Choosing and using an enterprise search tool - KM Legal 2012

Earlier this week I took part in a panel discussion on choosing an Enterprise search tool at the KM Legal Conference. The idea behind the panel session was that three law firms would explain what motivated them to choose a particular enterprise search tool and to explain some of the functionality available within the search tool they chose. The law firms were using different search tools and the tools were at very different development stages.

Although the panel session went well one of the comments I saw on Twitter was that we hadn't drawn any conclusions about enterprise search. Now this could mean a number of things but the impression I got was that people wanted to know whether enterprise search is worth doing, so here are my thoughts.

Yes Enteprise or Federated search is worth doing, we work in organisations that are generating more and more information at a huge rate. Having a tool available that allows individuals to easily access content that they may not have previously been aware of is in my mind essential. Enterprise or federated can also be useful when individuals are looking for experts or experience type information. Surfacing this type of information is especially important where your organisation effectively sells knowledge like law firms.

However Enterprise search is something that you can very easily get wrong. You can index too much content and end up adding to the problems that already exist. You can index the wrong type of content and the search is never used. You also have to be aware that an enterprise search tool can look fantastic but if you put rubbish into your search (the metadata/indexes) then you're going to get rubbish out.

There is also increasingly going to be a conflict between different systems, with many organisations looking at or using a combination of the search available as part of their Document Management System (DMS) an enteprise or federated search tool and the search capabilities available within SharePoint. Each of the tools offers something slightly different both in terms of functionality and how results are returned. Identifying what works best for your organisation is one of the hardest parts of deciding whether Enteprise search or another search tool is going to work.

[Photo credit - The Right tool on Fllickr]