Book Review–Martin White’s “Enterprise Search”

20 May

1-Search BinocsPost by David Hobbie, ILTA KM Blogmaster and Litigation Knowledge Manager, Goodwin Procter LLP

Long-time digital information management guru a/k/a “information scientist” Martin White has authored a comprehensive guide to enterprise search that lays out search’s business and technical context, and also provides dozens of tips, suggestions, and the location of traps for the unwary, at a surprisingly affordable price (US $19.99 /$20.99 CAN.) I don’t want him to raise the price, but I would have paid the cover price for the insights found in each of the book’s twelve chapters. (“Enterprise Search”, O’Reilly Media, 2013, ISBN 978-1-449-33044-6, 168 pp.). It is targeted at a general corporate / corporate IT audience, and does not specifically address legal industry needs or vendors.

If you read anything in this book, read chapter 12, “Critical Success Factors.” My experience with search implementations and trials suggests that each of the factors is, as they say, “written in blood.”

Mr. White suggests that enterprise search is moving from a “nice-to-have” to a “need-to-have”, not because of the enterprise search industry’s growth, but because of business decision support needs and the increasing demands of expanding volumes of digital information [Ed.–the legal industry has a comparatively high focus on documents and knowledge, and enterprise search is correspondingly more valuable, and, I suspect, more prevalent, here—see for instance the 2010 ILTA KM Survey]. He is not Panglossian about the success of existing implementations, noting that internal clients expect speed and reliability akin to Google, which enterprise search cannot deliver.  Google after  all has invested tens of billions in search and hardware and can leverage hyperlinks and user behavior in a manner not accessible to enterprises.

I really value Mr. White’s focus in much of the book on meeting business needs. He dives into the process of developing user requirements in some depth, addressing a broad range of investigatory techniques to uncover specific information-seeking use cases. Mr. White does not hide his opinion about these techniques; he is skeptical of focus groups, and very fond of individual interviews.

There is much here that is thought-provoking and challenges what may be IT or user orthodoxy. For instance, he does not view successful search as a single all-encompassing application, but as a process that identifies and then meets individuals’ business-related information needs. This idea ties in to the concept of “Search-Based Application” suggested by Sue Feldman and also (more tangentially) by Lynda Moulton. Under this approach, search seeks to address the information needs of a specific business process or scenario, one at a time, rather than implementing one search engine or interface that meets all needs.

A corollary of viewing search as a process is that he suggests staffing a “search support team” in advance of assessing and developing enterprise search, to get the most out of existing search applications and to lay the groundwork for additional search efforts.

Mr. White’s book effectively addresses many aspects of implementing and maintaining an effective search environment, a critical aspect of effective enterprise information management.

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