Friday, October 13, 2017

Digital Workplace Concepts 101: Search

Jeremy Williams, Sr. Director, Modern Workplace

Welcome to the next installment in the Digital Workplace 101 series; this week we’ll be covering the role of Search in your Digital Workplace. In case you missed last week’s installment, we covered Personalization. As a reminder, the goal of these posts is intended to be equal parts of definition, benefits of each capability, and some of the prerequisites to properly support each capability. Without further ado, let’s dive in to Search.


Search is one of the easiest capabilities to define (since we all probably use it multiple times per day as consumers), and one of the hardest to get right. At its most basic level, Search supports our users being able to discover content that they believe will help them in some way. This could be searching for a policy, a recent collaboration site, a fellow employee, client information, an acronym, or some other knowledge capital that may help them do their job.

Thanks to the success of consumer search-engines (Google, Bing, etc.), organizations typically run into challenges meeting their user’s expectations when crafting a search experience for their Digital Workspaces. After all, users expect a search experience that “just works”, and returns the results they need on the first page. Unfortunately, it’s pretty rare to have access to even a sliver of the engineering budget that powers Google and Bing at our disposal to present an equivalent experience. As such, enterprises have to figure out how to get a reasonable and helpful search experience leveraging both platform and implementation-level capabilities.

Naturally, there will be different practices and considerations depending on which search engine platform you’re considering, but there are a few general considerations to keep in mind to deliver a great search experience in your organization:

  • Garbage-in = Garbage-out: If you “feed” your enterprise search engine a ton of unstructured data, and don’t take the time to help it understand and extract useful information, you shouldn’t expect the results returned by the engine to be particularly great. Likewise, if you have outdated or non-authoritative information that isn’t otherwise cleaned up or identified, it’s unreasonable to expect your search engine to “know” when it’s returning an out-of-date result.
  • Library-Science: The power of a thoughtful information strategy and taxonomy can go an exceptionally long way to ensure the content consumed by your search engine will have supporting metadata—which will help the search engine return more relevant results.
  • Care and Feeding: Take the time to understand the simple trends (e.g. Popular search terms, zero-result searches, etc.) and address any issues through the tuning capabilities available to you. As an example, you may find that people are receiving zero results when they search for PTO – this could be due to the fact that the search engine needs to understand that PTO may also mean “Company Time-off Policy”, which would likely return the appropriate document/content that people are looking for with this query. With proper upkeep and monitoring, you’ll not only be able to react to your usage patterns, but you can start to craft more personalized search experiences based on a user’s preferences and proclivities.


With something that can be a challenging experience to get right, what’s the potential upside?

  • Damned if you don’t: Let’s be honest, your fellow coworkers expect Search to exist and work on your Digital Workspace. If you aren’t providing a search capability, they’ll likely have not-so-nice things to say. Even the deployment of a smaller search experience that works well is often far better received than skipping Search entirely.
  • Productivity: Consider how people find information in the absence of a search experience—it’s likely one of these methods:
    • Traversing the available navigation structure to “guess” where they’ll find information
    • Calling, emailing, or talking to a co-worker to find the right piece of information
    • Looking for the information in an old (out-of-date) platform
    • Looking up the information on Google
    • Giving up finding the information and then either re-creating the content, guessing at the process/policy/etc., or just ignoring whatever valuable insight they were originally looking for
  • Flexibility: Many of the modern search engines provide capabilities past just providing a set of results. From serving as a cache-engine, to return results in a performant-manner, to serving as a query-engine for modern bot interfaces, modern search platforms can help support a myriad of search-related capabilities.

Here are some things to consideration before embarking on implementing or improving Search in your Digital Workplace:

  • How far do you want your search experience to go? Is this just for the Digital Workspace, will this be an enterprise-grade experience?
  • Are there other source-systems of record that the search engine should look at?
  • Do you have a healthy information strategy in place?
  • Do you also have a solid taxonomy and strategy in place to support a healthy set of metadata around your content while minimizing the impact to your end-users?
  • Do you have a plan in place to support the ongoing search experience (review of analytics, search reports, etc.)?

Parting Thoughts

Search, especially within the enterprise, is a wide and interesting space that is an important consideration for your Digital Workplace. It’s easy to become overwhelmed with the amount of work required to make a great experience, and (by the same token) easy to underestimate the amount of work required to make and sustain a decent experience. As always, if you’ve got questions or need help with any of this, let’s talk.

Jeremy Williams is Senior Director, Productivity & Collaboration, at Rightpoint. Follow Jeremy on Twitter and LinkedIn.