that recognises its importance, both for information exploitation and information governance. Next, it must be agreed who has responsibility for search and a thorough audit of existing search tools carried out, followed by establishing just what specific search needs there are in the organisation, and the individual departments within it.

The easiest way of developing your search capability is via an existing Enterprise Content Management (ECM) system. Evaluate your current ECM system, and whether it can be optimised or tuned for better results. Aim to connect it to other repositories to provide a single-point search portal.

If your ECM system does not provide a strong search tool, is not readily extensible to other repositories, cannot support mobile access, or does not provide the transparency and tunability you need, make the business case for a dedicated search product. Whether it’s your current ECM system or something new, if you do not have the in-house expertise to support and tune your chosen search tool(s), training or help from a specialist consultancy will be essential, including search techniques for end-users.

There is little doubt that business search tools are a key driver of the knowledge economy – don’t let your organisation be left behind.