Not so simple search

At the office these days, performing a computer-assisted search for information is nearly as routine as pouring a cup of coffee. As a recent survey found, however, business users are frustrated with the quality of their search capabilities.

According to a survey of 300 companies by Delphi Group, nearly 30 percent of business users spend more than eight hours a week searching for electronic information, and more than 40 percent spend at least seven hours a week hunting for information. About 62 percent of respondents said they are dissatisfied or very dissatisfied with their search experience. "Search" in this case includes Web search tools (such as Google) as well as enterprise search tools that scour company Intranets and other proprietary databases.

Hadley Reynolds, vice president and research director at Delphi Group, says the search tools that business users have often lack the capability to handle the load of information that is collected and published to electronic sources. "If the only tool you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail," he says. "We haven’t been given a lot of choice to help us find out what we want to know. Are these tools adequate, or do we need to look at some other ways of going about it?"

Reynolds says it often helps if users know exactly what information they need. The problems arise, he says, when a user wants to browse and discover something new. Reynolds says search tools need to evolve to the point where they allow users to browse information more effectively and can keep up with real-time changes to the information.

The IT department lies in the middle of the problem. According to the survey, the IT group is three times more likely to head such initiatives as are line-of-business executives. Reynolds says that improving search tools is complicated because different work groups need different types of information. Simply adding a search box to an application isn’t doing the job.

"It has been difficult for IT groups to take on the information architecture challenge," Reynolds says. "Long-term, this could be an area of potential heartache in terms of IT being responsive to business strategy."

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