Training employees in the effective use of enterprise search Part 1 – Name search

My TSN colleague Charlie Hull (Open Source Connections) has compiled a very helpful list of training resources and courses for members of a search team. I would like to focus on the training of employees. The seminal research paper by Paul Cleverley, Simon Burnett and Laura Muir showed that the three factors that affect employee search satisfaction are technology functionality, content quality and the availability of training. All three have to be addressed in a corporate search strategy.

The major challenge to overcome when setting up search training for employees is the contention by managers that search is intuitive. If only! There is absolutely no benefit in trying to deliver a basic-level guide to search. The training has to be provided within the context of the roles and responsibilities of employees and their knowledge of the organisation. The exception is searching for other employees by name or role. There are more searches undertaken for employee information than any other search topic, perhaps accounting for 40-50% of all searches.

Searching for people by name is very challenging because of the many country-specific formats of names, and of course the way in which given names can be truncated or replaced by a nickname. The potential variations are well presented on the Rosette web site of Babel Street, following its acquisition from Basis Tech earlier this year.

The extent to which all these variations are supported by an enterprise search application varies widely. The initial step is to list out the variations that are supported, together with workarounds (where possible) for others. Wild cards for letters can be useful (to distinguish between Catherine and Katherine, for example) but there can often be limitations, such as (unhelpfully!) not being able to use wild card symbols at the beginning of a name.

Employees should be encouraged to search for their own name using (if appropriate) a number of different spellings. Many of the name search issues are related to names that are pronounced the same but are spelt differently. Will [Martin White] find Martyn Whyte? They will also be able to check on the information that another employee will find about them, which can be an interesting experience.

Advice on where the search application can, and cannot, deliver effective name search functionality should then be added to the intranet. In addition the search team should be using social media applications to remind employees where they can find the advice on how to get the best from name search. Given the number of searches for people each year, each of which is likely to be important and urgent at the time, even this limited about of training will result in a significant improvement in search satisfaction.


Martin White Principal Analyst  17 March 2023