As an enterprise evolves, accessing and managing data becomes more difficult for staff, and even simple activities like searching for content become challenging. Today, employees often have to search through fragmented data sets and multiple repositories to find information and these actions may be repeated countless times throughout their career. This leads to hundreds of wasted work hours and, as a result, reduced efficiency of the entire business. According to Asana: Anatomy of Work Index 2021, U.S. workers spend an average of more than 300 hours a year performing duplicative and unnecessary tasks.
Fortunately, the emergence and proliferation of digital enterprise solutions, enterprise search software in particular, enables organizations to optimize corporate search processes and make them more manageable. Moreover, by reducing the time employees spend searching for information, enterprises can enable them to focus on more strategic and demanding tasks.
This article explores what enterprise search is and how it works, highlights its benefits and challenges, and explains how enterprises can put this technology into good use.
What is enterprise search?
Typically, both structured and unstructured corporate data is stored across business ecosystems in databases and servers or even in paper form. Enterprise search technology allows employees to search across all these repositories and data sources with just one search query.
Unlike more widespread technologies such as web search, enterprise search works with a large number of databases and has such features as text clustering, enterprise bookmarks, faceted search, and others. Due to the unique features provided by this technology, today, enterprise search may play a vital role in the transformation of a knowledge management strategy in an enterprise.
How enterprise search works?
To better understand how the technology works, we should take a look at the process of enterprise search. Typically, it consists of these four main steps:
1. Data collection
First, an enterprise search software system gathers fragmented data and content located in different parts of the business ecosystem. This process can go two ways: either an enterprise search solution retrieves data from data sources using connectors or vice versa, data sources connect to an enterprise search platform, for example, via APIs.
2. Data processing
Given that the collected data is heterogeneous, the enterprise search software has to convert it to bring it into a unified format. First, the platform transforms source data (be it text files, XLSX, or HTML documents) into plain text. Then, if necessary, the data undergoes additional processing such as entity extraction, stemming, tokenization, etc.
After processing the data, the platform analyzes the information, as well as the relationships between different data sets, and creates an index containing information about the prepared data. The indexing is necessary so that the search solution can quickly and accurately search for the required information among all the collected data.
4. Query processing and matching
After a user enters a specific query to the solution's user interface, the enterprise search software checks the index by comparing its contents with the user's request. The solution then suggests search results that may look like sentences, paragraphs of text, or another piece of content. Depending on its settings, the system can offer different answers, taking into account previous requests from a user or their department and their role within an organization
Considering that enterprise search solutions are aimed at efficient data discovery, today, they are often equipped with such innovative technologies as AI and its solutions ML (machine learning) and NLP (natural language processing). For example, AI-powered enterprise search software, also known as insight engines, can use NLP to better understand human speech and user queries and, at the same time, utilize ML to continuously learn and deliver more relevant search results with time.
Enterprise search use cases
Enterprise search can improve and optimize many different aspects in a large enterprise. Here are some examples of how this technology can be implemented in practice.
The continuous exchange of knowledge is critical to the success of a modern enterprise, so finding the necessary information should be as simple as possible for employees. This is where enterprise search can come in handy. With this technology in place, you can enable users to quickly search needed data and content among multiple repositories, thereby optimizing and stimulating the entire knowledge sharing cycle in your enterprise.
This way, sales reps can quickly get information about the company’s services and products and use it while negotiating. Likewise, data analysts can create more accurate forecasts and reports faster. New employees, in turn, may easily find onboarding guidelines across the corporate intranet. Also, if you opt for establishing a more knowledge-focused enterprise, you can use enterprise search when developing a digital workplace, thus enabling all your departments to access knowledge via a single unified entry point.
One way or another, regardless of your industry, using enterprise search for knowledge management will provide you with the following benefits:
- Enhanced productivity
- Preventing duplicated work
- More intelligent and data-driven decisions
By allowing HR managers to access relevant documents and content quickly, you can streamline the scope of your HR processes, from onboarding to ongoing performance monitoring and severance payments, helping your organization move closer toward HR digital transformation. For example, by allowing your HR specialists to look up any employee information (terms of contracts, salaries, demographics, etc.) in just one query, you can dramatically speed up their work while also reducing red tape. In addition, if your organization has an extensive database of potential candidates, members of your HR team can use enterprise search based on parameters such as skills and work experience to quickly find those who will perform best based on the needs of specific positions.
Enterprise search can help your enterprise improve customer service, increasing customer loyalty and making your organization stand out from the competition. Firstly, in just a couple of clicks, your customer service specialists can access instructions, guides, and other documents to quickly provide customers with any help they need. Secondly, they can quickly access the person's profile or purchasing history and personalize communication with them on the fly.
What are the challenges of enterprise search adoption?
Despite all the benefits of enterprise search, it is a disruptor by nature like any innovative technology. Therefore, the adoption and usage of enterprise search software may entail some difficulties.
First, the effectiveness of the search will largely depend on whether you were able to connect many disparate data sources and whether the platform can seamlessly index the information contained in them. Otherwise, the efficiency and accuracy of the search will be reduced, which may affect your staff's performance and business decisions.
Second, in a default configuration, enterprise search solutions can deliver irrelevant or inaccurate results. For example, many enterprise search software systems consider only the text of the query and will provide users with the same results regardless of the context and search intent. This problem can be fixed by introducing machine learning models which will help the search solution to learn and provide more accurate results.
Our consultants can help you adopt best-in-class enterprise search software
How to choose the right enterprise search software?
It would be best to remember that your organization’s data workflows are unique, as your employees are used to working on specific tasks in a certain way and using certain tools. Therefore, finding or developing the most suitable enterprise search solution hinges on understanding all these nuances.
Therefore, we would recommend that you do a little preparatory work before tapping into enterprise search technology. For example, you can hold a series of meetings with your managers and subordinates to find answers to the following questions.
Why do we need enterprise search software?
First, you need to understand why your enterprise needs such software at all. For example, you should decide whether you want the software to help your managers make better, more data-driven decisions, facilitate the assimilation of new employees, or reduce the amount of manual search in a particular department of your organization.
What is our current level of corporate search?
Once you've set your goals, you can analyze your current search capabilities to see if you should implement a new solution or upgrade the existing one.
How many data sources and connectors will we require?
At this point, you should examine all of your data sources to understand which ones are most valuable and determine how many connectors you need to integrate with your enterprise search software. In the future, you can use this information to choose the platform that can support your existing data sources and ones you plan to use.
What are our minimum requirements for enterprise search software?
It would be best if you decided on an approximate set of the most essential features for your future enterprise search solution. In addition to the default functionality that can support the standard enterprise search processes, we also recommend that your platform has the following features:
- A convenient and user-friendly UI
- Intelligent recommendations
- Reporting and analytics
- Role-based security
- The support of multiple search options
Are there any options on the market or should we develop a tool from scratch?
Once you've done your research and gathered all the information you need, you can start choosing a specific enterprise search software. For example, you can create a comparison table of all relevant solutions on the market to determine the best one.
However, most likely, you will not be able to find the perfect tool that will cover all your requirements end-to-end. In this case, you can consider developing enterprise search software from scratch and get a solution designed for your needs and tailored to your existing data sources.
You may not be able to decide right away what solution is the best for you. In this case, it may be better for you to get an outside opinion, so you may consider looking for help from third-party consultants.
Transforming the traditional corporate search
As business ecosystems expand and the number of fragmented data increases, even simple activities like searching for information grow too complex and time-consuming. Because of this, employees have to spend hundreds of working hours each year performing routine and repetitive activities instead of being focused on developing your business.
Fortunately, the emergence of innovative technologies such as enterprise search allows organizations to transform and support enterprise knowledge management to make it more intelligent and efficient. This, in turn, may help enterprises improve customer service, increase the productivity of employees, attract more relevant candidates, and increase competitiveness as a result.