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How to Evaluate Enterprise Search Options

Perform a Proof of Concept

Once you've decided on a winner, it's time to perform a proof of concept (PoC). "The goal is to determine whether the search engine not only does what the vendor has promised, but whether it also does what you need it to do, in the way you need it done, and does so properly in your technical environment," Gillies says.

Typically, you'll load the search software in a test environment, index a small percentage of the documents it will search, and run initial tests to see how it responds, he explains.

Include "a representative mix of document types, sizes, and security profiles" for the search engine to index, Gillies says. Doing so provides the raw data you'll use for the rest of your PoC testing as well as for pilot testing.

After your data repositories have been crawled and indexed, set up the user interface and security modules. It's essential to confirm that the search engine respects the permission walls you've erected around sensitive information. "This should be straightforward to confirm for DMS documents, but if you're including other repositories, particularly accounting information, pay special attention to this issue," Gillies says. "Nothing will sink acceptance of your search engine faster than the discovery that users are suddenly able to access documents that should be hidden from them."

Create a List of 'Dirty Words'

Dealing with sensitive documents (such as confidential memos and performance reviews) is often among the most difficult challenges you'll face on the road to deploying an enterprise search engine, Gillies says.

Companies sometimes discover sensitive content filed in a publicly accessible part of the document management system, according to Gillies. The content was effectively hidden because previous search tools weren't strong enough to surface it. With a powerful, federated search tool, however, you may be helping users find more information than you want to.

Before rolling out the search platform, actively look for sensitive content and ensure it's firewalled from unauthorized users. "One way to find and secure this content is to draw up a list of 'dirty words,'" Gillies says.

Among the phrases he recommends searching for are: promotion, bonus decision, evaluation, resignation, termination letter, direct deposit, and performance review. "Check with your finance and HR departments to find out which terms they would search for," he adds. "Also, seek suggestions from your pilot group, since they may well come up with terms that your implementation team will not have thought of."

Getting More Like Google

By using backlinks, social media, content freshness, data compiled from billions of searches around the world, and hundreds of other signals, Google has continually raised the bar for search engines. Enterprise search engines don't have such luxuries, as they can't typically incorporate such signals as backlinks to deliver the most relevant results.

"It takes coding on the IT side to give someone in HR a different answer to the same query from someone who is an insurance agent in the field," she says.

Nonetheless, over the next few years, enterprise search platforms will strive to become more Google-like by delivering highly personalized, more contextually relevant results. "This is what's really going to be exciting about enterprise search in the future," Owens says.

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