When faced with the large up-front investment of an Enterprise Search installation, executives are asking for proof that the investment will pay up. Whereas it is easy to quantify the value of search on an e-commerce site or as part of the company helpdesk—increased sales, shorter response times—how do you go about verifying that your million-dollar Enterprise Search application has the desired effects on your revenue stream?
Search engines on the Web have changed the landscape of information access. Today, employees are asking for similar search capabilities within the firewall as they are used to having on the Web. Search has become the preferred way of finding information quickly and accurately.
Top executives at large corporations have heard the plea and nowadays see the benefits of efficient Findability. However, it costs to turn the company information overload from a storage problem of the IT department to a valuable asset and business enabler for everybody. So how do you prove the investment worthwhile?
The Effects of Enterprise Search
Before you can prove anything, you need to establish the effects you would like your Enterprise Search solution to have on your organization. Normally, you would want an Enterprise Search solution to:
- Enable people to work faster
- Enable people to produce better quality
- Provide the means for information reuse
- Inspire your employees to innovate and invent
These are all effects that a well-designed and maintained Enterprise Search application will help you address. However, the challenge when calculating the return on investment is that you are attempting to have an effect on workflows that are not clearly visible on your revenue stream. There is no easy way to interlink saved or earned dollars to employees being more innovative.
So how do you prove that you are not wasting money?
There are two straightforward ways to address the problem: Studying how users really interact with the Enterprise Search application and asking them how they value it.
User Behavior through Search Logs
By extracting statistics from the logs of your Enterprise Search application, you can monitor how users interact with the tool. There are several statistic measures that can be interesting to look at in order to establish a positive influence on one or more of the targeted effects.
A key performance indicator for calculating if the Enterprise Search application enables people to work faster is to monitor the average ranking of a clicked hit in the result list. If people tend to scroll down the result set before clicking a hit and opening up a document, this implies the application does not provide proper ranking of the results. In other words, users are forced to review the result set, which obviously slows them down.
By monitoring the amount of users that are using the system, by following the number of different documents they open up through search and by observing the complexity of the queries they perform, you can estimate the level of information your users are expecting to find through searching.
If the application is trusted to render relevant, up-to-date results, more users will use it, they will carry out more complex queries and they will open up a wider range of different documents. If your users do not trust the system, however, they will not use it or they will only search for a limited set of simple things such as “news”, “today’s menu” or “accounting office”. If this is the case, you can hardly say your Enterprise Search application has met the requirements posed on it.
Conversely, if the users access a wide set of documents through search and you have a large number of unique users and queries, then this implies your Enterprise Search application is a valued information access tool that promotes information reuse and innovation based on existing corporate knowledge.
User Expectations through Surveys
Another way to collect information for assessing the return of investment of your Enterprise Search initiative is to ask the users what they think. If you ask a representative subset of your intended users how well the Enterprise Search application fits their specific purposes, you will have an estimate of the quality of the application.
There are a lot of other questions you can ask: Does the application help the user to find relevant corporate information? Are the results ranked properly? Does the application help the user to get an overall picture of a topic? Does it enable the user to get new ideas or find new opportunities? Does it help him avoid duplicating work already done elsewhere within the organization?
A Combination of Increased Usage and Perceived Value
As we have seen, the return on investment of an Enterprise Search initiative is often hard to quantify, but the impact such an application has on a set of targeted effects can be measured using search logs and user surveys. The data collected this way provides an estimate of the value of Findability within the firewall of an organization.
Nowadays, hardly anybody questions the marketing value of a good corporate web site or the impact email has on the way we communicate. Such channels and services are self-evident business enablers today. In this respect, the benefits of precise and quick information access within the corporation should be self-evident. The trick is to get the tool just right.