Magazine article Online

Looking beyond Search to Provide Effective Online Search Tools

Magazine article Online

Looking beyond Search to Provide Effective Online Search Tools

Article excerpt

THE ubiquitous nature of the Web, Web searching, and Google gives knowledge workers an inflated sense of their abilities when it comes to conducting online research tasks. Just ask some colleagues if they are interested in going to training to learn how to find business information online. The answer will be "no"--they don't feel they need training to be able to efficiently locate the information they need to do their job. After all, don't they Google all the personal and business information they require?

Research conducted last summer at PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) contradicts these assumptions. A two-phase usability study was conducted to assess staff members' abilities in conducting online research using tools available via the firm's virtual library site. PwC's virtual library site provides 140,000 employees with access to a combination of high-quality free Web sites and a collection of premium content including news from the major aggregators, financial data, and company, industry, and economic sources.

The first phase of this study asked 100 participants from 15 cities to log their research activities in a custom journal for 2 weeks. In Phase 2, 50 participants from New York and Washington, D.C., met on-site with members of PwC's Content Strategies Group (CSG) for 90-minute individual sessions involving a questionnaire and various research tasks. These sessions were taped for later analysis. Senior associates and associates made up almost 75 percent of the participants, with executive assistants representing another 18 percent. The remaining participants were managers and directors.

These studies show that users of online research tools are generally less than satisfied in their quests to find key business information online. The amount of time they are willing to devote to these activities is small, if not minuscule. If they can't find what they are looking for within minutes, users get frustrated and move on. Furthermore, formalized training sessions do little to impact the success rate of these activities. In fact, we found that training is only effective at raising awareness--it makes no difference to the research success rates of our survey participants.

These results, together with a 31-percent Internet search failure rate as reported in Outsell's "Information Industry Outlook: FutureFacts 2007," should be a call to action for information professionals responsible for providing their organizations with efficient online research tools. Organizations must go well beyond just offering a virtual library site that only allows the ability to search and browse high-quality content.


Users of PwC's virtual library consider research to be of critical importance in their day-to-day business activities, with more than 70 percent reporting that they conduct research at least several times per week. But not all users are of the same research skill level. Interestingly, a segmentation of users emerged from our findings--and the survey sponsors assigned participants into the following groups:

* Exemplars--Users with a high competency (successful more than 75 percent of the time) and high preference for internally provided sources (using more than 50 percent of the time)

* Well Intentioned--Users with a low competency (successful less than 75 percent of the time) and a high preference for internally provided sources

* Self-Guides--Users with a high competency and a high preference for using nonvetted sources (using more than 50 percent of the time)

* Most in Need--Users with a low competency and a high preference for using nonvetted sources


When asked about the importance of research, respondents showed some differences between relative value of research when they were in the office versus when they were at a client site. Survey participants in the office who said research was "very critical" numbered 38 percent, while 32 percent said it was "important" and 16 percent viewed it as of "moderate" importance. …

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