Canon has just published a study showing that half of the Swedish employees waste about 4000 Euros or 6000 USD per employee and year searching for information. The conclusion was drawn after interviewing over 1000 people of which over half used more than 10 hours per month looking for information. A quarter of the subjects in the study said that they spent up to 20 hours. These are very interesting numbers that show how profitable an investment in Findability can be.
On January 22:nd, Interwoven entered into a definitive agreement to be acquired by Autonomy, for a total transaction value of approximately $775 million.
Ever since Microsoft’s acquisition of FAST there have been quite a few discussions in blogs and forums whether any of the giants such as Oracle, IBM or even Google would make an attractive offer for Autonomy. The company has, during the last few years, always been a clear leading candidate within Enterprise Search and its range of offerings within Multimedia, Digital Asset Management and Information management solutions has made the customer base grow faster than ever.
However, the acquisition of Interwoven shows that Autonomy is serious when it comes to growing on its own premises. The product portfolio now contains a strong offering for legal and compliance and Autonomy has, once more, proven that they prefer to extend and strengthen their business model.
According to the press release the companies ‘share a vision to fundamentally change the way organizations discover, analyze and manage information’.
Beyond the buzzwords, there seems to be a clear vision and it will be interesting to see how this affects Enterprise Search in general and Autonomys future direction in particular.
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.
Three weeks after making a $1.2 billion bid for FAST search & Transfer Microsoft announces that they make a $44.6 billion offer to buy Yahoo. So far it‘s only an offer which Yahoo’s board and stockholders are considering but, to conclude, Microsoft is serious about going into strategic search markets.
Web search engines, such as Google and Yahoo, are making really good money from online advertising such as contextual ads when searching, banners etc. This market is, according to analyst firms such as Yankee group, predicted to double over the next four years giving somewhere between $40- $50.3 billion in revenue.
Google is still a leader within this field, but it seems as if the competition is getting tougher.
Apart from web search there has also been a lot of talk about mobile search, a new emerging market where Yahoo last year made an acquisition of TellMe, a hosted speech applications company. Since this purchase Yahoo has done development for using its online advertising platform Panama for local mobile search and services as well.
If the offer is accepted Microsoft will have a strong portfolio, reaching from critical enterprise search with FAST technology and consumer focused search with Yahoo.
(An interesting perspective is the historical background where FAST developed AlltheWeb, one of the most popular and sophisticated internet search engines in the beginning of 21:st century, which in 2003 was sold to Overture and later bought by Yahoo.)
If the future holds a merger of advanced search technologies remains to be seen, but we will probably see some really interesting development within this field the forthcoming year.
What is your opinion? Can this affect Google’s position as a leader within web search? And more importantly, how do you think Microsoft’s purchases will affect the market for search in general?