Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Enterprise Search - Find Cost of not Finding Information

Before starting on any new initiative on enterprise search, first thing you need is commitment from the top executive. The executive would want to know the benefits of the initiatives from returns and value perspective before signing of checks for the project. From consulting perspective, project sponsors wants to know Return on Investment (ROI) before committing on the new assignments to the consultant.

The question I was asked so many times is "What is ROI of Enterprise Search Implementation?". Everyone understands importance of Internet search from brand awareness, web marketing and e-commerce stand point. The executives are ready to sponsor on the Internet search based on traffic they are getting on the website. But how about intranet, is there any reason why anyone would spent hundreds of thousands of dollars for employee search? Does it make sense even to spend that much of money for searching within the organization assets for information that an employee could get by asking various functional teams? But still core issues remains, is there a way to calculate your returns on investment in finite dollars figures? Are there any standard benchmarks against which I can measure the success of implementing Enterprise Search? Besides I think needs for enterprise search varies from organization to organization and individual to individual. No two employees within same or different organizations will have same search needs. Then how will I measure quantitatively the returns on investments for an organization? What do I do as a executive or sponsor? Do assessment on returns or start the initiative!

If you ask me, I would first rename the phrase 'ROI' to 'finding cost of not finding information' as step one. It makes me more comfortable as I am trying to calculating returns from problem perspective rather solution side, to be able to justify myself from both stand points - quantitatively and qualitatively. Second step would be list of research facts about search usage, average time spent by employees, time spent to recreate an asset etc. from all the research companies. It gives key numbers to justify your claims, secondly no one questions their claims as these are well accepted figures. The third step would be list of all major organization roles/titles who use search in their daily routine for getting the job done, along with information about what they search for and why. The fourth steps is to detail the impact of their search on their work routine from efficiency and quality perspective, if they are not able to find information they asked for because of ineffective search technology. Once you get to that level, you would realize either significance or redundancy of enterprise search with the organization. It is very important to identify the core problems first and then challenge it.

Lets list down the relevant research facts;
- Knowledge workers spend from 15% to 35% (average 25%) of their time searching for information.
- Knowledge workers spend 10-15% of their time in duplicating existing information
- Searchers are successful in finding what they seek 50% of the time or less
- 40% of corporate users reported that they can not find the information they need to do their jobs on their intranets.
- Every employee in a company produces more than 800 megabytes of digital information every year
- Not locating and retrieving information has an opportunity cost of more than $$ annually based on industry size.
- Call center costs and volumes have been decreased by 30% and more when better search and browsing tools were implemented.

There are more research results based on statistical data. But one thing is clear. What we can not do is, measure the increase in creativity and original thinking that might be unleashed if knowledge workers had more time to think and were not frustrated with not finding information. The wrong and delayed decisions are caused by lack of right information to the right people at the right time. For their daily routine work, they not only need to have access to the right information, but only when they need it.

Now get the list of roles that need to access to the enterprise search for right information to get their work done.
- Marketing needs access to all the product and service collateral that have been prepared for specific customers
- Sales needs access to all the product and service collateral, the new/old/lost opportunities of sales, contact information of prospective clients and reports of existing accounts
- Program managers need to access all project related information including deliverable, status and baseline documents
- Project managers need to access all the project methodology documents including processes, standards, guidelines, and templates
- Project team members need to access all the code and design documents that been created as part of past projects.
- All employees need to access organizational news, assets, HR policy documents, employee search and new/existing employee benefits.
- Help desk need to access all the past issues and resolution database to be able to answer call effectively

We can keep adding lists of roles and responsible titles who use search to find information to get their daily routine work done. Now what if they do not find the right information at right time, how it will impact their quality and productivity. How much time would they spend extra in getting to the right information or rewriting the information they could have search.

For example,
- If the marketing manager has to recreate the product collateral that has already been created for another client. If he spends a week doing same work all over again because he could find the information or he was not aware of work done in the past.
- or if project team member spend months rewriting the code that was already done for another client because the code was not searchable
- or if project manager compromises on the quality of the project and spend thousands of extra dollars because he was not aware of existence of process documentation including guidelines and templates

The cost of not providing effective, efficient and reliable search often results in delayed decision, quality of work and missed opportunity which does not get classified in right bucket. The reasons of failure are often targeted at individual who are responsible for executing the work rather than attributing the reasons of these failure to ineffective, inefficient and unreliable enterprise search. That is the main reason for difficulty in finding ROI of enterprise search.

One thing for sure, organizations cannot afford to ignore the enterprise search today. The cost of not finding information is simply too high.

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