The Future of Enterprise Search: The View of a WeWork World

July 13, 2018

I read “The Future of Enterprise Search: Visual, Voice & Vertical.” My reaction was, “This approach to enterprise search describes a WeWork world.” My view of enterprise search is much, much different. Let me point out that I am okay with voice interfaces, but I am struggling to come to grips with the idea of visual search in an enterprise as one of the three pillars of enterprise search as i understand the function. The “vertical” angle is another way of saying, “Enterprise search does not work as a one size fits all solution. Therefore, let’s embrace a search engine for the legal unit, one for the computational chemists, one for marketers, and so on.

The write up points out that organizations, needs, and marketing are in flux. Uncertainty is the name of the game. That’s why there are employees who aren’t really full time equivalents working in Starbuck’s and WeWork offices. Who has a desk, assistants, and a regular nine to five job? Darned few people today. If we recognize the medieval set up of most organizations, the traditional definition of a job has more in common with the world of the Willy Loman (low man on totem pole, get it?). Life today has kings, court staff, and peasants. The difference is that the staff and peasants have mobile phones; otherwise, we’re back in the 7th century CE.

Skipping over the copy and paste of an Economist chart, the guts of the expository essay explains visual, voice, and vertical. The Vs reminded me of IBM’s alleged insight about Big Data’s volume, velocity, and variety. A mnemonic with alliteration. Okay, just not enterprise search as I have defined it in a number of my books; for example, The New Landscape of Search, published by Panda, years ago.

Enterprise search makes it possible for an employee to obtain the information needed to complete a business task. I pointed out that an employee cannot perform some work without locating digital information and data needed to answer a question. My examples included locating the most recent version of a CEO’s PowerPoint presentation, a list of the suppliers for a particular component in a product, information about an alleged personnel matter which violated the terms of an agreement with a customer, and the lab notes relative to a new compound developed by a chemical engineer with a structure diagram.

Now it would be wonderful if I could speak to a mobile device and have the data for any one of these enterprise search tasks delivered to me. But there are a couple of problems; namely, the screen size and capabilities of most mobile devices. For these information tasks, I personally prefer a multi monitor set up, a printer, plus old fashioned paper and pencil for notes.

The visual search angle is useful when looking for engineering drawings or chemical structures. But the visual component is only a part of the information I needed. That lab notebook is important, particularly if the product is going to be commercialized or patented or used as a bargaining chip in a deal with a potential partner or acquisition.

The vertical part is, as I have said, the reason that the typical organization has dozens of information access systems. A decade ago, according to our research, a Fortune 500 company licensed most of the available enterprise search systems, one or more legal search systems, and the specialist tools for those working with engineering drawings, specifications, vendor profiles, etc.

I don’t want to suggest that the discussion of visual, voice, and vertical search in the Search Engine Journal is with value. The information is simply not on point for today’s organization information access requirements.

For those in the top tier of workers — that is, those with senior positions and staff — the tools needed are more diverse and must be more robust. For those laboring away in WeWork offices, voice and visual search may be the go to ways to get information. The vertical search systems are useful, but for many workers, the expertise required to make a chemical structure search system deliver useful outputs is outside those workers’ skill set without some work and midnight oil.

To sum up, enterprise search is a difficult concept. Simplifying it to the three Vs understates the challenge. Explaining enterprise search in terms of semantic technology, natural language processing, and the other difficult to define jargon sprints to the far end of the complexity spectrum.

That’s why enterprise search is problematic. The vendors hope for a buyer and then head for the beach or a new job. The customers end up like Robinson Caruso, stranded and alone with tools that usually fall into disrepair quickly. Enterprise search itself is jargon, but it is jargon which has been marginalized by systems which over promised and under delivered.

That’s a mnemonic and acronym for you: OPUD.

Stephen E Arnold, July 13, 2018


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