Reaching Findability #2

Findability is surprisingly complex due to the large number of measures needed to be understood and undertaken. I believe that one of the principal challenges lies within the pedagogical domain. This is my second post in a series of simple tips for reaching Findability. You can also sign up here for a subscription to a free email course on this topic!

Take control of the technology!

The right search technology is an important foundation for making your information findable. There is a plethora of good search products on the market, all of them with different properties and strengths. The right products are those that fulfill your needs at the lowest cost. Therefore, to make the right choice, you must have a good understanding of your requirements.

A good search engine is specialized in figuring out what you’re actually intending to find, even if you only type a single word with ambiguous meaning. The search engine can make the difference when the exact term or spelling is not obvious, or a word is simply misspelled. It can also increase the relevance of search hits by only displaying results in languages you understand, and prioritizing results that are relevant in your current context.

With the right search platform in place, making a correct set-up and configuration is vital. While the initial installation may seem simple, taking advantage of the more powerful functions is complex and requires deep knowledge of search and information management.

If you lack access to a search platform, think again! Maybe your organization is using SharePoint, which in many versions contain a powerful search engine. Maybe you are using a search engine on the web site, which can also be used for other purposes or vice versa. Sometimes it pays off to investigate what technologies are already employed by the organization and look for new applications.

Feel free to contact me if you wish to discuss this further, or sign up here to get our free email course.

Big Data is a Big Challenge

Big Data is also a Big Challenge for a number of companies that would like to be ahead of the competition. I think Findwise can help a lot with both technical expertise in text analytics and search technology but also with how to put Big Data to use in a business.

During the last days of February I had the pleasure to attend IDG Big Data conference in Warsaw, Poland. It brought plenty of people from both vendors and industry that shared interesting insights on the topic. In general, big vendors that try to be associated with Big Data dominated the conference. IBM, SAS, SAP, Teradata has provided massive marketing information on software products and capabilities around Big Data. Interestingly every single presentation had its own definition on what Big Data is. This is probably caused by the fact that everybody tries to find the best definitions for fitting own products into it.

From my perspective it was very nice to hear that everyone agrees text analytics and search components are of big importance in any Big Data solution. In multiple applications analysis (both predictive and deductive) and for mass social media one must use advanced linguistic techniques for retrieving and structuring the data streams. This sounded especially strong in IBM and SAS presentations.

A couple of companies revealed what they have already achieved in so called Big Data. Orange and T-Mobile presented their approach of extending traditional business intelligence to harness Big Data. They want to go beyond standard data collected in transaction databases and open up for all the information they have from calls (picked and non-answered), SMS, data transmission logs, etc. Telecom companies consider this kind of information to be a good source for data about their clients.

But the most interesting sessions were held by companies that openly shared their experience about evolution of their Big Data solutions based mainly on open source software. In this way Adam Kawa from Spotify showed how they based their platform on Hadoop cluster starting from a single server to a few hundreds nowadays. To me that seems like a good way to grow and adapt easily to changing business needs and altering external conditions.

Nasza Klasa – a Polish Facebook competitor had a very good presentation on several dimensions connected to challenges in Big Data solutions that might be used for summarisation of this post:

  1. Lack of legal regulations – Currently there are no clear regulations on how the data might be used and how to make money out of it. It is especially important for social portals where all our personal information might be used for different kinds of analysis and sold in aggregated or non-aggregated form. But the laws might be changed soon, thus changing the business too.
  2. Big Data is a bit like research – it is hard to predict return on investment on Big Data as it is a novelty but also a very powerful tool. For many who are looking into this the challenge is internal, to convince executives to invest in something that is still rather vague.
  3. Lack of data scientists – even if there are tools for operating on Big Data, there is a huge lack of skilled people – Big Data operators. These are not IT people nor developers but rather open-minded people with a good mathematical background able to understand and find patterns in a constantly growing stream of various structured and unstructured information.

As I stated at the beginning of this post, Big Data is also a Big Challenge for a number of companies that would like to be ahead of the competition. I truly believe we at Findwise can help a lot within this area, we have both the technical expertise and experience on how to put Big Data to use in a business.

Enterprise Search in Practice: A Presentation of Survey Results and Areas for Expert Guidance

Enterprise search in practice presentation has two main focuses. First, to present some interesting and sometimes rather contradicting findings from the Enterprise Search and Findability survey 2012. Second, to introduce an holistic approach to implementing search technology involving five different aspects that are all important to succeed and to reach findability rather than just the ability to search.

Presented at Gilbane Conference 2012 in Boston USA on the 28th of November by Mattias Ellison.

Tutorial: Optimising Your Content for Findability

This tutorial was done on the 6th of November at J. Boye 2012 conference in Aarhus Denmark. Tutorial was done by Kristian Norling.

Findability and Your Content

As the amount of content continues to increase, new approaches are required to provide good user experiences. Findability has been introduced as a new term among content strategists and information architects and is most easily explained as:

“A state where all information is findable and an approach to reaching that state.”

Search technology is readily used to make information findable, but as many have realized technology alone is unfortunately not enough. To achieve findability additional activities across several important dimensions such as business, user, information and organisation are needed.

Search engine optimisation is one aspect of findability and many of the principles from SEO works in a intranet or website search context. This is sometimes called Enterprise Search Engine Optimisation (ESEO). Getting findability to work well for your website or intranet is a difficult task, that needs continuos work. It requires stamina, persistence, endurance, patience and of course time and money (resources).

Tutorial Topics

In this tutorial you will take a deep dive into the many aspects of findability, with some good practices on how to improve findability:

  • Enterprise Search Engines vs Web Search
  • Governance
  • Organisation
  • User involvement
  • Optimise content for findability
  • Metadata
  • Search Analytics

Brief Outline

We will start some very brief theory and then use real examples and also talk about what organisations that are most satisfied with their findability do.

Experience level

Participants should have some intranet/website experience. A basic understanding of HTML, with some previous work with content management will make your tutorial experience even better. A bonus if you have done some Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) for public websites.

Findability, a holistic approach to implementing search technology

We are proud to present the first video on our new Vimeo channel. Enjoy!

Findability Dimensions

Successful search project does not only involve technology and having the most skilled developers, it is not enough. To utilise the full potential and receive return on search technology investments there are five main dimensions (or perspectives) that all need to be in focus when developing search solutions, and that require additional competencies to be involved.

This holistic approach to implementing search technology we call Findability by Findwise.

Findability in Customer Service Search

We have previously introduced Findability by Findwise, involving solutions that make optimal use of search technology to support and strengthen the business of our customers. In a series of blog posts we will present how findability solutions can be deployed within different parts of your organisation. Initially I will focus on how efficient implementation of search technology, by a good customer service search, can improve your customer service offering.

Ultimately, the goal of most customer service interactions is to increase customer satisfaction and thereby improve customer retention in a cost efficient way. In times when the amount of available information increases by the minute, one key success factor is to provide both customer service agents and customers with quick and easy access to relevant information. A findability solution based on state-of-the-art search technology and optimised along the findability dimensions will fuel your customer service search offering in two primary ways:

  1. Improved support to customer service agents
  2. Improved online customer service

Example of customer service search

Improved support to customer service agents

While more traditional customer service interaction solutions tend to be based on a knowledge database, that needs to be built and maintained, a Findability solution is more dynamic in its nature and is based on a dynamic search index created by the already existing data residing in corporate systems. In other words, the solution makes optimal use of existing information and systems to support customer service agents in accessing relevant information. The positive effects are illustrated by the case study below.

Case study: Telecom call centre

Findwise implemented a findability solution at a call centre for a large Swedish mobile operator. The solution introduced the powerful ability to search in the most important information source, which previously only had been accessible via tree-structure navigation.

The graph below presents the result of a test performed by the call centre agents to evaluate the new search function. The test encompassed a number of tasks in which the agents compared using the search functionality to the traditional navigation, in terms of both level of difficulty and time consumption in finding desired information. The graph shows that the agents found the search function very helpful, making the information both easier and less time consuming to find.

 The graph shows that the agents found the customer service search function very helpful, making the information both easier and less time consuming to find.

The most evident effects of improved support and information access via search technology are:

  • Reduced handling time
  • Higher first time resolution
  • Reduced Tier-2 escalations
  • Increased customer service agent satisfaction
  • Increased agent productivity
  • Less training needed to introduce new agents

In a white paper, Google has also pinpointed, and quantified, the above benefits of implementing a Findability solution in call centre operations, in this case fuelled by the Google Search Appliance (GSA) search platform. For example, Google states that handling time can be reduced by up to 20% on average and that is it possible to save up to 25% on training costs for each new call centre agent. The full article is available here.

Improved online customer service

Naturally a Findability solution can also improve your online customer service offering. Below I have outlined three solution elements that will help drive customer self-service and thereby deflect issues from being forwarded to the customer service organisation.

Improved search functionality

As in the case of agent support, a powerful search functionality that provides relevant information from all required sources in a user-friendly way will increase the ability of customer self-resolution.

Personalised user interface

Using the power of an enterprise search platform you can customise the self-service experience, in a dynamical way, to the individual and the incident to simplify and speed up the process of finding answers.

Dynamic FAQ

Self-service can also be fuelled by providing a relevant and updated FAQ section. The information can be made dynamic and include answers to the most recent questions by using both query log information, i.e. what users are searching for, and call centre comments as input to the FAQs.

For many enterprises, self-service is seen as the solution that can provide customers with the support they need while significantly reducing customer service costs. However, self-service must do more than just cut costs. When customers perceive self-service as simply a means to shift interaction costs onto their shoulders, it can reduce customer satisfaction. Customers need a self-service experience that provides them with higher levels of interaction convenience and information availability, faster issue resolution and more personalised interactions. A Findability solution including the above elements provides that.

The most evident effects of an improved online customer service offering gained from the use of search technology and search analytics are:

  • Less number of incoming calls/e-mails
  • Increased customer satisfaction
  • Increased browser- to-buyer conversion rate
  • Increased knowledge of user interests and behaviour (to fuel additional sales)

Visit our website to learn more about findability solutions that make our customers truly benefit from state-of-the-art search technology.

Quick Website Diagnostics with Search Analytics

I have recently been giving courses directed to web editors on how to successfully apply search technology on a public web site. One of the things we stress is how to use search analytics as a source of user feedback. Search analytics is like performing a medical checkup. Just as physicians inspect patients in search of maladious symptoms, we want to be able to inspect a website in search of problems hampering user experience. When such symptoms are discovered a reasonable resolution is prescribed.

Search analytics is a vast field but as usual a few tips and tricks will take you a long way. I will describe three basic analysis steps to get you started. Search usage on public websites can be collected and inspected using an array of analytics toolkits, for example Google Analytics.

How many users are using search?

For starters, have a look at how many of your users are actually using search. Obviously having a large portion of users doing so means that search is becoming very important to your business. A simple conclusion stemming from such evidence is that search simply has to work satisfactorily, otherwise a large portion of your users are getting disappointed.

Having many searchers also raises some questions. Are users using search because they want to or because they are forced to, because of tricky site navigation for example? If you feel that the latter seems reasonable you may find that as you improve site navigation your number of searchers will decrease while overall traffic hopefully increases.

Just as with high numbers, low numbers can be ambiguous. Low scores especially coupled with a good amount of overall site traffic may mean that users don’t need search in order to find what they are looking for. On the other hand it may mean that users haven’t found the search box yet, or that the search tool is simply too complicated for the average user.

Aside from the business, knowing how popular search is can be beneficial to you personally. It’s a great feeling to know that you are responsible for one of the most used subsystems of your site. Rub it in the face of your colleague!

From where are searches being initiated?

One of the first recommendations you will get when implementing a search engine for your web site is to include the search box on each and every page, preferably in a standardized easy-to-find place like the top right corner. The point of having the search box available wherever your users happen to be is to enable them to search, typically after they have failed to find what they are looking for through browsing.

Now that we know that search is being conducted everywhere, we should be keeping an eye out for pages that frequently emit searches. Knowing what those pages are will let us improve the user experience by altering or completing the information there.

Which are the most common queries?

The most frequently issued queries to a search system make up a significant amount of the total number of served queries. These are known as head queries. By improving the quality of search for head queries you can offer a better search experience to a large amount of users.

A simple but effective way of working with search tuning is this. For each of the 10, 20 or 50 most frequent queries to the system:

  1. Imagine what the user was looking for when typing that query
  2. Perform that query yourself
  3. Examine the 5-10 top results in the result list:
    • Do you think that the user was content with those results
    • If yes, pat your back 🙂
    • If not, tweak using synonyms or best bets.

Go through this at least once a month. If the information on your site is static you might not need to change a lot of things every time, but if your content is changing or the behavior of the users you may need to adjust a few things.

Knowledge Management: Retrieve, Visualize and Communicate!

As noted by Swedish daily paper Metro, Findwise is working with JCDEC, the Joint Concept Development & Experimentation Centre at Swedish Military Headquarters. In Metro’s words the project aims at developing a knowledge management system for the headquarters of tomorrow. The system is expected to be up and running in time for the international military exercise VIKING 11, to be executed in April of 2011.

Good decisions stem from good information; this is true for both military and civilian enterprises. Vast amounts of time and resources are being invested in order to collect information. But to what end? Granted, somewhere among that information there is probably something you will find useful. But large amounts of information quickly become incomprehensible. In order to combat information overload you need a select-and-filter tool such as Search, and that’s where Findwise comes in.

However, for JCDEC it is not enough to simply locate the information they have available. Captain Alexandra Larsson, Concept Development Lead for Knowledge Support, makes this fact very clear. It is just as important to get an idea of what information is not there. In essence, JCDEC is in the process of creating information from information. This is also one of the great differences between the kind of web-based search and retrieval systems we have come to depend on and a state of the art knowledge management system. The latter is not just a retrieval tool; it is an information workbench where the user can select, retrieve, examine and manipulate information.

The key to finding information gaps is to study patterns. For example, consider the trivial problem of birthday distributions. Without any prior knowledge one would probably expect there to be roughly as many births in May as in August or November. This is not always the case. Depending on where you are in the world birth figures may actually be skewed so that one month has significantly more births than other months do. Why does this happen? Being able to pose that exact question may in turn teach us a lot about the mysterious workings of the Stork.

In military intelligence the filling of information gaps may mean the difference between victory and defeat. Why is there an increase in partisan activity in that district? Why were eight weapons silos raided over the course of two days? Why at this moment in time? These questions are expected to lead to insights into the plans and activities of suspects and to notify those in command of looming threats.

Retrieve, Visualize, Communicate


The envisioned work-flow for JCDEC information operators is threefold: retrieval, visualization and communication. Each research session will typically be initiated through a keyword search interface, much like you would issue a web query on Google. Just like its online counterpart the system would present the results ordered according to their expected relevancy to the operator’s query. Using facets and query refinement the result set can be narrowed down until the information in front of the operator is expected to contain that which is being sought for.

Captain Alexandra Larsson hints at another strategy for getting to information. Facets are so speedy these days that they can be applied on the full document set without any delays. Clearly, JCDEC is using search technology to provide directory listings much like websites such as the Open Directory Project, although completely dynamic. The option of simply browsing these directories is also available to operators.


The next step, visualization, employs an array of tools for visually displaying the results. These include plotting objects on maps and timelines and looking for groupings where objects have a disproportionately dense distribution, so called cluster analysis, among others. This is where clues are uncovered and questions posed: why there, at that time, with those people? In some cases a field investigation is necessary in order to answer these questions. Other times the answers can be deduced from the tools themselves. The tools also allow the operator to formulate new search queries based on the visual information. The operator may choose to limit the scope of the search to one or more of the clusters in the timeline or map, for example.


If or when the operator finds something interesting this should be recorded. But to JCDEC it is not necessarily the results themselves that are important. The act of getting to the information is valuable in itself. The reason for this is that different operators have different backgrounds and possess different types of information. Where one operator filters or deduces information from a search result in one way, another operator might choose a completely different approach and unveil other clues.

According to Captain Alexandra Larsson it is absolutely necessary that operators share knowledge as well as refinement strategies as part of their work. One of the paradigms that JCDEC is looking to experiment with is social bookmarking along with the ability to search through sets of bookmarked objects. Objects can be both tagged and commented on, useful for conveying meta-information to fellow operators. It is likely that there will be custom-based filters, where an operator can inform the system of types of objects that do and do not interest him or her and have the system automatically filter the result sets based on this information. These filters can of course also be shared with other operators.

An evolving system

The process of retrieval, visualization and communication is only one, albeit the most prominent, feature of the JCDEC knowledge management system. The system itself will be put to use in the spring of 2011 and development will surely continue beyond that point. The ideas and concepts at work today will most likely be refined over time as Captain Alexandra Larsson and JCDEC learn from hands-on experience with working with information. And as evolution progresses I hope to be able to go into more detail on some of the other tidbits.

Search Driven Portals – Personalizing Search

To stay in the front edge within search technology, Findwise has a focus on research, both in the form of larger research projects and with different thesis projects. Mohammad Shadab and I just finished our thesis work at Findwise, where we have explored an idea of search user interfaces which we call search driven portals. User interfaces are mostly based on analysis of a smaller audience but the final interface is then put in production which targets a much wider range of users. The solution is in many cases static and cannot easily be changed or adapted. With Search driven portals, which is a portlet based UI, the users or administrators can adapt the interface specially designed to fulfill the need for different groups. Developers design and develop several searchlets (portlets powered by search technology), where every searchlet provides a specific functionality such as faceted search, results list, related information etc. Users can then choose to add the searchlets with functionality that suits them into their page on a preferred location. From architectural perspective, searchlets are standalone components independent from each other and are also easy to reuse.

Such functionality includes faceted search which serves as filters to narrow a search. These facets might need to be different based on what kind of role, department or background users have. Developers can create a set of facets and let the users choose the ones that satisfy their needs. Search driven portals is a great tool to make sure that sites don’t get flooded with information as new functionalities are developed. If a new need evolves, or if the provider comes with new ideas, the functionality is put into new searchlets which are deployed into the searchlet library. The administrator can broadcast new functionality to users by putting new searchlets on the master page, which affects every user’s own site. However, the users can still adjust new changes by removing the new functionality provided.

Search driven portals opens new ways of working, both in developer and usage perspective. It is one step away from the one size fits all concept, which many sites is supposed to fulfill. Providers such as Findwise can build a large component library which can be customized into packages for different customers. With help of the searchlet library, web administrators can set up designs for different groups, project managers can set up a project adjusted layout and employees can adjust their site after their own requirements. With search-driven portals, a wider range of users needs can more easily be covered.