Context is a key to extracting the most meaning from search. How to you provide context around external search results so that coworkers can share and learn from each other.
In a 2009 AIIM research study** 71% of those surveyed said it was easier to find information on the open internet than to find information within their companies’ own systems.
At first blush that sounds like a stinging indictment of most companies’ inability to manage mission-critical information. To an extent such an indictment is warranted. Think of your own organization: where does information go to hide? Desktops? Behind passwords? Storage boxes? In the heads of your coworkers? It’s not likely that we’re telling you anything you don’t already feel each day when we say that information silos are a chronic problem across the business ecosystem.
Enterprise Software Platforms represent an opportunity to break open many of those silos. Because they allow for the building of multiple collaborative environments within a single, integrated system, the potential is there to dramatically improve an organization’s access to its own information. However, even with this improvement, two significant information management challenges still present themselves:
1. Volume of Information: The sheer amount of information being exchanged in today’s workplace presents a daunting challenge to IT from both capacity and cost perspectives. In some cases, it may be entirely appropriate for that 71% of people who are better able to find information outside of their own company’s systems to, in fact, be outside of them. It’s simply not realistic to think that an internal company system could (or should) aggregate the same volume of information available on the Web.
2. Vetting of External Information: Imagine you face a business challenge and find three pieces of information on the Web that are likely solutions. You try each and find that only one of the three is viable. As your peer, I don’t have any visibility into that external discovery, your attempts, or the outcome. If I then face a similar problem, I can search the internal systems, but if the solution is external, I won’t find it in the company’s environment. I may then do an external search and find the same three pieces of information you came across. But without visibility into your interactions with that information, I’ll have to go through the same vetting steps you did.
Results of the survey we mentioned above indicate that IT teams recognize employees’ difficulty finding information as an indication they need to find ways to replicate the systems available outside the corporate firewall to help meet employees’ information needs.
But what kind of systems should be their goal?
One benefit of Enterprise Software Platforms is that many of them have the potential to incorporate social computing tools to allow for the creation of internal networks between employees. The social network gives employees access to peers as information resources.
But a good information management system should not only incorporate social computing into peer-to-peer interaction with internal information; it should also add a social context around interactions with external information. Think of a social bookmarking site along the lines of Delicious here, only hosted on your internal system and integrated with your internal search.
Creating such a system would allow you to expose, to an internal audience, context that could immediately make external content a valuable addition to internal collaboration and decision-making. Context such as:
- How many people have interacted with the information? A simple counter can give a rough indication of whether the community finds certain content consistently useful.
- Who were the people that interacted with the information? Knowing the name and contact information of those who have bookmarked external information allows for personal follow up.
- What is the information? Tags are critical for categorizing and for effective search.
- What is the application of the information? Include a description field to help employees share the finer details about the information and how it might help their peers.
- What is the relative value of the information? Provide a ranking system (like Reddit.com or Digg.com) that lets the community move links up or down a hierarchy depending on their value and usefulness.
• For Whom is this Information Relevant? Rather than simply allowing tagging related to what the content is, provide a field for indicating for whom the content might be relevant. When those names are inserted, have the system alert those tagged. In this case, the analogy is Facebook’s notice system that alerts you whenever someone tags you in a photo.
It will be interesting to see how IT departments respond to the truths revealed by the AIIM study. Will they choose to build bigger, more robust internal systems in an attempt to keep up with employees’ need for information and yet keep all systems still locked behind the firewall? Or will they determine the best way to enhance their companies’ information management system is to incorporate the world outside into the world inside?
Our directions to our own IT team will be this: Just thinking of ways to manage the information that we own is not enough: think of ways to manage the context around what we use so that the world outside flows into our organization as an endless and useful collaboration resource.
**Collaboration and Enterprise 2.0: Work-meets-play or the Future of Business?” http://www.allyis.com/thinking/Pages/Collaboration-and-Enterprise-20.aspx
Written by Ethan Yarbrough and Ken Efta