There are so many books about computers that it seems almost inconceivable that there is any topic that has not already been covered by any number of books. Last year I decided to write a book on Enterprise Search because there was no other book on the subject. The inevitable question is whether there is no book because no one is interested in the subject or that no one has had the bravery to try. You have to be brave to be an author because very few books will ever generate the royalties to justify the time spent. Authors write books for many reasons, and in the case of Michael Sampson he felt strongly that the benefits of exploiting IBM Connections were being overlooked. My own recent experience with clients using Connections is that they are probably only using a fraction of the functionality of the application.
Doing Business with IBM Connections is a 400 page trade paperback book priced at $39 plus postage. It starts out on p17 with some background on IBM Connections but by p47 the author moved on to eleven chapters which each describe how Connections can be used in a wide range of scenarios. As Michael remarks at the beginning of the book, his intent is to start with the scenario and explore where the technology makes a difference and not starting (like most books on SharePoint) with the technology and then searching for a way to use it. The first three chapters cover co-authoring documents, managing meetings, and holding discussions. Chapter 6 is somewhat different as it describes how to set up a Profile in Connections, a process essential to understanding the second set of scenarios.
The second set of scenarios cover distributing team and organisational updates, capturing ideas for innovation, running a project, sharing learning and best practice, making decisions and finding expertise. Chapter 13 outlines how an individual can ensure they do not think in terms of individual scenarios but gain from understanding how all the scenarios come together in a coherent framework. The book concludes with a chapter that sets out a further 67 scenarios and finally a generic action plan that an organisation can tailor to its specific requirements.
400 pages of text on IBM Connections could easily become overwhelming but Michael has used a concept from his book Seamless Teamwork in which a fictional company (in this case Albreto) is used throughout the book to ground it in reality. Many of the screen shots come from an instance of Connections built around Albreto by Phase 2. In addition there are a number of detailed case studies. Michael also weaves in good practice about everything from running meetings to preparing documents.
This is a book about how to gain business advantage from Connections and not just a technical manual. In organisations that also use SharePoint it may well cause questions to be asked about whether the effort would be better spent on Connections than on SharePoint for many of the scenarios set out in this book. It could be argued that this book is one that IBM should have written but it would not have had the independence of thought that comes from an author who knows the product in great detail and so can see both the value and the implementation challenges.
The very broad scope, the authority and clarity of the writing and the way in which the book is structured and illustrated are all exemplary. Probably the highest praise I can give this book is that it is very readable, and that is superb achievement for a book about a complex and powerful software application. This book is without doubt the definitive guide to getting the best from IBM Connections and is likely to retain that status for many years.
I’ve talked to a lot of search managers over the last few years and they are without exception people working with limited resources trying to make a substantial difference to search quality both on web sites and internal repositories. Search is such a broad topic that keeping up to date with developments is not easy, especially for people new to search implementation. Although there are at least 30 blogs on search-related subjects most of these are from vendors and of course take a particular view on a topic. The major exception is the Beyond Search website and related monitoring services from Stephen Arnold and his team but these invaluable services primarily track developments in the search and content business and in technology.
Search Log is a new monthly newsletter in PDF format written specifically for search managers, with a strong focus on implementation and management issues. The June issue is a pilot to gain comments from readers about the content and style of the newsletter. The plan is for this newsletter to be part of an information service for search managers which is now in the final stages of development. Depending on the reaction to the newsletter details of the initial service offering will be released in early July.
One of the aims of the newsletter is to try to bridge the gap between the enterprise search community and the information retrieval research community, and there is an item in the June issue about some of the work being undertaken in the IBM Laboratories in Haifa. Other items will include “website search-of-the-month”, in which I will be looking at both good and less-good website search implementations, book, report and conference reviews and analysis of search implementation trends, developments, good practices and challenges.
We have just published our latest Research Note on the issues around searching for people and expertise within an organisation. Being able to find information about other employees and also identifying sources of expertise is of great value to employees and to the organization. However often little attention is paid to this aspect of search implementation. Only rarely at search conferences are there any presentations specifically on this topic. However at the Enterprise Search Summit in New York in May there was an interesting paper from HP about its Enterprise Collective application and it was this paper that provided the catalyst for the Research Note.
In this Research Note some of the linguistic and cultural challenges that arise in providing employee search are outlined, together with a discussion about how to search for expertise without requiring employees to write down what they consider to be their areas of expertise. Even if the corporate language of an organisation is English employees will come from a wide range of different cultural and family backgrounds and this will make searching for their names quite a considerable challenge. However it is also very easy for an employee to check out the search application using their own name and those of some immediate colleagues. They will rightly be very disappointed in any failure to find one or more of these colleagues. Volume 6 of the Nielsen Norman Group report on Intranet Usability Guidelines includes a very useful 30 page section on employee directories setting out 20 guidelines, each illustrated with screen shots from a range of organisations. The Research Note ends with a set of eight recommendations, including creating a test collection of names that can be used to assess search performance.
Asking questions is easy. Asking the right questions, listening to the replies, thinking about the next question and yet keeping the overall flow and structure of the interview is far from easy and yet is an essential element of most user research projects. Interviewing Users is a new book authored by Steve Portigal and published by Rosenfeld Media. It is a comprehensive, readable and inspiring guide to the entire process of user research interviews. There are nine chapters in the 160pp book. The author starts off with emphasising the importance of interviewing users, sets out a framework for interviewing and then outlines the work that needs to be undertaken before the first interview is undertaken.
Chapter 4 is entitled ‘More Than Just Asking Questions’ and describes a range of complementary approaches to the formal interview, such as using maps, story boards and wireframes. Chapter 5 is the core of the book, and describes seven stages of the interview process from ‘Crossing the Threshold’ via ‘The Tipping Point’ through to ‘The Soft Close’. Chapter 6 takes 20 pages to describe how best to ask questions and then Chapter 7 provides advice on documenting the interview. The final two chapters cover trouble shooting and special situations, and how to make an impact with the results of the interviews. Throughout the book there are case stories, call-outs with tips on good practice and sample documents that will be needed during the interview process.
As with all Rosenfeld Media books the quality of design and production is very high, though I found the orange text of the call-outs a little difficult to read. Steve Portigal has been undertaking user research for well over a decade and the list of conference papers on his website is a testimony to his reputation in this area. He clearly is not only very good at asking the right questions but also communicating his experience and advice in book format. The only aspect of interviewing that is missing is how to work with users that do not have the same mother tongue as the interviewer. This is a problem I come across frequently with international projects and makes all aspects of planning, conducting and documenting the interview even more of a challenge.
If you are undertaking user interviews with little or no previous experience or support this book is essential reading and will give you all the advice and confidence that you are ever going to need. Even you regularly conduct user interviews then this book will undoubtedly add to your expertise and probably challenge some of your well-honed approaches. Finally managers about to commission a user interview project would also be well advised to read the book as it will give a very good indication of the issues that the organisation needs to address in specifying and then supporting a user interview programme.
For some time now I have been advocating the use of a risk-based approach to making a case for investment in intranets and search. Organisations have to declare business risks (for example in Section 1A of an SEC 10K filing) and I have had some success making investment cases that could reduce the risk scores. In a presentation to the Enterprise Search Summit last month I argued that important though a search strategy might be it would only have a lasting value and impact is incorporated into an information management strategy. Based on a show of hands very few attendees had either a search strategy or an information management strategy based on an information life cycle model.
Over the last few years there has been a growing interest in information risk management. The main focus of information risk is on making sure that information is held securely, and is invariably based on ISO Standard 27001. As a result the requirements tend to be around breaches of security that lead to information that is vital to business operations not being available because it has been lost, has been stolen or has just strayed. There is an excellent report from PwC, sponsored by Iron Mountain, which provides a good introduction to information risk management strategies.
However there is a fourth scenario in which the information is there all the time but that for various reasons (such as a poor search implementation) it cannot be found, and de facto it is lost. In the PwC report there is a list of seven causes of information loss but search failure is not listed.
There is no doubt that information risk is on the Board agenda, helped by companies with an interest in information security management (Iron Mountain and Symantec being just two examples). Perhaps now is the time to talk to the managers responsible for assessing and reporting information risk and highlighting the scale of the problems that a lack of investment in intranets and search could be causing the organisation. I’m still recovering from a paper at the Search Summit in which one global business mentioned that 25% of the zero-success queries listed in the search logs were the result of IT and HR repositories not being crawled and indexed. That is a lot of ‘lost’ information.
It is easy to fall into the trap of thinking that good practice in intranet design is now well established, but in reality intranet managers move on, the objectives of the organisation change and in particular changes in technology come along, often driven by a corporate IT policy that fails to appreciate the complexities of intranet development and support. At the same time good practice itself changes, which is why I dislike the term ‘best practice’. Budget pressures often mean that intranet managers suddenly find themselves with the opportunity at short notice to re-develop the intranet. The question then is where to start? Remember that even the migration of a current intranet to SharePoint will be a complex project to design and manage!
For many years now the starting point for many organisations was the Intranet Roadmap published by James Robertson and his colleagues at StepTwo Designs. A second edition of the Intranet Roadmap has now been released which again is a combination of a wall chart and a 70pp booklet. As I walk around open-plan office spaces it is easy to see where the intranet team is located because the wall chart will be a prominent feature!
The new edition covers project activities relating to strategy development, design, content, change and communications and technology. The wall chart lists the key activities required in each of the project streams. It also highlights which activities (such as usability testing, affinity diagramming, personas and collaborative design) can be used to support individual activities. The supporting booklet provides an overview of every activity and technique listed on the Intranet Roadmap, as well as linking to further resources and information. A novel feature of the wall-chart and the booklet are QR codes for each of the five work streams that link to purchaser-only resource pages which provide a gateway into the 300+ articles published by Step Two Designs. In this respect the booklet acts as a portal to all the guidance that has been published by the company over the last decade.
The clarity of the writing in the booklet is outstanding. Not a word is wasted and you get a real sense of the depth of practical experience that lies behind the wall-chart and the booklet, much of it gained from the Intranet Innovation Awards. The price of the wall-chart and booklet is $120 plus post and packing.
The second Findwise Findability Day took place in Stockholm on 30 May. The first event in 2012 attracted an audience of 80 but this year around 200 people sat down to listen to a day of excellent presentations. This year I was invited to open the event, and set out what I see as some of the important developments in search technology and its applications over the next 2-3 years. I can’t comment on my own presentation but there were some outstanding presentations in the course of the day. Ravi Mynampaty described the development journey of the web sites at the Harvard Business School over the last five years. He emphasised the importance of a careful review of search analytics in making decisions about user interface design and search functionality. In my view HBS are probably the leaders in web site usability and site search among US universities, and Ravi outlined the projects that were being planned for the next five years that should keep HBS in that position. Another stunning presentation came from Johan Johansson (Municipality of Norrkoping) who managed to educate and entertain the audience in equal measure. In the parallel sessions I listened to Martin Ölhléen setting out in detail the search journey that SKF has been on over the last few years and then outlining the approach the company has taken to the development of mobile applications.
Other speakers included Christian Finstad (Meltwater) on media tracking, Krisitian Norling giving a summary of the Findwise Findability Survey for 2013 and a very good condensed presentation of SharePoint 2013 search from Troels Walsted Hansen (Microsoft). DJ Skillman (Splunk) talked about the big data technology that the company had developed and finally came a presentation from Google entitled Building the Star Trek Computer. Sadly it took the presenter 7 minutes to get his computer to work, something that Captain James T. Kirk would not have been impressed by.
Overall this was a very enjoyable event, very well organised and with good networking opportunities. With both this event and the support of the Findability survey Findwise is making a major contribution to raising the importance of search in business and communicating good practice in implementation and management.
A key element of my consulting practice is running workshops. They are a very good way of marketing my services and also enable me to gain first-hand experience of how intranets and search are being implemented and used in organisations. No matter how well a workshop is planned in advance it is very difficult to cover all the topics that delegates have come to the workshop to explore. At the Enterprise Search Summit in New York this week I ran a three-hour workshop on how to develop an enterprise search strategy that attracted nearly 30 delegates. Luckily I knew this in advance and was able to plan accordingly.
I started the session off with four 20 minute sessions that covered
- How to align a search strategy to a business strategy
- How search should be governed, managed and financed
- How search performance should be measured
- What challenges, risks and opportunities are likely to arise in the next 12-18 months.
I encouraged everyone to move to a different table for each round of discussions and this meant that by the coffee break all the delegates had met each other and could continue discussions during the following two days of the Summit. In addition I have set up a Basecamp site for the workshop so that I can post resources that the group can download, both from my current collection and new resources that may emerge over the next six months. In addition the delegates can continue to discuss issues with the group as a whole or with one or more individual delegates without the need to manage the discussions through email exchanges. As one delegate commented, the discussion was just starting to get really interesting at lunch as the threads of the four topics came together in a final synthesis session. I would totally agree, and that can be the frustration of a really active workshop. I plan to keep the Basecamp site up to the end of 2013.
The next time you attend a workshop you may want to check how you will be able continue the discussions after the event. That’s likely to be when the full value of the workshop will emerge.
No sooner had Enterprise Search Europe finished than I was on a plane to New York for the Enterprise Search Summit, another Information Today production. With over 50 speakers and more than 20 exhibitors (including HP Autonomy) the event was on a much larger scale than the London version, even more so because there was a concurrent Big Data Bootcamp. It was probably the Boot Camp that attracted both HP and SAP to be in the exhibition area but it may have divided the audience as there were papers on Big Data in both events.
Despite the difference in size the themes in New York were very similar to those in London, in particular the pros and cons of SharePoint 2013. Jeff Fried (BA Insight) ran an excellent workshop on this topic and there were several papers in the main conference, all of which sparked some lively discussions in and between sessions. There were some very good search implementations papers, including Ed Dale and Theresa Simek (Ernst and Young), Ben Johnson (Deloitte), Barbara Peters and Leslie Connors (Pfizer) and April Lewis (Oak Ridge National Laboratory).
I was especially interested in a short session on how to locate staff expertise. Kas Kasravi presented a very interesting account of how HP has approached the problem and Jeff Fried talked about a number of different approaches that have been tried over the years. The HP solution is certainly elegant but to me it fails to address the problem of how long it can take for staff new to HP to be highlighted by the application.
Sadly one of the underlying themes of the event was the lack of resources to support search development. The 2013 Findwise Findability survey, presented by Helge Legernes, again highlighted the fact that the majority of organisations struggle to appoint even one person full time to search support even though all the evidence in the survey points to an increasing gap between increasing volumes of business-critical information and a decrease in the ability of employees to find this information.
The two conferences provided me with a wealth of good case stories (often shared quietly over a coffee!) and many new friends. My next stop is the Findwise Findability Day in Stockholm on 30 May.
We have not worked through all the delegate assessment forms but the general reaction was that Enterprise Search Europe 2013 was the best yet. Six months of planning paid off to the extent that we finished the two day conference one minute early after nearly 30 presentations. To me as Conference Chair the most rewarding outcome was the buzz in the room as delegates networked together to share ideas and experiences with each other and with the vendors sponsoring the event.
It is not possible to summarise the conference in a single blog post. If you were not a delegate among the highlights you missed were
- A keynote from Ed Dale (Ernst and Young) that showed just what could be done when an organisation invests in search technology and a search team of seven.
- A stimulating discussion on open source search chaired by Charlie Hull.
- Kristian Norling presenting the results of the Findwise findability survey and Karen Pernice setting out the core elements of search usability based on research carried out by the Nielsen Norman Group.
- A very lively session on whether Big Data and enterprise search would converge, a subject addressed with passion and insight earlier in the conference by Stephen Arnold
- Inspiring papers from Joe Lamantia (Oracle) and Tyler Tate (Twigkit) on how to understand the process and outcomes of search.
- Insights into the benefits and challenges in using SharePoint 2013 search in a workshop led by Raytion and then presentations from Matt Willsmore (Search Technologies) and Agnes Molnar.
- A very thoughtful concluding synthesis from Lynda Moulton about what she had heard and learned during the conference, with suggestions for the programme for 2014
I’m writing this from New York ahead of the Enterprise Search Summit that starts on 20 May. It will be interesting to see the extent of the commonality of the challenges experienced by search managers in Europe and North America. What will certainly be common will be that delegates going back to their organisations will have a wealth of ideas about how to ensure that content prepared over many years by a significant number of employees is not invisible to those that need it to support the objectives of the organisation. What you can’t find could well make the difference between success and failure.