One problem I often hear when talking with any organization about new solutions is understanding the cost and inefficiency of their existing way solutions, processes, or general way of doing things. In the past year or two I have used various general measurements around search to help focus the need for improvement not only on search, but the needed information and metadata needed to improve search.
We Can't Find Anything
There is nothing more common that I hear from an organization about their intranet and internal information services than, "We can't find anything." (Some days I swear this is the mantra that must be intoned for an organization to become real.)
There are many reasons and potential solutions for improving the situation. Some of these involve improved search technologies, some improved search interfaces, or But, understanding the cost of this inefficiency is where I find it is valuable to start.
The first step after understanding you have this problem is to measure it, but most organizations don't want to pay for that they are just looking for solutions (we all know how this turns out). The best method I find is walking through the broad understandings of the cost of inefficiencies.
At Interop 2009 I presented "Next Generation Search: Social Bookmarking and Tagging". This presentation started off with a look at the rough numbers behind the cost of search in the enterprise (see the first 16 slides). [I presented a similar presentation at the SharePoint Saturday DC event this past week, but evaluated SharePoint 2010's new social tagging as the analysis focus.]
Most of the numbers come from Google white papers on search, which gets some of their numbers from an IDC white paper. I also have a white paper that was never published and is not public that has slightly more optimistic numbers, based on the percentage of time knowledge workers search (16% rather than the Google stated ~25% of a knowledge workers time is spent searching). There are a few Google white papers, but the Return on Information: adding to your ROI with Google Enterprise Search from 2009 is good (I do not endorse the Google Search Appliance, but am just using the numbers used to state the problem).
I focus on being optimistic and have I yet to run into an organization that claims to live up to the optimistic numbers or total cost of inefficiency.
- Few organization claim they have 80 percent of or better success with employees finding what they need through search
- That is 80 percent success rate
- Or, 1 in 5 searches do not find what is they were seeking
- A sample organization with 500 searches per day has 100 failures
- An average knowledge worker spends 16% of their time searching
- 16% of a 40 hour work week is 1.25 hours spent searching
- 20% (spent with unsuccessful searches) of 1.25 hours a week is 15 minutes of inefficient productivity
- At an average salary of $60,000 per year that leads to $375 per person of inefficient productivity
- Now take that $375 per knowledge worker and multiply it by how many knowledge workers you have in an organization and the costs mount quickly
- An organization with 4,500 knowledge workers is looking at a inefficiency cost of $1,687,500 per year.
- Now keep in mind your knowledge workers are you most efficient at search
- Many organizations as a whole are running at 40% to 70% success rate for search
We Know We Have a Costly Problem
This usually is enough to illustrate there is a problem and gap with spending time resolving. The first step is to set a baseline inside your organization. Examine search patterns, look at existing taxonomies (you have them and use them to some degree, yes?) and work to identify gaps, look at solutions like tagging (folksonomy) to validate the taxonomy and identify gaps (which also gives you the terms that will likely close that gap). But get a good understanding of what you have before you take steps. Also understand the easy solutions are never easy without solid understanding.
Evaluating what, if any taxonomy you have is essential. Understand who is driving the taxonomy development and up keep. Look at how to get what people in the organization are seeking in the words (terms) they use intend to find things (this is often far broader than any taxonomy provides).