Enterprise Search Europe 2015 in London on 20-21 October

A couple of recent search conferences have caused me to think carefully about what makes a successful event for search managers. At both the Findwise Findability Day in Copenhagen and at the Smarta Sök event in Stockholm it was very clear that the delegates were especially interested in gaining experience from case studies. Although there are many technical innovations in search, for most organisations the objective is to find out how to provide employees with a better search experience with the minimum about of near term investment. When I sat down with the Information Today conference team a few weeks ago to talk about the 2015 Enterprise Search Europe conference we decided to fill it to the brim with case studies. The outline programme gives us space for at least 15 case studies over two days, together with three short round-table sessions that will run in parallel with the presentations. The theme is ‘Delivering Search Excellence’ both from the content of the papers and the conference event overall.

This year the conference has been moved from the Spring to the Autumn and is co-located with Internet Librarian International at the conference centre in Olympia in West London so there will be quite a buzz around the venue. There will be a social event on the evening of Tuesday 20 October.

The call for papers is now open, and I’d encourage anyone with a case study to consider presenting it as a paper. It doesn’t matter at all if the case study is work in progress. Search implementation and enhancement should never be a project but a continuous process, and there will be lessons to be learned even from the initial stages of an implementation. Remember that you will be speaking to an audience of very understanding delegates who will be able to benefit from whatever experience you have to offer. We would like the case studies to be about real organisations, rather than ‘a global manufacturing company’. The company context is very important in understanding the value of search and also the implementation and management challenges.

The papers will be short – just 25 minutes with a 5 minute Q&A and we will be arranging the venue so that you will be able to continue to talk to the speakers at the end of each session. I should also add that the term ‘enterprise search’ also applies to corporate web site search, and there are often lessons to be gained from how search has been managed in a public-facing site. We would also be interest in papers from organisations that are using the search features of intranet software packages.

You may recall the words of David Bowman in the book of the film 2001 – a Space Odyssey to the effect that the monolith was full of stars. We want delegates to ESE2015 to remark that it is full of case studies!

Martin White

Chair, ESE 2015


Elasticsearch – the definitive guide. A new book from O’Reilly Media

As I’m in the final stages of writing the 2nd edition of Enterprise Search I was delighted to see that O’Reilly Media had published Elasticsearch – the definitive guide, written by Clinton Gormley and Zachary Tong, both with Elasticsearch. I downloaded the pdf version and could not believe my eyes when the file page total reached 719. It makes the projected length of my own book of around 300 pages seem like a short story! The book is divided into seven sections, covering (with chapter numbers)

  • Getting started (11)
  • Search in depth (6)
  • Dealing with human language (7)
  • Aggregations (11)
  • Geolocation (4)
  • Modelling for data (4)
  • Administration, modelling and deployment (3)

There is, as you might expect, a great deal of code but it is surrounded by text of the highest quality of clarity and accuracy. I am not a developer and the code means nothing to me but the descriptions of the principles of information retrieval and search, and how these can be utilised in Elasticsearch, are faultless. For the same reason I’m not going to try to assess the book from a developer perspective. However there are some more general comments that I’d like to share with you.

First the scale of the book shows the functional power of open source search. I could not spot any functionality that was ‘missing’ and most organisations will only make use of a small percentage of the code. Both Solr and Elasticsearch have developed substantially over the last few years to meet emerging requirements from users captured by the community and in the case of Elasticsearch by What makes search difficult to manage are the challenges of language analysis and to see seven chapters on this topic is a good indication of the quality of the book and the software.

Second the scale of the book illustrates why open source search may be easy to download for free but from there on in you really need to know what you are doing, and for that you need a sound background in information retrieval concepts and practice. There is no point in giving this book to a developer who is not booked out to a project at present! Although there are many worked examples in the book you need to be able to extend these laterally to your own organisation to understand how best to use Elasticsearch, and that requires a knowledge of the repositories to be searched and the types of query that will be used. Open source search has to be developed as a partnership between the development team and the business team. Even writing the functional specification is going to take a substantial amount of experience and formal knowledge.

Third it is worth paying particular attention to the icons which indicate tips, suggestions and warnings. Elasticsearch is still quite young and there are various catches for the unwary. If you want to change the parent value of a child document, it is not sufficient to just re-index or update the child document—the new parent document may be on a different shard. Instead, you must first delete the old child, and then index the new child. A small point but with potentially big impacts. As with any search software understanding where a change requires a re-index is very important.

Finally this book is all about software development and not about search management. There is no reference to search logs and analytics and the management section is mainly about technical performance management. Not unsurprisingly search interface design is not covered at all. The index is superb but there is no entry for ‘user’ or for ‘interface’, nor (more surprisingly) for federated search.

I don’t have the expertise to judge this book as a reference handbook on Elasticsearch though I suspect that there will not be many other books on the topic now that this one has been released by authors who are both with Elasticsearch. As a manual on the way in which information retrieval software works it is very good indeed and any student on a computer science or information science course will find the technical explanations a great deal easier to understand than most of the reference texts on the subject. Business and IT managers should also speed read this book to get an idea of how carefully they will need to specify the functionality of the application.

Martin White

IntraTeam Event 2015 – intranet maturity at last?

It was a case of standing room only at the opening of the IntraTeam Event 2015 on 25 February, with a distinct buzz in the room about the conference that was about to start. The workshops on the previous day were a major contributor to this buzz as it was clear that both the mix and quality were excellent. I attended Ed Dale’s search workshop and made a great many notes trying to capture Ed’s experience of search management at EY and the contributions from the participants. Luckily there is still time for me to add and revise the final text of the 2nd edition of Enterprise Search!

The opening paper was given by James Robinson, resplendent in the new StepTwo corporate identity. His subject was the value of design thinking in intranet development, very well illustrated with examples drawn from the 2014 Intranet Innovation Awards. James has already uploaded his presentation to the StepTwo website. The conference then split into three tracks, and as always I wanted to be in at least two tracks at the same time. At one point during the conference I was sitting listening to an excellent presentation but on looking at the tweets from the adjacent room wished I was there in person. Both Sam Marshall and Sam Driessen blogged many of the papers and  you will find many more tweets and blog posts via the #IEC15 tag so I’m not even going to try to emulate them but take an overall look at IEC15.

The balance of the topics covered was first rate. New to IEC this year was knowledge management, with some thoughtful papers on from David Gurteen and Dave Snowden. To get a sense of Dave Snowden’s approach to KM do watch his short video on options for managing children’s birthday parties. The picture that emerged from the presentations and the discussions was a confidence in the value of intranets to an organisation, a pride in the business impact of what had already been delivered and a clear vision of what still needed to be accomplished. In general I sensed that organisations were being a little more forthcoming with resources for intranet development but still in the dark ages with regard to search. There were very good papers on search this year from Ed Dale, Helen Lippell, Charlie Hull and Andreas Hallgren. As always the conference organisation was excellent. I especially liked the small high tables in the coffee/exhibitors room around which participants could gather to exchange ideas but also easily move on to another group. These tables were also used for a themed breakout session, though I felt very lonely at the search table! SharePoint concerns were often close to the surface, with far too much IT push and very limited understanding of the challenges of migration.

This year, for the first time, the presentations were videoed and will be up on the IntraTeam site in due course. However you only really get the benefit of the event from being there so book out 1-3 March 2016 for IEC16. I, like I suspect all the delegates, emerged into the blue skies of Copenhagen with a renewed sense of commitment to increase the impact of intranets on business operations with an awareness of some of the wider issues of social media adoption, collaboration, digital workplaces and knowledge management.

Martin White



Team management – a choral perspective

It’s a Friday evening and I’ve just come back from my regular workout. Some people run, some play golf and others swim. I conduct a choir, and today was just the most recent of perhaps several thousand choral workouts I’ve undertaken. The parameters are easy to define. I have an hour to ensure that the hymns and anthem for the Sunday service are as good as we can sing them. Although St. Andrew’s, Nuthurst is a small village church in Sussex it has a superb 15 voice choir so the anthems are often quite challenging. As I go through the practice I have to ensure that we cover all the music in a balanced way, so that voices, ears and brains can be rested from time to time and then used at maximum performance. I have to be prepared for the unexpected; perhaps a few bars of an anthem need particular attention even though a few months previously the anthem caused no problems at all. I’m also playing the organ at the same time, not only judging the balance of the organ against the voices but also anticipating how the balance will change on Sunday when the church is full and the acoustic changes significantly.

Over the years I’ve learned many lessons the hard way. The first is to know the music by heart and to have worked out a rough schedule for the practice. I have to know not only the organ music but the individual lines of each of the four voices, and be aware of difficult entries and note sequences (even in hymns) that might need individual practice. The second lesson is to listen all the time. As we sing through an anthem I have to remember all the places where there might be a need for attention so that I can go back to them at the end. I can’t stop every time to make corrections. But in addition I have to sense when a missed entry is perhaps accidental and does not need attention. The third lesson is never to criticise but to work with either the individual or a section or the entire choir on difficult passages. “We were fine up to bar 14 – can we get the same feeling into bars 15-18?”.  Notice the ‘we’. I may be the leader but I too can make mistakes and it’s easier for someone in the choir to highlight the need for me to change the way I play bars 15-18 if the ethos is ‘we’ at all times.

Sunday brings different challenges. We are not there to give a performance. Ideally the choir should be heard and not seen. They stand in the chancel but must never intrude on the eye looking at the altar. We are there as a team to lead another team, the congregation. The way we say the words is just as important as the way we sing. We even practice standing up together, not because we are an army on parade but because we are a team and standing together (not easy I can tell you) is a visible sign of teamwork.

Enough of the metaphors. The point I would like to make is that we all need to practice team work. Every member of the team needs to come prepared, be prepared to learn and to share their experience in working towards a common objective. I’m sure we have all sat in team meetings where the lack of preparation is all too obvious. Many observers of knowledge management have used the role of the orchestral conductor as a metaphor for leadership. This leadership starts with the rehearsal. This is where great orchestras and choirs are created. No one does it better than Sir Simon Rattle. Watch him in rehearsal and see what he accomplishes with an orchestra of school children in just 20 minutes. Note in particular his use of language, and I’m not just referring to him using German. In my opinion in  this video he exhibits every aspect of what it takes to create a team. Listen to the performance at the end. What a transformation!

Martin White

Lloyds Bank intranet – a cautionary story for HR Directors

It is so rare that an intranet gets a mention in the press that a story about the Lloyds Bank intranet in the Business section of the Sunday Times on 15 February immediately caught my attention. It seems that Rupert McNeil, Human Resources Director, invited employees to leave comments on an intranet article that praised the bank. According to the Sunday Times the article praised “a fantastic team” and an “agile workforce” that made staff “more representative of our customers”.  Employee complaints in response (according to Sharecast and the Sunday Times) covered the closure of the final salary pension scheme, morale at a 25-year low, inadequate pay, bureaucratic processes, a lack of support from the top managers and a skewed promotion process! The post in question was published in January. Rupert McNeil joined Lloyds Bank in 2012. According to the Sunday Times he has now left Lloyds Bank but apparently his departure had nothing to do with the intranet article.

Much is made of the benefits of intranets, “social”l or otherwise, in shaping employee culture. My experience is that an intranet is also a very good magnifying glass, highlighting issues with the employee culture. For example where are these issues there are often few, if any, blogs and discussion groups and very little employee-authored content on corporate news channels. Now that Pandora’s Box has been opened at the bank it is going to take some time for the incoming HR Director to sort out the mess. Indeed it may take a while to find a new HR Director under these circumstances. Moreover other potential recruits to the bank are going to think twice about coming on board and you can be certain that recruitment agencies will be picking up on the story today.

You would have thought by now that every HR and Internal Communications manager, not matter what the size of the business, would be aware of the power of social media to empower people who otherwise did not have a channel of communication. I have seen so many intranets where ‘communications’ is a one-way publishing channel with no immediate option for employees to respond to personnel initiatives. I am very grateful to Lloyds Bank for providing a very useful case study.

Martin White

The Digital Renaissance of Work

If you are interested in digital workplaces you might go to Amazon to see what books have been published. Out of 40 titles listed most have nothing to do with digital workplaces as this community sees them. There are two exceptions and both have been written by Paul Miller, the CEO of the Digital Workplace Group (DWG).  I’ve just finished reading The Digital Renaissance of Work, co-authored by Paul and Elizabeth Marsh, Director of Research at DWP. It is really two books joined together as Paul has written the nine chapters in Part I with a strong focus on the philosophy and strategy of digital workplaces. His enthusiasm for the benefits of digital workplace implementation come across very strongly, and the section is full of interesting references to case studies, with over 150 references to blog posts, press releases and reports.

In Part 2 the baton is passed to Elizabeth, who explores in some detail how an organisation can transform itself into a digital workplace. The five substantial chapters cover the digital workplace journey, making the business case, designing for a flexible workforce, setting up the digital workplace programme and finally measuring progress and performance. The chapters are based on the DWG Digital Workplace maturity model and again each chapter has a long list of references and a nice Key Takeaways section that acts as a summary and checklist. There are also some in-elegantly formatted (by Gower Publishing!) call-outs of quotes and comments from DWG staff members. The writing styles of Part 1 and Part 2 are inevitably quite different and that does give a sense of two books joined together rather than co-authored.

There is a great deal to commend about this 216 page book. It is well structured and well written. Paul Miller’s enthusiasm is infectious. The case studies are of interest (though mostly from large organisations) and Part 2 provides frameworks and advice based on the work that DWG has undertaken for its clients. I would like to have seen more on the impact of organisational culture on digital workplace adoption.  The issues of working digitally with suppliers and customers to create integrated digital supply chains are hardly discussed at all.

However this is very much a “DWG book” and there is no reference at all (not even in the list of references at the end of each chapter!) to work from other consultants, notably Jane McConnell. Over 600 organisations have contributed to her Digital Workplace Trends report. It was Bernard of Chartres in the 12th century (and not Isaac Newton) who first remarked about the need to stand on the shoulders of others. We are at a point in digital workplace development where seeing, understanding and critiquing a range of digital workplace frameworks is an essential step in finding robust scalable and extensible approaches to substantial technical, governance and adoption challenges.

Martin White

Intranet Challenges – a new book on intranet management

A new book on intranet management is most welcome, especially from a major publisher like Springer. One of the authors, Stephan Schillerwein is well known in the intranet community from his work at Infocentric (especially on digital workplaces). Daniel Lutolf and Stefanie Meier have internal communications expertise.

There are seven chapters, starting off with a brief introduction to intranets and then a chapter reviewing the history of intranet development, the current situation and an attempt at defining some of the many intranet buzzwords, such as Enterprise 2.0 and Digital Workplace. This chapter suddenly moves in to a discussion about intranet development in Switzerland compared with the rest of the world, a sign of the business interests of the authors. Chapter 3 outlines the phases of a typical intranet launch/rebuild project, with more detail given about each phase in a useful Appendix.

The challenges of change management, organisational culture and adoption are the subject of Chapter 4. Chapter 5, almost a third of the entire 150 page paperback book, looks in detail at a range of intranet functional and content issues, including the value of taxonomies and metadata, personalisation, analytics, news, collaboration and social media. Each individual section is set out in a challenge/solution format with some very brief case studies. Although there are a number of screen shots the quality of their reproduction is not good enough for purpose. The ABB-Intranet Toolfinder screenshot on p64 is just one of many that are virtually un-readable. I would have expected better from Springer.

Good practice in intranet management is the subject of Chapter 6, setting out some approaches to defining roles and responsibilities and the importance of effective governance. This is followed by a very short chapter on the future of intranets.  Each chapter has a list of resources at the end but many seem dated, such a guide to portal management dating from 2005 which even Amazon cannot supply and a comment on intranet usability from Jakob Nielsen dating back to 2007.

There are a lot of good insights and advice in this book, though I’m not quite sure what the readership would be. It seems to be primarily aimed at the internal communications community as it is very light on technology. The case studies are interesting but as I have mentioned the poor quality of reproduction means that the screen shots have little value. Having got this far in the review I should perhaps note that the book is in German which inevitably reduces its value to the wider community, as does the rather curious choice of further reading. Nevertheless there is much of value in the book, especially for smaller organisations in Germany, Switzerland and Austria.

Martin White

The cost of inaccurate information? – possibly £9million of UK taxpayer money in damages

Although there is an agreement that effective information management is important in improving operational performance and reducing organisational risk it is rare to have any documented examples in the public domain. Now two have come along almost together. The first is an analysis of how information management failures were a contributory factor in the Fukushima nuclear disaster in a paper by Andrew Thatcher and Ana Vasconcelos (Information School, University of Sheffield) and David Ellis (Department of Information Studies, Aberystwyth University) and I will comment on this paper in due course. The second is an interesting court case in the High Court regarding a winding-up order being issued by Companies House as the result of the bankruptcy of Taylor and Son Ltd in 2009. However the winding up order was actually issued in the name of Taylor and Sons Ltd, just one letter different. Companies House corrected the error three days after the initial order but by then the credit rating of the Taylor and Sons Ltd was damaged beyond redress. The company, which had 250 employees and 3000 customers, went into liquidation three months later.

The published judgment makes interesting reading as the Judge decided that Registrar at Companies House owed a duty of care when entering a winding up order on the Register to take reasonable care to ensure that the Order is not registered against the wrong company. The claim for damages has yet to be agreed, four years after the demise of a successful family business, but lawyers for the former owner of the business estimate them to be of the order of £9million. In the end the people paying the damages will be UK taxpayers.

The judgement is well worth reading to learn about how Companies House manages its information quality and how the Judge interpreted the law. The problem seems to have arisen from a failure to follow agreed internal information management policies. This decision (especially from the High Court) might well be a precedent for other actions where public organisations have not taken due care to ensure that the information on their records is correct, but I am not a lawyer so that is only a personal opinion. It is only fair to point out that Companies House has a very good record for managing data errors but the Judge commented that the implications of this excellent record were that such errors were easy to avoid and so should not have occurred. My thanks to Charles Oppenheim and Rich Greenhill for bringing this case to my attention through their Tweets.

Martin White


Intranet Design Annual 2015

I’ve spent a lifetime writing books and reports and so have some idea of the effort that goes in to producing a 370 page report that sets out to critically assess 10 intranets. I’m come across far too many people who question whether the Design Annual reflects the best intranets in the world. The Nielsen Norman Group can only judge the intranets that are submitted and the value of these reports is in the behind-the-scenes research into how these intranets have been conceived, planned. implemented and managed. Moreover this report is an Annual, and not an Award. The organisations profiled this year are Accolade (the Netherlands), Adobe (USA), ConocoPhilips (USA), Klick Health (Canada), Saudi Food and Drug Authority, Sprint (USA), Tauron Polska Energia (Poland), Foschini Group (South Africa), UniCredit (Italy) and Verizon Communications (USA).

The report starts off with an analysis of the award winners since 2001 and some of the highlights of this year’s winners. Nine of them used role-based personalisation though the approaches adopted are somewhat different. Responsive design approaches were used by five organisations, with a lot of care being taken to remove irrelevant content. In the case of Verizon (a three-times winner!)  50% of the HR content was removed in the upgrade. At last social features are being integrated into intranets instead of being tacked on as an after-thought, and several of the winners used some elements of an agile development approach. I was pleased to see that much more attention is being given to search implementation, with a good use of facets and filters and a couple of examples of federated search. Adobe, Sprint and Verizon were the only non-SharePoint intranets, with Verizon using a combination of Drupal as a CMS and IBM Watson (!) for search.

Each of the intranet descriptions provides an overview of the intranet, the business case for redevelopment, governance, the design process and usability work, content and content contributors, technology platforms and applications and a final lessons learned review. The 149 screen shots are not only a feature of the text but are available as a high-resolution png file. A most welcome addition to the report this year is a well-prepared index. There is also a useful review of the reasons why other intranets failed to make the final selection.

The report works at two levels. A read-through provides inspiration, because each of the organisations featured went through a long and complex journey to achieve excellence. The second level is the detail provided about each intranet, and this where the index is invaluable in providing a cross-case study entry point into (for example) thirty examples of the use of video. As I now can’t fault the lack of an index I would like to suggest that the technology platforms are listed in the introductory profile, so that as you start reading you are already aware that you are looking at an SP2010 (Unicredit) implementation.

The team of Kara Pernice, Amy Schade and Patty Caya, together with probably most of the NNGroup team, deserve a round of applause for their work on the report. There is a summary on the NNGroup website and an individual licence is $248, which works out at (say) only $20 a profile and $48 for the summary, or around $1 per day of your intranet working year. However you do the maths it is excellent value as a source of inspiration and neat ways of delivering business-critical information to employees. If you think your intranet is better than the selected 10 why not enter it for the 2016 Annual?

Martin White

Content curation – a response to good questions from APQC

Recently Paul Corney and I were asked by APQC to comment on three questions relating to content curation. We have worked together for many years on projects for organisations (many of them law firms) who realise that it is not about ‘content management’ but about ‘information management’ and ‘knowledge management’. Paul gave the closing address to an event on Knowledge & Information Management at Lisboa Business School in December and sparked a friendly but passionate debate when he suggested that you needed an information foundation on which to build the KM structure. In fact he said if you haven’t got the former don’t bother with the latter. Knowledge starts with information and if the information cannot be trusted then building from information to knowledge is building on sand no matter what subject expertise and experience someone may bring to making a business decision. The questions and our collective response are below. Stephen Dale has also commented on the questions, as has Harold Jarche. You should also read Steven’s paper in the December issue of Business Information Review as it sets out a very useful framework for consisting content curation processes and governance.

  1. Our best practices research says great content management systems have content developed around stakeholder needs. Why is this not always the case, and what can companies do to make sure it happens?

Companies rarely understand the importance of information as an asset. So all processes related to content curation are fitted in as a ‘hobby’ around other tasks. This makes the work difficult to prioritise, it may be invisible to a line manager, and when a content author leaves it may not be obvious that this is a role that their replacement needs to take on board. Companies have to adopt good practice in information management and appoint someone at Board level to take responsibility for content creation.

  1. What are the keys to having content that different generations of employees can use and understand?

This is not a sensible question. Content should be readable to anyone with an appropriate command of the language. However they may not always have the knowledge context to understand the value, perhaps because it has been written in a very technical way with far too many acronyms.  Content authors should write for all the potential users of their work, perhaps summarising technical reports for a business audience.

Perhaps more importantly is the need to take into consideration the device through which the content is being initially accessed and how it is going to be shared. Here there are some significant generational differences and where techniques such as gamification have an important role in enhancing value.  Mobile first is the only way to consider content consumption.

  1. A lot of content management systems are filled with content that is no longer relevant or useful. What processes have you seen or used that ensure CMS isn’t cluttered with material of questionable value?

Every item of content should be owned by an employee, not a department. There should be an automatic review of the content after (say) a year, at which time it can be revised, archived or withdrawn as is appropriate. Successive reviews might be either at yearly intervals or gradually at shorter interviews as the content reaches the end of its useful life. This is important work, ensuring that employees can trust the content when taking decisions.

If you have information that does not align with the business and will never be of value in making employees making business decisions that support the development of the company and their own careers then why are you sorting it?  Storage may be cheap but the time taken to work through search results that contain outdated, irrelevant and low quality information to find business-critical information is very expensive. It also takes time to undertake the review process, which leads us back to Q1.

Martin White