Findability Inside the Firewall – Still Trying to Find the Information We Need

February 1, 2011
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Google and Search are now infamously synonymous for successfully looking for almost anything out there on the worldwide web (regardless of recent speculation about Google Search losing some of its edge). Unfortunately, inside the firewall, it’s a different story. Many organizations have increasing explosions of content, intelligence sources, data, and internal collaboration sites: all of which contain information that the staff of these organizations need to do their jobs.

Google and Search are now infamously synonymous for successfully looking for almost anything out there on the worldwide web (regardless of recent speculation about Google Search losing some of its edge). Unfortunately, inside the firewall, it’s a different story. Many organizations have increasing explosions of content, intelligence sources, data, and internal collaboration sites: all of which contain information that the staff of these organizations need to do their jobs.

It’s very clear that there is an “information overload” and also quite clear that people in enterprises aren’t connecting to the information that they need. This is despite the advent of intranets with search built in, desktop search, cross-enterprise search, knowledge management initiatives, content and document management platforms, and other technologies.

One symptom of information overload is the inability to get the right information to workers at the right time; 40% of those surveyed said they had the information they needed less than 75% of the time.

Technology is seen as one clear way to address the information overload/clutter problem, with 35% of the total sample – and 70% at companies that manage their information well – rating technology as very helpful (8-10 on a 10 point scale).

                 Xerox study

 

There is a mismatch between the needs of the staffers of enterprises, and search methods and technologies to find relevant information quickly. Classic search and search optimization of information and content do not organize into role-based approaches to locating what workers are seeking. Enterprise staffers are rarely trained to be knowledge or information workers, both in terms of generating content that can be easily found by others and how to effectively find content, documents, data and information.

 

Knowledge worker time 
Source: Google
 

I’m not very fond of the terms ‘knowledge worker’ and ‘information worker’, as they seem to serve to reduce people to drones instead of recognizing that these enterprise workers are: thinkers, analyzers, innovators, problem-solvers, communicators – not repetitive ‘bots. Improving productivity means working smarter, not necessarily faster, and enterprises should be doing everything to remove obstacles for staff to work smarter. Besides, almost everyone is an ‘information worker’ anymore, regardless of profession or job title – we all have oodles to deal with in terms of data, content, information, intelligence reports, dashboards, mashups, ad infinitum. 

Conceptual Shift: From Search To Findability

The Internet search paradigm is predicated on already knowing which key words will likely produce relevant content/information results, and then hoping that everything that matters will show up in the returned results. Internet search has also been classically performed with a lack of context, where the search is independent of professional roles, work goals, context, or business processes relative to the content resources provided in results.

Inside the firewall, locating content and people with answers is better served by ‘findability’. A lot of definitions for ‘findability’ are rather circular; I think a good definition for enterprise findability comprises: ease in locating information and resources for specific worker needs while reflecting relevant aspects of content attributes, context, worker roles, people/social resources, and business processes.

I see findability for internal content and information akin to usability aspects of software solutions: it doesn’t matter how great the information or content is if the people who need it can’t figure out how to get to it. And findability can be the most useful if it functions the way people work in the enterprise.

 Workers need processes and technologies that … 

INCREASE

  • collaboration with each other
  • connections and relationships to get insight from others
  • creative efficiency to produce new knowledge and product
  • transparency of existing documents to build upon

DECREASE time spent:

  • duplicating work
  • searching for documents
  • locating others they need to talk to
  • finding knowledge that will help them
  • re-building something when a template already exists

 Bob Mixon is a solution architect and Microsoft MVP techie for SharePoint solutions who writes and teaches extensively. In a seminar, Mixon discussed findability for intranets: 

Mixon defines findability as “the art and science of making information available to users,” noting emphatically that this means “it’s not just search.”  In addition to search, the key components of findability were identified as being: governance, architecture, design, and navigation.  Mixon noted that most users tend to search on the internet, but resort to browsing (i.e., point and click) on intranets.  Once thousands of sites/documents exist within an intranet, however, search becomes essential in that environment as well.

Content Optimization — Enterprise Search: Complex Solutions and Frameworks

Many enterprises have built out solutions based on enterprise content management, document and records management, enterprise search, with content lifecycle management and governance. Enterprises also adopt optimization initiatives using information architecture, as well as functional work with taxonomies, tagging/favorites, semantic search, text analytics, data dictionaries, and so on.

The various content-related solutions offer enterprises frameworks to create, store, publish, and archive content across all channels inside the firewall. And these enterprises can set up good processes and practices for the above activities. However, most content management solutions equate the ‘findability’ of content and information to Search. Unfortunately most search functions that are built into CM solutions are inadequate.

There are various approaches to making content management more effective for findability including combining knowledge management practices and processes with CM frameworks. But this introduces more implementation, maintenance and governance layers, as well as added costs and resource requirements.

A good many practitioners provide guidelines for optimizing content to be more findable: Bob Boeri of Guident presented on elements of findability at the Enterprise Search Summit May 2010 where he made this statement:

Documents constitutes 80% of our business knowledge assets.

Databases etc. the other 20%.

Boeri lays out a comprehensive program for enhancing content and information findability along with lifecycle management, and his presentation includes a number of useful data points on the huge proliferation of content in enterprises. Further ideas for making enterprise content findable come from the recommendations of Ephraim Julius Freed and Bas Zurburg in their respective blogs.

Other enterprise platforms and applications often have search functions, but again, the search usually does not work very well (compared to optimal Google standards). So not only are content and information spread across different silos, but search is also silo’d, since individual app-based search capabilities do not function across all enterprise repositories. Uber-search inside the firewall, dubbed ‘Enterprise Search”, does perform cross-silo functions but can be an expensive investment. And again, content and information must be optimized to support better results in enterprise search.

In a recent blog post, Coveo VP Diane Berry speaks about Enterprise Search 2.0:  

Enterprise Search has evolved from its repository-centric start to today’s ever-changing landscape where Enterprise Search 2.0 powers and supports critical business processes. In fact, often Enterprise Search 2.0 doesn’t even look much like search, because the search – of virtually any and all enterprise systems – is conducted in the background, the information is housed in an always-on index, and it is presented in composite information mashups for high value decision support.

Enterprise Search 2.0 
Source: Coveo

Enterprise Findability 2.0 – Goal-, Role- and Process-Focused

We are already seeing traditional Enterprise Search evolving into the findability paradigm where enterprise information is more integrated with context and business processes.  There are other software technology solutions that are evolving to provide findability of information in new ways.

  >> Adaptive Content Delivery

Baynote has evolved its recommendations and personalization capabilities for websites to what the firm is calling ‘adaptive web experience’:

The Adaptive Web dynamically maps the user’s intent, then adapts in real-time – based on the engage­ment patterns of like-minded peers.

The Adaptive Web is intent-driven. It uses past histories, but isn’t beholden to them; what’s most important is what’s happening right now.

Since Baynote technology can be used on intranets, it is worthwhile to consider what Baynote-style technology might offer for improving findability across an enterprise, should that become an extension of adaptive content retrieval.

Real relevance requires knowing what your customers want (their intent), knowing which of your content best matches that intent (most engaging), and giving them that content in real-time (adapting)

>> Findability As ad hoc / Adaptive Process: Adaptive Case Management

Tangential to business process management (BPM), adaptive case management is an emerging solution that pulls together information in the context of ad hoc business processes while focusing on business goals, worker roles, and knowledge domain context. ACM also taps into the increased use of collaboration and social media to support unstructured business processes. So information is surfaced to workers when needed for particular situations. Behind the scenes, a great deal has been set up via ACM software and practices to sustain robust ad hoc business processes as they occur.

Although discussing the need for the Social Intranet, Oscar Berg could also be referencing ACM:

Knowledge work is about such things as solving problems, performing research and creative work, interacting and communicating with other people, and so on. Such work is by nature less predictable and repeatable than traditional industry work (transformational and transactional activities organized into repeatable processes). Both the inputs and outputs of knowledge work – which is information and knowledge – vary from time to time, from situation to situation. So does the purpose, activities, roles and resources involved in knowledge work. Knowledge work is also less structured and the structure of knowledge work typically emerges as the work proceeds.

The unpredictable nature of knowledge work is why we need to give knowledge workers access to all information that exists and that might be relevant. Since we don’t know what might be relevant until a certain need arises (which we never might be aware of until we discover certain information), we can’t really put the relevant information in one “for keeps” pile and all other information in another “to be trashed” pile. 

Max Pucher, Isis Papyrus Founder and Chief Architect:

ACM allows the business to empower selectively and securely all the people that do things and those for whom things are being done. ACM is about communication and process as ONE! ACM leaves the automation of the low-value, highly repetitive administration tasks to BPM, but it provides the platform for the high-value, unique and skill or knowledge intensive processes.

ACM may evolve beyond its ‘roots’ in business process management to become a much-needed internal platform of technology and practices to more relevantly and immediately surface the most-needed information, content, and data, wherever it exists in the enterprise, all in the context of immediate situational business process for a particular worker’s responsibilities.

>> Findability of Structured Data: BI and Analytics That Surface Data and “Intelligence”

In a previous article, I detailed a number of interesting trends for BI and Analytics that may result in better intelligence results for businesses. BI and Analytics present information in specialized formats in support of “knowledge workers” and to help businesses make better decisions. As collaboration processes are married to BI and analytics, unstructured content will have a place along with traditional structured data, contributing to the findability of a greater breadth of relevant information.

Enterprise search meets BI:  Attivio’s Active Intelligence Engine is an example of unified information discovery and analysis across the enterprise. Somewhat like the ease-of-use of Google search combined with context-savvy and relevance-focused analytic technology to help find much more than non-contextual bits of information. BI Search also allows findability of unstructured content as well as the traditional BI sources in structured data repositories. Hopefully BI Search will help workers find related information and content, as well as unexpected but highly relevant information sources.

BI Search 

Information Mashups and Situational Awareness:  For information delivery primarily from structured data sources, software vendor JackBe can, on demand, pull data ‘as is’ to build out information mashups from multiple pre-prepped sources. Harkening back to the thinking behind ad hoc processes and ACM, JackBe’s Presto mashup platform has been drafted into providing intelligence for situational awareness needs, where there has been no specific anticipation of the situation, and where the situation may be gone after a day. For properly utilizing information revealed for situational awareness, it is essential that the users of the Presto platform possess significant subject matter expertise to understand whether the JackBe mashups are accurate, meaningful, and useful — or not. However, again we have another approach to finding information needed by workers, somewhat in context to their roles and responsibilities.

 

Content analytics and Content Intelligence: Seth Grimes explains findability as it relates to analyzing content to bring its value into intelligence processes:

“Content analytics” can be seen as business intelligence (BI) for/from content, as text (rather than number) crunching that generates insights to improve business outcomes. The two practices, content analytics and BI, certainly share motivations. If you don’t analyze your content/data, you may be missing opportunities and running risks.

Analytics also boosts value for users. Semantic search, faceted navigation, and content annotation/enrichment create findability and improve user experience and value for users. They also let users treat content like data. Call the goal “content intelligence,” enabled by “smart content.”

Although Grimes is talking about content for external-facing websites, the applicability to internal enterprise content is obvious.

>> ‘Now, The Information Finds You’

TIBCO Software recently announced a new release of tibbr with the above tag line, fully remade from its 2009 debut as an internal microblogging tool. In this new incarnation, tibbr still benefits from the TIBCO sophisticated backbone of enterprise infrastructure management, including data integration, messaging and process management, and, as such, is infrastructure-agnostic. Or as Ram Menon, TIBCO CMO, puts it:

We’re leveraging a billion dollars of integration technology investment to offer customers the ability to get at the information they need, in real time, if they choose

While tibbr is built more for real-time information streams than archives of content and information, tibbr and Tibco have created a platform with a lot of potential for improving overall information findability that adheres to context and worker roles.  It connects to process, people/workers, collaboration venues, data and information streams, centralizing all event streams into one dashboard. Information can be organized by subject or topic, rather than by people. tibbr enables users to create, contribute to, and subscribe to the real-time event streams that matter most to them.

Dennis Howlett provides this description of tibbr:

It intelligently marries people, process and context, delivering information the way people want to consume 

tibbr provides flexibility in the delivery and consumption of information by allowing users to select the form, frequency and manner in which they want to receive updates. Updates are delivered at the requested time, to the device or interface of choice, with the appropriate context. With its integration capabilities and bi-directional feeds in and out of business applications from vendors like Oracle, SAP and Salesforce.com, Tibco connects tibbr to business processes and event-triggering that are then exposed in tibbr for taking action.

Since tibbr has a customizable subject / classification structure, companies can build an information model that works best for them. With that in mind, will tibbr also call for Information Architecture and governance capabilities to ensure the findability of information as it is handled by tibbr dashboards?

Convergence or Patchwork?

Lots of different technologies are available for both search and findability in the enterprise, and new ones are emerging. Right now, all of these technologies somewhat resemble a patchwork of possibilities, but with some very significant overlaps of capabilities and solution strategy. Realistically, for many enterprises, multiple options may be what are needed to achieve overall findability for all worker roles. And this a case where tech really matters to help enterprise workers find exactly the information and intelligence that they need as quickly as possible.

It is also likely that large enterprises will continue to benefit from rigorous content-generation strategies, Information Architecture, and governance systems to enhance whatever methods are used to find information in context. Sophisticated solutions for findability will require diligence and consistent oversight to ensure the best results for workers.

What interests me a great deal are a couple of things: how the newer solutions evolve, and what sort of convergence will occur from solution spaces that started off quite separate from one another.

Related Links

The Ever-Expanding Importance of Analytics–True Intelligence for Business

Levels of Social – and Integration – Cut Across Enterprises

Achieving the Social Business, Inside and Out

The Effective Intranet – Engaging the Employee as Customer

 

Disclaimer: Julie Hunt is not affiliated with any of the vendors in this article.

About the author: Julie Hunt is an accomplished software industry analyst, providing strategic market and competitive insights. Her 20+ years as a software professional range from the very technical side to customer-centric work in solutions consulting, sales and marketing.  Julie shares her takes on the software industry via her blog Highly Competitive and on Twitter: @juliebhunt   For more information: Julie Hunt Consulting – Strategic Product & Market Intelligence Services