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InformationWeek Analytics Research: Federated Search

Organizations are slow to adopt enterprise search systems that empower users to find data on the desktop, the network, and the Internet. The challenges are more operational than technical and the payoff is efficiency.

We all know the pain of a lost piece of vital information, whether a customer proposal, document, or important e-mail. The hurt became even more acute this year, as many were forced to comb through data left behind by laid-off colleagues. That's too bad, because the core technologies to enable federated enterprise search have existed for more than 15 years. Yet according to our InformationWeek Analytics Enterprise Search Survey of 552 business technology professionals, not even one in four organizations uses any type of enterprise search system today.

That's not the worst of it. We dug further and asked how respondents who've adopted enterprise search are using their systems, and whether they provide a unified search capability across network shares, databases, applications, intranets, SharePoint, and desktops, plus consolidation of Web browsing. Of the 24% who've deployed enterprise search, less than 8% provide hooks into multiple silos. That's not quite 2% of the total. What's tripping us up? Technology to wrap all of our enterprise data into a cohesive, searchable whole is available from major players including Google, IBM, Microsoft, and Oracle, as well as specialists such as Autonomy, Endeca, and Vivisimo. All told, there are upward of 50 search systems on the market, and most vendors continue to invest in new feature releases or in acquisitions, as with Microsoft/Fast and Autonomy/K2.

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The problem isn't technology. It's the three Ps that plague many an IT initiative: politics, privacy, and perception.

"Skipping over mail search was a policy decision, not a technology decision," says a poll respondent from one large enterprise that searches almost everything but mail. "We just aren't able to handle that type of assault on IT." Translation: This company made a conscious decision to hamstring a system with the potential to make employees more productive to avoid the fallout of a policy change.

We understand the fear: E-mail search is one of the most politically charged areas CIOs will encounter. Almost every organization's official policy is that e-mail is owned by the company and employees have no expectation of privacy, yet almost every survey respondent limited e-mail search to the individual level, with only 3% allowing search within departments or teams.

Unless you have e-mail fully integrated into your CRM and ERP systems--something we rarely see--employees' e-mail discussions with customers, partners, and vendors stay hidden within their in-boxes. If you've ever had to piece together a project gone bad or the backstory to a customer complaint that involves e-mail, you know the grief this entails.

Privacy, or users' perception of it, is an issue you'll need to address head-on. Try saying "IT owns search" at your next company meeting and watch the phone lines to HR light up. We've evolved to an odd dichotomy: Most of us accept that Google and Facebook track our movements and use this data to sell everything from behavioral analysis studies to pay-per-click ads. Users happily hand over identity cards at the grocery store to save a few bucks on cereal. But they'll raise holy hell at the concept of IT indexing their e-mail or Web activity to make everyone more productive. Don't we pay them?

There are also issues involving ingrained perceptions about what enterprise search is and what it can do for the organization. First off, enterprise search is not a "set it and forget" technology, no matter what that vendor rep told you. IT needs to develop policies, train users, analyze searches, and respond to zero hits--you know, that "not found" message. Internally, any empty return should be seen by the help desk as a cry for help by someone who's actually using search but can't find the information she needs. It's a trainable moment.

Enterprise Search 3.0: Overcoming Organizational Hurdles
"It's not about the technology, it's about findability," says the director of search at a global consulting firm that has been expanding its search system for almost 10 years. He calls management of search results the No. 1 key to the success of such initiatives, and he should know. The top concern of our survey respondents was the opposite: that users will be flooded with irrelevant data.

That's where IT needs to step up by digging into different vendors' search systems to understand their algorithms and ranking methodologies and ability to integrate with the organization's infrastructure, including identity stores and e-mail system. There are a lot of suites out there, with a wide array of capabilities. Don't forget, many have their origins in Web search, so they may lack basics like Active Directory or Exchange integration and connectors to certain databases.

InformationWeek: November 9, 2009 Issue To read the rest of the article, download a free PDF of InformationWeek magazine
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