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Connecting the Content and Process Dots: A Big Opportunity for Search

Organizations around the world are drowning in data. While their information is everywhere, it’s harder than ever to actually find reliable answers among the accumulation of “Big Data.”

Search is at an interesting crossroads. This truly transformative technology – the keystone of the Information Age – now blends into almost every digital nook and cranny without fanfare. Smartphone apps, web pages, social networking tools, productivity software and operating systems all are expected to have a search box embedded somewhere.

While heuristic experts everywhere are celebrating, those developing search technologies to help organizations are facing a marketplace that has never been more “fuzzy.”

Enterprise search products now take on all shapes and sizes. Some are virtually given away while others are shockingly expensive. The “you get what you pay for” axiom doesn’t necessarily apply. Hardware also may or may not be part of the deal. Products aimed at helping business users are returning results better suited for consumers. Google, Microsoft and other tech giants have dived into the market, making the competitive waters a bit murky.

It seems that search has become a difficult sales proposition even at a time when it has never been more essential. But there actually is a clear path for search vendors that can handle the challenge on an enterprise level, because most organizations have yet to solve the “Big” problem.

Drowning in Data               

The accumulation of “Big Data,” “Big Information,” “Big Content,” “Big Unmanaged Stuff People Are Creating Way Too Much Of” – whatever you want to call it – is slowing organizational processes instead of speeding them up. Information is everywhere, but it’s harder than ever to actually find reliable answers.

The main reason is that there are gaps between the software used to drive business routines and the volumes of unstructured pieces of information that surround them. A typical organization has a few core business systems, maybe a content management repository or two, and a growing number of disconnected SharePoint sites, email servers, local and network drives, databases, mobile devices and other places where unorganized information is tucked away. With new content being produced at an expected annual growth rate of “44-fold over the next decade,” according to an IDC report, the gaps are quickly widening into gorges.

In a recent AIIM study, “Big Data–Extracting Value From Your Digital Landfills,” 26 percent of respondents said that management of unstructured content in their organizations was “somewhat chaotic.” Another 35 percent described their approach as “organized, but not well indexed or controlled.” The report summarized that only “around a third feel their content is reasonably well managed for any degree of universal access.”

Searching for Answers

While search seems to be everywhere, the AIIM report reveals that the right kind of search technology is far from widespread: “Only 20 percent have enterprise search or unified search capability across departmental content. Of these, 7 percent have extended search across the whole enterprise.”

This is where the “Big” opportunity for search presents itself, but a limited number of vendors have the technology and approach to take advantage of it.

At a foundational level, a search technology must provide a single access point to information that is plain and simple. People shouldn’t have to type in a perfect search query or know exactly where to look to find the right content. User acceptance often is the biggest hurdle for any technology, so intuitive, fast functionality is crucial. However – a “Big” however – this kind of simplicity does not equal a lack of technical sophistication. Quite the opposite.

Search also must be able to surface information no matter where it’s located—because it’s safe to assume that important content is slipping through enterprise cracks by not being properly stored, perfectly organized or readily available. Even though technology is replacing storage rooms packed with filing cabinets, the concept of stuffing files in folders and stashing them in drawers is alive and well in the digital world. So today’s search technology must be able to reach into every possible repository for answers, regardless of whether they’re structured or unstructured or if they’re inside or outside an organization’s firewall.

AIIM’s findings support this notion: “Currently, unified data access across content repositories is a struggle for most respondents.” And 61 percent “would find it ‘very useful’ to link structured and unstructured datasets.” Also, AIIM reports that “for 70 percent it’s ‘harder’ or ‘much harder’ to research information held on their internal systems compared to the Web.”

The Bigger Picture

There are important business implications of unification that go beyond improving the decision making and productivity of staff. When people can use one simple application to find precise information that could be located in any number of disconnected sources, an organization can dramatically cut costs in a number of areas.

There’s no longer a need to migrate every piece of enterprise content into a single repository—a major drain on budgets and resources. If there are multiple information management and legacy systems in place, organizations are likely paying maintenance and support fees that could be reduced or eliminated. Time and money spent on training people to use these different systems can be reallocated.

A final requirement is the ability to power a larger vision—business and industry process improvement.  Specifically, search must be able to be packaged with other functionality, like workflow or intelligent capture, into a cohesive solution that addresses the unique needs of a particular process. And of course, that solution must work seamlessly with all of the business systems and content sources an organization has in place.

While there isn’t a single “killer application” that solves every “Big Data” problem (70 percent of those surveyed by AIIM are hoping for one), you can bet that those few search vendors that have the right technology and the right approach have zeroed in on the right target.