‘Searching the Enterprise’ – at last I am not alone!

‘Searching the Enterprise’ – at last I am not alone!

by | Jul 20, 2017 | Digital workplace, Reviews, Search

You may be surprised to know that I am embarrassed to be the author of the only four books so far published on enterprise search when on any other IT topic there are so many titles to choose from. All four books have been written for practitioners, with just enough technology to help readers understand why I take particular approaches to search implementation and management. Actually it is not so much about ‘technology’ as applied mathematics, and in particular the management of probabilities. Behind the search user interface is the world of information retrieval, with hundreds of research papers being published each year. The Special Interest Group on Information Retrieval (SIGIR) is one of the oldest SIGs of the US Association for Computing Machinery, dating back to 1963 and holding the first of 40 Annual Conferences in 1978. A glance at the programme of the 2017 conference is a good way to illustrate the width and depth of research into information retrieval.

For some years I have been trying to bring the related but disconnected worlds of IR and Enterprise Search together, but I lack the background to provide an informed view of the research that has made significant advances in search possible. The challenge is not just to identify the papers in one glorious bibliography but to show both the research and practitioner communities that they have a mutual dependence. This has now been achieved by Professor Udo Kruschwitz (University of Essex) and Charlie Hull (Flax) in Searching the Enterprise, just released by Now Publishing,

The book may only be 140 pages long but the writing is as concise as it is informed. After an Introduction the chapter titles are Plotting the Landscape, Enterprise Search Basics, Evaluation, Making Enterprise Search Work and The Future. The writing moves seamlessly between Udo critically reviewing the literature and Charlie providing case studies and (for example) a summary of the mergers and acquisitions in the search business that is (not surprisingly) totally accurate. However that is a simplification as Charlie understands the IR aspects of search through building open source solutions and Udo’s research interests are very much at the applied end of the spectrum. This grounding in enterprise search practice is nowhere more evident than Figure 2.2 which shows where the information architecture of search requires people to bring it to life and utility. I’m thinking on adding the figure to the back of my business card. As Miles Kehoe has noted recently the importance of a search support team is always overlooked and yet is the critical success factor for enterprise search.

There are of course many books on information retrieval, most recently by Zhai and Massung but Searching the Enterprise is in a class of its own. To get the best from it you do of course need access to the original papers but the adroit use of Google Scholar will find open-access versions of many of them. Even without access the way in which the authors extract the core outcomes of the papers and put them into context is undertaken with such skill that any search manager (even those working in the website search sector) will gain information and wisdom from reading this book.  You will certainly gain a better understanding of how to get the best from probably the most technically sophisticated of enterprise applications, and (in my view) the most business-critical when it comes to making informed decisions.

Martin White