Remote Work and Enterprise Search: Implement Now!

April 28, 2020

The US and other countries has been shut down for more than a month. Companies of all sizes are struggling for revenue. The shift to WFH (work from home) is not exactly going on as smoothly as paint at a pre lockdown Peugeot plant.

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The enterprise search idea articulated by a person once affiliated with IBM Watson is a stunner. You can get the full scoop in the online publication RTInsights. (No, this RT is not part of the Russian propaganda system.)

Making Remote Work More Effective with Enterprise Search” argues that the WFH crowd can be productivity pythons. Forget the kids, the loneliness, the hassles with shopping, the security goblins, and the fear of losing one’s job. Put them out of your mind, WFH’ers. You can be a productivity python.

Sort of.

First, your employer — assuming you have one — must have an enterprise search in place. Failing that, your employer must spend money to license a suitable service. Hey, why not Sinequa, the French system which also does Big Data, analytics, and phenomenal marketing.

Now there are a couple of very minor issues to address; for example:

  • Conducting a content inventory, determining what information can be accessed by an authorized WFH’er.
  • The security and access controls must be defined, put in place, tested, and deployed.
  • The indexing cycles must be determined because WFH’er presumably put in their 12 hour days across time zones, from a variety of computing devices, and in chunks. (Someone has to remove the Amazon packages from the door step before a bad actor removes the inviting parcels with a smile logo.)
  • A workflow for getting employee generated content into the system and then getting the “real time indexing” which vendors stress their system performs to index in a reliable manner.
  • Assisting employees who use the WFH system and cannot find the document a colleague said was in the system on the Zoom call that ended five minutes ago. The basic questions are, “Where is the document? When will it be available? Who’s in charge of this clown car?

Second, candidate information must be located, vetted, and converted to a format that the enterprise search system can process. Videos, audio files, images, and proprietary file formats may be a bit of a challenge in terms of time and resources.

Third, the system must be made to work. No, I mean it, deliver results employees or authorized users need. How many enterprise search systems deliver on this final point?

The write up explains:

Almost all knowledge-intensive organizations have a digital workplace that includes enterprise search, which connects employees to the content they need to complete a given task. Companies typically either deploy a rudimentary open-source kit that relies on search queries using keywords or a larger ecosystem like Microsoft, Google, or IBM, which tend to exclude content and data stored outside of the ecosystem.

What?

Oh, here’s the point:

Now is the time for organizations to think about the way employees access content platforms and how that is impacting employee productivity, knowledge sharing, and competitive advantage.

Based on the research Martin White and I did for oru book Successful Enterprise Search Management, the time required to deploy an enterprise search system was measured in months, often years. Tossing in the WFH requirement is going to add more time and cost to those sensitive to data access, indexing cycles, optimization, and other easy-to-ignore factors.

The benefits of providing enterprise search for WFH’ers remind me of the IBM Watson promises about smart software: Failure and massive costs, a loss of stakeholder value, and the distinction to be removed from Houston’s cancer hub.

To sum up, Sinequa’s sales pitch wrinkled the DarkCyber forehead a tiny bit:

  • Glittering generalities about off site access to certain content is not something one just “thinks about.” Real management effort is required to avoid loss of trade secrets, sensitive information, and data which may be subject to government restrictions.
  • The data supporting the assumption “better, faster, cheaper search yields more productivity (whatever that is). There is zero evidence that WFH’ers will be more or less productive if enterprise search is available. Right now, finding information is more like a Zoom call, not a session online hunting through results lists and waiting for results lists to appear.
  • Phishing and other exploits. Security is not automatic. Security takes work. Oracle tried to sell its search system with Oracle security. No one in my experience was prepared to go through the hoops necessary to implement secure search. The result silos. What’s the cost for the WFH cohort? Probably more than some organizations are able to pay. (The May 12, DarkCyber video news program profiles a free-for-now open source solution to certain types of exploits. That’s a solution for those with handy infosec skills.)

Most applications used by WFH’ers include some type of search function. When information is not available, send an email or, better yet, hop on a Zoom call. And don’t forget Google, the millennials’ Swiss Army knife for information, or some social media scanning.

Enterprise search has not created productivity pythons in the more than 50 years information retrieval systems have been available.

Net net: Using Covid, WFH, and rusted buzzwords like enterprise search may not move the revenue meter. Invoking the tired, cheers-for-hire outfits like Gartner and IDC won’t do the job either. New types of information access systems are available. For examples, check out CyberOSINT: Next Generation Information Access. Even millennials will find some of these newer systems a refreshing findability option. As for enterprise search, its day in the sun faded with vendors’ inability to deliver results for licensees. Don’t believe me? Just ask former customers of Delphis, Entopia, Fast Search & Transfer, and the other precursors of today’s laborers in the search-and-retrieval Incan potato terraces.

Stephen E Arnold, April 28, 2020

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