Magazine article Information Today

When Employees Need More Information

Magazine article Information Today

When Employees Need More Information

Article excerpt

In many organizations, the gold standard for search is Google. Not surprisingly, when users of an enterprise search system are asked what they require, the answer usually is, "a system that works just like Google."

Web search and enterprise search are similar. There is a search box. There are options available for those who want to explore or discover content. Under the hood, there are some similarities as well; for example, a content-acquisition subsystem, a content system, an index, a query-processing system, administrative tools, and other now-standard components.

Then there are the differences. Without getting tangled in thickets of information retrieval, let me highlight two that strike me as important. First, an enterprise search system is designed to allow an employee to locate information within an organization. The outside world is usually excluded from this walled garden. Second, an enterprise search system has to cope with issues that are irrelevant to a web search system such as Bing, Google, or Yandex; specifically, the diverse types of content, proprietary systems with proprietary file formats, and access controls to ensure that only employees who are authorized to see certain information have access to it.

As it turns out, both public, Google-style search and behind-the-firewall search are expensive to execute well, technically demanding, and subject to needs that are difficult to anticipate. In the public search world, Google had to put in place a "right to be forgotten" system to satisfy demands from the European Union. With search enterprise, an organization may purchase another company whose content is in a language not previously used within that organization and whose proprietary systems present content in an unfamiliar file format. Problems such as these have been part of the search-and-retrieval vendors' world for decades.

Google Tools

Within companies, a change has taken place in the last decade. Employees want an enterprise search system to feature proprietary content as well as content that's included in the Google index. Google provides its Google Search Appliance (GSA), its Custom Search Engine, and developer tools to allow users to have both intranet and web content available.

Google has not given the Custom Search Engine the type of marketing push that it put behind the Google Glass project or its rich media services. The focus of the Custom Search Engine homepage (cse .google.com) is on the use of the Google index for searching a single site. The FAQ page provides information about how a customer can add other sites to the Custom Search Engine's site-specific index.

The idea is that via the Custom Search Engine, a customer can provide a list of URLs. A query to the engine will return results from just these sites. The term "vertical search engine" has been applied to this type of restricted content index. If the customer has a GSA, Google provides a software development kit so that a Google partner or the customer can write scripts to merge the Custom Search Engine content with the content in the GSA index. The fact that this can be done does not mean that the practice is widespread. In our work with the GSA, my team and I did not encounter a single instance of this blended index or blended results output. The more common practice was to use the GSA for access to behind-the=firewall content such as Word documents, Cognos data, and other directly supported file types.

When an employee required information from the public internet, he would run a separate query. He would then merge this information if needed. Not surprisingly, in surveys about incumbent enterprise search systems, employees groused about the need to run queries on different systems. At a trade association meeting with 20,000-plus people, the drumbeat of "a single search interface" echoed in our one=on-one interviews and focus groups with users of the incumbent enterprise search system. …

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