It is not a coincidence that the verb “to google” has been added to several renowned dictionaries, such as those from Oxford and Merriam-Webster. Search has been the de facto gateway to the Web for some years now. But when employees turn to Google on the Web to find information about the company they work for, your alarm bells should be ringing. Do you have a Findability problem within the firewall?
The Google Effect on User Expectations
“Give us something like Google or better.”
“Compared to Google, our Intranet search is almost unusable.”
“Most of the time it is easier to find enterprise information by using Google.”
The citations above come from a study Findwise conducted during 2008-2009 for a customer, who was on the verge of taking the first steps towards a real Enterprise Search application. The old Intranet search tool had become obsolete, providing access to a limited set of information sources only and ranking outdated information over the relevant documents that were in fact available. To put it short, search was causing frustration and lots of it.
However, the executives at this company were wise enough to act on the problem. The goal was set pretty high: Everybody should be able to find the corporate information they need faster and more accurately than before. To accomplish this, an extensive Enterprise Search project was launched.
This is where the contradiction comes into play. Today users are so accustomed to using search as the main gateway to the Web, that the look and feel of Google is often seen as equal to the type of information access solution you need behind the firewall as well. The reasons are obvious; on the Web, Google is fast and it is relevant. But can you—and more importantly should you—without question adopt a solution from the Web within the firewall as well?
Enterprise Search and Web Search are different
- Within the firewall, information is stored in various proprietary information systems, databases and applications, on various file shares, in a myriad of formats and with sophisticated security and version control issues to take into account. On the Web, what your web crawler can find is what it indexes.
- Within the firewall, you know every single logged in user, the main information access needs she has, the people she knows, the projects she is taking part in and the documents she has written. On the Web, you have less precise knowledge about the context the user is in.
- Within the firewall, you have less links and other clear inter-document dependencies that you can use for ranking search results. On the Web, everything is linked together providing an excellent starting point for algorithms such as Google’s PageRank.
Clearly, the settings differ as do user needs. Therefore, the internal search application will be different from a search service on the web; at least if you want it to really work as intended.
Start by Setting up a Findability Strategy
When you know where you are and where you want to be in terms of Findability—i.e. when you have a Findability strategy—you can design and implement your search solution using the search platform that best fits the needs of your company. It might well be Google’s Search Appliance. Just do not forget, the GSA is a totally different beast compared to the Google your users are accustomed to on the Web!