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Seeking Relevancy for Enterprise Search

Search is a critical work function. It enables greater access to the information employees require to build a successful company, but first we need to place enterprise, or big data, search into context.

While Google has become eponymous for search, we must keep in mind that Web searching is not the same as pulling information from a range of sources as part of the work process. This "Google" mindset has led to large, costly enterprise implementations of secure search deployments with minimal user uptake. Instead, the search capabilities provide limited keyword search that does not adequately enable organizations to access corporate knowledge because it delivers large quantities of results rather than relevant, targeted results.

When we add collaboration and dispersed offices into the equation, tracking, sharing, and searching documents becomes even more complicated. While sharing documents for editing is much more convenient in the cloud than swapping or, worse yet, mailing floppy disks, many organizations are hesitant to place multiuser shared documents in the cloud due to security concerns. At the same time, users turn to cloud stores for ease of use and access.

Searching for Relevancy
Consequently, searching has become an onerous task. A 2013 study conducted in the U.K. and the U.S. found that, on average, workers in both markets spent up to 25 minutes looking for a single document in over a third of searches conducted. Furthermore, in 80% of cases finding the right information took up to eight attempts. Only 20% of respondents reported first-time successful searches. Moreover, 56% of the entire sample spent up to 20% of the workweek away from the desktop and, of those working remotely, 46% needed access to the corporate network almost continually throughout the day. When outside the office, security concerns prevented more than 50% of respondents from being able to access the corporate network at all.

From these statistics, we learn the importance of delivering relevant results to users securely across devices and inside and across the corporate firewall. Despite the clear evidence for loss of worker productivity and increased potential for breaches due to the failure of integrating search and security across organizations, most of the attention on data retrieval has been only on how marketing and finance departments can use it. Departments such as sales, product development, product support, and customer service that need access to information, whether stored on premises, on the desktop, or in the cloud, also need and have lacked the ability to easily and securely capture stored files.

The reasons for the search and retrieval difficulties are many, and some would have us believe complex. Basically, it is because in the past searching on securely encrypted data had been processor and memory hungry, adding cost and time to each transaction. However, with the vast power of today's computers, and other advances in technology, this excuse should no longer hold any weight, especially as big data processes become more common and computers can handle that load.

Seeking Knowledge
So if not technology or cost, what is the real reason for the lack of accessibility and combined security of our data silos?

This, I believe, is easily answered: knowledge, or lack thereof. Both the search and the security marketplaces have positioned themselves as "special" and out of reach of mere mortals due to their scientific nature. This has deterred people from actually looking at solutions to what are real-world problems. Instead, we have more real-world problems such as workers becoming frustrated with the lack of information at their disposal, even though they know it is somewhere on their devices, in email, or in the cloud store. CIOs wonder how on earth the latest data theft happened, and, worst of all, IT managers read every day that yet another "secure" system (Open SSL, BASH) has once again compromised their networks. Would we find a solution that solves the enterprise search and security issues if we were to look for one?

The problem here is simply that users don't truly understand how their information is really being stored in the cloud (much less on enterprise resources). However, instead of trying to ban the use of cloud services, enterprise IT needs to bring them into the workflow and reduce the chance of compromising the files or data or losing the ease of access and functionality that they provide to the user.

What needs to change in search is the place of the users in the equation, with the goal of simplifying their experience.

Currently, the user has become subordinate to the system, with little or no effort put into finding out exactly what a user requires from a search application. Instead, we are forced into having all indexed data -- emails, files, CRM results, and document management -- each in a large separate data silo. It would be better to have federated, full-text search capabilities that provide a superior solution for big data and that meet the needs of the entire organization.

As mentioned above, with 20% of time wasted on searching, we're sorely in need of enabling accessible search within the enterprise.

Simon Bain is founder, CEO, and chief architect of SearchYourCloud.

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