How to Evaluate Enterprise Search Options

An enterprise search platform delivers many benefits, including improved employee productivity, but there are dozen of vendors and three different approaches -- specialized, integrated and detached -- to consider. Here's how to find the product that best fits your company's search requirements.

By James A. Martin
Wed, February 08, 2012

CIO — Google and other Internet search engine virtually never fail to deliver relevant results nearly instantly. That creates a problem for IT in terms of setting employee expectations around the search capabilities they use at work.

"They think an awesome search engine is a straightforward, must-have tool, and they wonder why the company doesn't have one," says Leslie Owens, a senior Forrester Research analyst. As companies seek to address that issue, they enter the world of enterprise search, where they'll find more than a dozen products available. Choosing the one that will work for your enterprise involves evaluating the types of products, coming up with a requirements list and performing a proof of concept test, among other tasks. To be sure, it's a challenging task. "Users' needs can be unique," Owens say, "and finding one system that serves a diversity of queries and users can be tough."

Tough but worth it, says John Gillies, director of practice support for Cassels Brock & Blackwell LLP, a Toronto law firm with more than 200 attorneys. The firm recently replaced its existing enterprise search platform with Recommind's Decisiv enterprise search product. Having a single search engine that integrates results across multiple repositories—also known as "federated search"—enables you to create reports "with a much greater informational value," Gillies says. "Four separate reports from four different repositories just don't have the same impact."

Enterprise search can also be a powerful tool for boosting productivity, Owens says. "Knowledge worker efficiency is looming as the next great competitive differentiator," she notes, which is why many organizations are investing heavily in search, social networking and collaboration/communication tools to speed the flow of information. A Q4 2010 Forrester Research survey of Information and knowledge management (I&KM) professionals in North America and Europe found that 47 percent are implementing or planning to implement information access software, such as enterprise search tools.

Look at What You Have

Before diving in to an enterprise search project, you first need to determine if such a product is even necessary. Some CIOs believe desktop search tools and the search capabilities inherent in the organization's information repositories, such as email and content management systems (CMS), are sufficient, Owens notes.

Make an inventory of where crucial content lives and which vendors you're already using to search that content, Owens advises. "Think about what you need to search across your various information repositories, and if you can stretch the native search of your repositories in any way," she suggests.

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