Workers at companies that implement enterprise search effectively spend less time looking for the information they need to do their work.

Thomas Claburn, Editor at Large, Enterprise Mobility

October 2, 2009

3 Min Read

Enterprise search done well provides significant productivity gains, a new study from the Aberdeen Group has found.

The survey was conducted between July and August 2009 and involved 118 companies that had implemented enterprise search.

The ratings are based on four criteria: the difference in time the respondent spent searching for information at the time of the survey and a year earlier; the difference in time spent by staff searching for information in the same time frame; search solution performance, tuning time, and set-up time; and changes in customer support costs.

The top 20% of companies using enterprise search achieved notable productivity gains: executives surveyed spent six hours less personally looking for information each week, compared to a one hour reduction reported by executives at companies not among the best performers; and staff at top performing companies spent 28 hours less searching for information each week, compared to a one hour reduction at other companies.

At top performing companies, 67% of searches returned the most relevant results on the first search results page, while lower rated companies saw relevant results on the first page for only 42% of searches.

Leading companies also saw a 15% reduction in support costs, compared to a 3% increase among other companies.

A common approach at organizations placing among the top users of enterprise search was striving to create a single view of all enterprise assets. Sixty-seven percent of top 20 companies did this, compared to 27% of the non-leaders.

David White, senior research analyst for the Aberdeen Group and the author of the report, said that Google dominates enterprise search among smaller companies while Microsoft dominates in larger organizations. Fifty-three percent of Google enterprise search users reported annual revenue of less than $50 million, compared to 14% of Microsoft enterprise search users, White said. Only 21% of Google enterprise search users reported annual revenue of more than $1 billion, compared to 38% of Microsoft enterprise search users.

According to White, more respondents said that Microsoft was the most important enterprise search vendor in their organizations -- 27% chose Microsoft while 21% chose Google.

Overall though, said White, usage of Microsoft and Google enterprise search products across survey respondents is almost equal, with 61% using Google and 59% using Microsoft.

Sue Feldman, VP of search and discovery technology for IDC, notes that Google and Microsoft compete in some areas but not in others. The two companies have competing offerings in basic/free search and in enterprise search. But Microsoft in 2008 acquired FAST, which Feldman characterizes as more of an integrated information access platform. Google isn't really in that space, she said.

She said that other interesting areas of search innovation include search-based applications, which combine search with social aspects and industry-specific knowledge, and search tools, which make it possible to connect, correlate, analyze and visualize data from different repositories.

As to why organizations buy into search, she said that compliance is a huge factor. "Once a CFO realizes that he doesn't have enough visibility into an organization, especially into e-mail, search becomes the fastest way to get a handle on what's going on."

And it's an easy sell for retailers. She calls the return-on-investment in the retail sector for providing access to information and products "miraculous."

Productivity, she said, is a harder sell. "The fact it is costs companies millions of dollars when people can't find what they're looking for, but it's harder to sell," she said. "It's always harder to make a case for lost hours than for lost dollars."

The search market grew 19% last year, she said, adding that while she previously predicted growth of 7% this year, she might revise that estimate upward. "That's huge compared to what else is happening the economy," she said.

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About the Author(s)

Thomas Claburn

Editor at Large, Enterprise Mobility

Thomas Claburn has been writing about business and technology since 1996, for publications such as New Architect, PC Computing, InformationWeek, Salon, Wired, and Ziff Davis Smart Business. Before that, he worked in film and television, having earned a not particularly useful master's degree in film production. He wrote the original treatment for 3DO's Killing Time, a short story that appeared in On Spec, and the screenplay for an independent film called The Hanged Man, which he would later direct. He's the author of a science fiction novel, Reflecting Fires, and a sadly neglected blog, Lot 49. His iPhone game, Blocfall, is available through the iTunes App Store. His wife is a talented jazz singer; he does not sing, which is for the best.

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