When an organization identifies the need for enterprise search, there are myriad questions it must answer. It is vital to identify the most important criteria for your organization, as they will guide your evaluation and eventual implementation of enterprise search. As a starting point, here are 10 issues every organization must consider to help ensure that its investment in a search solution delivers on its promise.
1. Security and Privacy
Like it or not, most companies are lax about information security. Confidential content is often shared. The fact that more information doesn’t fall into the wrong hands is known as "security through obscurity." In other words, the information usually is not found because no one bothers to navigate through the directory structure and open each document. But once this information is indexed with a search tool, it is easily available through causal searches.
Implementing enterprise search without first securing content can lead to unwanted exposure of an organization’s intellectual property or confidential employee information. Before you turn an indexing engine loose on your information, make sure you verify what information will be exposed, and establish the proper security around private content. (In many jurisdictions,legislation has made privacy breaches subject to sanction.)
2. Policy andCompliance
An issue related to security is ensuring that access to content is consistent with your company’s policies. A well-designed enterprise search provides managers with the tools to separate public data—accessible to anyone inside the firewall—from private data that only named users can access. By implementing a regular sweep for sensitive content, enterprise search can tell quickly if critical content about sales or acquisitions is being made accessible in unsecured locations. Enterprise search can also ensure that enterprise resources are not being used to store in appropriate or unlicensed content.
3. Access Control
Enterprise search offers powerful capabilities to authorized users, so you need to control user access and ensure that search users authenticate before using the full power of the system. Query-time authentication is one tool that can manage access control. This technique lets the search tool double-check a user’s access to each result before providing the search results. While this technique uses additional processing power, user authorization is dynamically updated.
For search to be effective, it must be comprehensive. Your organization may have a large intranet that needs to be indexed or a series of shared file servers. But the information individuals seek may also reside in content repositories, email systems, or business applications. Structured data systems and applications can also be vital information sets to enable you to get a full picture of your enterprise information. These systems have specific security and metadata configurations that must be represented in your index.
An advanced understanding of the metadata for each applicationto be indexed will enable the search engine to determine the relevance of the searched content to the query, and it will enable the relevance of the results from that repository to be compared to the relevance from other repositories. This will ensure that the search results are not only comprehensive, but also that they are optimized for relevance.
5. Relevant Results
The majority of the time, users know that what they are looking for exists, and they expect it to be one of the first few items presented in their searches. The abilities to tune relevance to provide the right results and to promote certain results to expected queries are important features of an enterprise search tool.
Internet search engines rank relevance based upon link analysis. Pages that are frequently linked to on the internet are ranked as more relevant. However, enterprise applications are typically stovepiped, with no interlinking, so this method does not work for enterprise search.
One method used to establish relevance for enterprise search is called "progressive relaxation." When a particular search result is found, it is evaluated based on where it appears in the document. If the word or phrase appears in the Title metadata field, it is ranked very high. This ranking algorithm establishes relevance and combines the relevance with content from other repositories.
In many cases, a single search will return a term used in many contexts. So, in addition to relevance alone, enhanced search capabilities include the ability to cluster results in context and to use metadata, such as names, dates, and content location, to sort or filter results. These capabilities help users refine their intentions and find the right results set from a very simple search.
6. FederationSome applications and repositories have their own indexes. So, rather than re-indexing the content, performance is enhanced if enterprise search can federate to those indexes. The act of indexing content takes processing resources from the application’s server. To avoid using those valuable cycles, there is often a trade off between how often to index and how up-to-date the index should be. But if one system is already indexing the content, there is no reason to index the content again if federating searches to it can leverage that first index.Each system has its own way of dealing with federated results. One method is called "suggested content." Suggested content allows you to federate to external search engines and then segregate the results so that they are presented apart from the other search results. The results can be combined with a style sheet to control presentation. In the case of suggested content, it is up to the application to ensure security using single sign-on authentication.
7. PersonalizationEnterprise search results can be improved greatly by incorporating personal information into the results process. By relating individual searches to the searches of a line of business or network, you can gain the benefits of automatic relevance boosts when peers select specific information and search terms. At the same time, a user’s history of choices can guide the current results list.
8. Search-as-a-ServiceEnterprise search solutions should offer a full range of integration options, including a service-oriented architecture. This has some advantages: By making your enterprise search solution available through web services, other applications can run searches, get results, and present the results in that application’s context. A variety of systems—a call center system, a portal, an intranet site, etc.—can tap into your enterprise search services and present results to system users. As a pervasive, underlying technology, search as a service can provide away to unify your IT infrastructure.
9. Enterprise Scale and ScopeAs you consider enterprise search, consider the scope of the problem search addresses as well as the scale of information search will retrieve. Be prepared for the scope of your enterprise search solution to grow. As you consider what needs to be searched, you will also find new uses and new users for your search technology. With new users comes a question: Should you choose separate search tools for different uses, or can you use a single search solution to address these different applications?
This issue relates to the scale of the search implementation. A single enterprise search solution may be able to address different use requirements, but it must also be able to scale to the needs of your enterprise. If the search cannot scale, your desire to create a unified search will be replaced with the cost of supporting multiple redundant searches.
You should also consider the languages used in your organization. Is your organization global? If so, you may need a search solution that can address the needs of speakers of specific languages and/or support multilingual search.
Finally, consider the issue of support. Where enterprises have deployed a unified search, they have discovered that this capability grows in importance and value to become a mission-critical component of their success.
As you consider enterprise search, you now need to consider a search vendor that can address the requirements of multiple repositories, multiple authentication schemes, security, reliability, and results management while delivering the support associated with business critical IT tools.
And One for the RoadTotal cost of ownership is a key evaluation point for enterprise search. Estimates of hardware as well as software costs should be included. Youwill find that some search engines are much more frugal in terms of processing requirements,and therefore your hardware costs will be lower, resulting in a lower total cost of ownership.
By combining this frugality with the ability to securely connect to your vital applications and repositories, you will realize a rapid return on investment and greater overall customer satisfaction in terms of performance, comprehensiveness, and relevance.
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About the Author
BRIAN DIRKING has been in the electronic publishing industry for more than 15 years. Formerly director of business development for Stellent, Inc., he is now principal product director at Oracle Corp.