Making Sense of Enterprise Search

One approach to this problem is customization. “Some search vendors have decided to give customers a toolkit that allows them to create their own customized search experiences,” said Matt Glozbach, product management director for the enterprise for Google. The idea is that search can match anyone’s needs, so long as you can figure out how to tweak the algorithms.

“The trouble is that searches are tricky and tuning and tweaking algorithms takes a massive amount of effort and a lot of know how,” Glozbach added. “Search isn’t a set-it-and-forget-it tool. Data changes over time, as do end users’ needs.”

What needs to change isn’t the algorithm, Glozbach and other search experts argue, but rather how information is gathered and presented. “Inside the firewall, it’s important to resist the one-size-fits-all search engine,” Hickernell said. He advises organizations to scale down search strategies, applying them to specific departmental or process needs. “A search box can be tied to a narrow topic. If an HR employee is searching for information, there is no reason they should see press releases in the results.”

In other words, a better approach than mucking around with algorithms is to simply give certain departments or users the ability to promote one set of data over other sets. The relevancy is tied to the data store.

This raises another set of problems, though, mainly that if an organization customizes search too much, search will become a complex tangle demanding a lot of IT attention. “One of the disservices enterprise search vendors have done is distance enterprise search from web search,” Google’s Glozbach said. “While certain parameters will differ in the enterprise, the user experience should be the same. Other vendors say that within the enterprise search can be slower, or more complex. We disagree. A simple interface that returns fast and useful results should be a given.”

Eichner at Endeca agrees that a simple interface is a must, but he also believes that there is one important place where enterprise search should differ from the web: the displaying of results. “Enterprise users need more than a few random lines telling them what the data represents. Summaries are a better way to return results, giving users a fuller understanding of the data.”