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4/10/2008
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Most Users Are Unhappy With Enterprise Search

Separate U.S. and U.K. surveys released this week found that search engines are failing workers.

The bloom is off the search rose, according to two separate surveys announced this week that found a majority of workers seeking information through search engines are increasingly frustrated and disappointed in the results they are obtaining.

One report, by online systems expert Stephen Arnold, found that more than two-thirds of the respondents in his survey, all users of traditional enterprise search systems, are "unhappy" with their systems.

The second report, by Sinequa, polled 200 London office workers, and 59% of them termed their search tools poor or very poor.

Arnold, who is managing director of Arnold IT and the author of books on Google and search techniques, based his data on two extensive surveys of employees at two large U.S. government agencies. Arnold released the findings in his Beyond Search report this week.

"The central premise of this study is that keyword search and retrieval usefulness is slipping," Arnold said in an interview Thursday, noting that keyword search is the chief way employees find digital information. "For some behind-the-firewall queries, keyword search is useful. But as the volume of information increases, the search box in which the user types words and queries has become a test of the user's skill."

Arnold said that keyword searches don't work for most employee searches and the search "monster" is becoming a growing problem for businesses and organizations.

"The choices are stark," Arnold said. "You can patch the existing system. You may also reinstall the search system, apply patches and upgrades, and reindex the source material."

Arnold said many users are "ripping and replacing" their existing systems using different search systems. He noted that there are more than 150 search vendors in business today, and the number of companies and frequent acquisitions in the field tend to confuse users.

The challenge for users is compounded by the gradual move away from keyword search and toward more sophisticated business processes such as business intelligence.

"The vendors themselves are like chameleons," Arnold said. "Their marketing lingo can change overnight. The use of jargon makes it difficult to figure out exactly what a vendor's system does." Arnold's report offers guidance for users frustrated by their search efforts and outlines ways of upgrading from older approaches.

In its report, Sinequa said many employees in the London study are struggling to find even the most basic information, and their travails are negatively impacting their productivity. Just 8% of the workers have a tool that permits them to search across their own company using key search terms, Sinequa said.

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