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Enterprise Search Blog

Why is Enterprise Search So Difficult?

Companies, government agencies, and other organizations maintain huge amounts of information in electronic form including spreadsheets, policy manuals and web pages just to mention a few. The content may be stored in file shares, web sites, content management systems or databases, but without the ability to find this corporate knowledge, managing even a small company would be difficult.

Different people have different definitions for the term, but most agree that Enterprise Search is search capability for web sites inside of corporate firewalls orsearch on public-facing web sites run by and for the benefit of a company or organization

There may be different combinations of these two basic elements, but the common thread is that enterprise search applications deliver content for the benefit of employees, customers, partners, or affiliates of a single company or organization.


What makes Enterprise Search Unique?
Search on the Internet is good - everyone knows that. But enterprise search often draws complaints for not performing up to expectations. Why?

  • There is usually a 'right' document: Where Google finds tens of thousands of pages relevant to almost any search you could imagine, corporate searchers prefer fewer but highly relevant for a given search, and often there is only one 'right' document: a project status report, a client profile, or a specific policy. If Google misses a few thousand documents, few people notice; if your corporate search misses one, users may consider it a failure.
  • Security is critical: On the Internet, content is public for anyone and everyone who may find it. Companies often have many specific security requirements, from 'Company Confidential' to 'Limited Distribution'. There may even be legal implications if a document is released to the public before a specific time and date.
  • Taxonomies and vocabularies are important: Companies often have specific vocabulary such as project and product names, procedures and policies. And corporations often have invested significant resources to build and maintain a taxonomy to better categorize and retrieve content, often from a content management systems. Taking advantage of these terms unique to an organization is critical in making retrieval work better.
  • Dates are important: Internet search is generally unaware of document dates, because content on the Internet often lacks the information. If a corporate search for 'annual report' doesn't return the most recent document, your users are unhappy.
  • Corporate data has structure: In corporate database, and even in web content, companies have fields specific to the structure of corporate data. A large consulting firm may include human-authored abstracts in each report; and corporate search technology has to be able to boost documents based on relevant terms in the Abstract.
The Future
Where are we going with enterprise search? To paraphrase great minds including Niels Bohr and Yogi Berra, ‘prediction is very hard, especially about the future’. As enterprise content grows, static and ‘agent-driven’ search continues to grow, and machine learning becomes better and better on even smaller enterprise-scale search activity, search will improve. I suspect it will still take interaction from search managers: as I’ve said, ‘search is like your kid – you have to watch it all the time; and you can’t always believe that what it tells you is 100% accurate.'