Full disclosure before I begin. I have known my colleague Don Miller for almost 13 years. We are SharePoint old-timers and passionate about enterprise search. You might even say we are obsessive about search.
I currently find myself, however, in a philosophical disagreement with my old friend. In Don’s recent blog, The Magical Answer to Making Intranet Search as Awesome as Internet Search, he discusses the importance of metadata. Don’t get me wrong, metadata is a critical component to a successful enterprise search experience. I just think Don is putting the cart before the horse.
The number one reason why people cannot find what they are looking for is not because of a lack of metadata. The reason they cannot find content they are looking for is that they are not connected to the data sources where the information resides. Users are in SharePoint, for example, but the documents they are looking for are in Documentum, or the customer information is in Dynamics, or the product information is in SAP, etc.
Accessing multiple systems to try to find even a single document is a challenge shared across many enterprises. According to IDC’s research [Unlocking the Hidden Value of Information], 61% of information workers access four systems or more to get their work done. 15% need to access 11 or more systems to find what they are looking for.
Having to log into multiple systems is inefficient and a huge organizational productivity drain. The result: end user frustration mounts. And when this happens, bad habits arise.
Information workers start saving copies locally, so the content is not being indexed. Document management and governance functionality is no longer utilized, leading to the use of outdated content and potential compliance violations.
End users might even forgo the use of document management applications all together. In this situation, intellectual property is no longer available to the overall organization. Unavailable IP equals lost business opportunity.
As I have written about in a previous blog, connectors turn a SharePoint/O365-based intranet into the next generation dynamic workplace, an information hub so to speak. Search connectors are the easiest approach for integrating line of business applications into a corporate intranet to make this a reality. The connector approach is cost-effective, low risk, and delivers a unified view of relevant content. No more wasting time logging into multiple systems to get your work done.
The productivity gains are obvious. But, more importantly, you have happy, engaged users that are utilizing your intranet the way they should be. And when you have happy users, you maximize your technology investment.
However, metadata is of limited value if you are not even connected to the content source where the information resides. I mean, how effective would the internet be if it was merely a bunch of siloed sites and you couldn’t just use one browser to search and find information - regardless of which web site the information was in?
So to me, search connectors are a must have versus a nice to have for delivering a successful enterprise search experience. And, after you solve that problem, metadata becomes a must have.