Search Still Matters For Businesses

The ability to find and retrieve relevant business information has always been important, whether it is a physical process of manually sifting through filing cabinets or, more commonly now, a machine based process. Locating and retrieving the right information quickly can provide businesses with an advantage, but with the average company doubling the amount of data it creates every two years according to IDC, this information is proving more and more difficult to find.

Furthermore, this information isn’t all stored in one central repository, but in multiple locations both within and outside of the business. Adding to the challenge is the fact that most of this data is unstructured or semi-structured, comprising word processing and spreadsheet files, as well as emails, instant messages and blogs. As a result, traditional document management systems (DMS) are struggling to cope and deliver the right information to the right people at the right time.

Despite this, many organisations continue to rely on their existing DMS or archive, simply because that’s what they’ve been using to store documents and data for years. But, while these systems make it very easy for employees to put things into them – providing staff with peace of mind that they’re going through the actions of saving information they are legally obliged to or that they might need for future reference –actually retrieving this information and making it actionable is very difficult.

This is primarily because these systems don’t usually come with effective search and categorisation technology, so information is poorly or never categorised when it is saved to the DMS or archive in the first place. Making matters worse, keyword search (which most of these systems rely on) by its very nature only works if you know exactly what you’re looking for – if you don’t, you could easily spend half a day looking to no avail. What’s more, with businesses creating and storing more information than ever before, finding this one very specific nugget can often be an impossible task.

Search is also about more than just retrieval. Businesses today operate in a highly regulated environment, where 35 per cent of the digital universe is subject to compliance (according to IDC). Companies without effective categorisation and search technologies are likely to miss highly relevant information in an internal investigation or if they are asked to stump up the facts from an external source. Companies could also find themselves in breach of regulation and unable to identify certain business risks, potentially leaving the company subject to the associated penalties.

Concept search can help mitigate these risks, as well as simply provide employees with ability to quickly find retrieve and make use of the information they need when they need it. This in turn enables businesses to make more informed, accurate and relevant decisions. Concept search technology understands the context of a query and is therefore able to provide the most relevant documents.

For example, if your keyword is ‘Java’, concept search would understand that the word can have multiple meanings – in reference to the island or to the programming language – and only return the appropriate results related to the context of the query. Similarly, the technology recognises that there are multiple ways to express the same concept or query and return all relevant results regardless of whether they contain the original keyword.

In the same way, concept search is better placed than keyword search to bring together multiple sources of information which will enable users to quickly and easily understand each piece of data in context with one another. This can be particularly useful when trying to build an accurate profile of a customer or project.

Failure to do so could result in employees unnecessarily wasting time searching for the information they need, missing business opportunities through failure to identify chances to cross-sell or salvage customer relationships, or breach of compliance by missing relevant information during regulatory investigations. However, it’s unlikely that all this information will be found in the DMS or archive – relevant data will probably be located in multiple locations both within the business, as well as in external directories or on external sites.

Keyword search falls down in this respect as users have to know which information repositories to search in the first place, and also which sort of query is best suited to which repository. If however, all repositories have been indexed with technology that can identify and extract concepts, employees will be able to find the information they need from one simple search.

It’s this contextual understanding of information from multiple locations that enables concept search to support business strategies such as knowledge sharing, expertise location, big data management and risk mitigation. By deploying technology that can identify and extract concepts, employees will reduce the time spent searching for information and can therefore allocate more time to critical tasks. As a result, businesses can alleviate the issues surrounding traditional DMS and provide users with the information they need in a timely and accurate manner.

Nick Patience is Recommind’s director of product marketing and product strategy. He leads a global team tasked with developing marketing strategy across Recommind’s products. Nick joined Recommind from The 451 Group, a technology industry analyst company he co-founded. He started and ran its information management practice and was known as a thought leader in areas such as e-Discovery, enterprise search, text analytics and unstructured data management. Nick has a BA in Philosophy from Middlesex University and an MSc in Computing Science from the University of London.