Searching for people and for expertise

We have just published our latest Research Note on the issues around searching for people and expertise within an organisation. Being able to find information about other employees and also identifying sources of expertise is of great value to employees and to the organization. However often little attention is paid to this aspect of search implementation. Only rarely at search conferences are there any presentations specifically on this topic. However at the Enterprise Search Summit in New York in May there was an interesting paper from HP about its Enterprise Collective application and it was this paper that provided the catalyst for the Research Note.

In this Research Note some of the linguistic and cultural challenges that arise in providing employee search are outlined, together with a discussion about how to search for expertise without requiring employees to write down what they consider to be their areas of expertise. Even if the corporate language of an organisation is English employees will come from a wide range of different cultural and family backgrounds and this will  make searching for their names quite a considerable challenge. However it is also very easy for an employee to check out the search application using their own name and those of some immediate colleagues. They will rightly be very disappointed in any failure to find one or more of these colleagues.  Volume 6 of the Nielsen Norman Group report on Intranet Usability Guidelines includes a very useful 30 page section on employee directories setting out 20 guidelines, each illustrated with screen shots from a range of organisations. The Research Note ends with a set of eight recommendations, including creating a test collection of names that can be used to assess search performance.

Martin White