Many of my clients have been through several iterations of improvements and refinements to their enterprise portal / corporate intranet environments to include portal personalization and customization, improved content management integration and content authoring, and basic search. In fact these features are now considered to be "Phase One" items on new implementations as well.

What is emerging now is the expansion of these portals / intranets to include a truly integrated enterprise search. Vendors such as Vivisimo (Velocity), Google (Google Search Appliance), and Microsoft (FAST) provide search engines that provide an extended reach beyond portal and content managed information to include data from enterprise systems such as PeopleSoft, SAP, and Cognos, etc. These systems can be searched via vendor specific connector technologies, which is typically accomplished through a customized API and an extension to an organization's services tier. These search vendors also provide information optimization capabilities such as faceted results (categories), user tagging, and relevance rating, etc.

One of the great advantages of these search tools is that you can implement them rather quickly to provide some immediate benefits. Then, over the course of several months you can work on extending your service tier to connect more and more enterprise systems.

The immediate benefits of these solutions can be substantial. The problem is that until you have everything connected through search, there will still be situations where users cannot find something that they are looking for but that they know is out there. There are other confidence issues that relate to governance, timeliness, etc. These issues have a real impact on "search confidence", frustrating users and driving down usage and adoption.

The following is a short list of confidence factors:

  • Existence: "Is it really not there, or am I just not able to find it?"
  • Relevance: "Am I finding the best results, or are there gems buried many pages down?"
  • Governance: "Am I not seeing it because I do not have the correct authority?"
  • Governance (negative): "I see something that I am not comfortable with. Should I really be allowed to see this?"
  • Timeliness: "This looks really old / out of date. Is this the most recent information?"
  • Archived Information: "I know when I saw this a month ago is said something different? What did it used to say?"

The good news is that most of these issues can be mitigated with improved user experience. Also, some of the search tools provide features that can help as well. Below is a brief list of suggestions to address each confidence factor and help improve search confidence:

Existence

Provide a list (non-technical) of what is being searched (Portal Content, HR Information) and perhaps specifically what is not being searched (Financial Information). You may want to include when the "not searched" systems will be made available. You may want to provide this information in a separate window, perhaps something that can be expanded and collapsed. You may want to be more obvious with this information when search results are low or empty.

Relevance

This is where most search vendors do really well. Allowing end users to add tagging to content items, documents, etc. will really increase relevancy. As hard as content authors accurately try to pre-tag there will always be ways of using information that was not considered at the time of creation. Search tools also provide relevance ranking tools that allow end user participation.

These tools cannot be understated. You are leveraging the power of your entire organization (crowd sourcing) to improve the "locatability" and relevance of enterprise data and content.

Governance

Showing secured results, even just titles, to users without proper authority is never recommended. A ton of information can be communicated in a document title (consider, "2010 Reduction in Force Plan.doc"). The opposite issue can also occur, "Am I seeing something I should not be seeing?"

Both of these issues can be solved in the same manner. The first approach is the same as the Existence steps above; providing a source list. The second is to provide a list of groups that apply to the user (Employee, Manager, Evaluator). You may consider listing a subset of common user groups that this person is not a member of (HQ Users).

Lastly, you can assign a secure icon to search results that have some level of security applied. Then, either with something subtle like a mouse hover on the secured icon or with something more explicit like "why am I seeing this", you can indicate exactly how this data is secured.

Timeliness and Archived Information

Locating out-of-date documents is a very common issue, and is one that can complicate downstream processing as well.

Most content management systems allow for start and end dates for content and documents. They also allow for content and document archiving. However, in both cases there is real work in making sure that the portal / intranet interface and the search engine handle this information accurately.

There are some advanced tools within the search engines that can help as well. For instance Vivisimo's Velocity search engine provides a chronological result of like content.


The above recommendations are not difficult to implement and can greatly increase end user confidence in the tools you are providing. These recommendations should be included in the initial launch when search is most likely to be limited to a few systems and when user perception will be set. Once a user population loses confidence in a system it can be very hard to get it back.