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Enterprise search for the masses

When people need to search the Internet they turn to Google, Bing, Yandex or Baidu, depending on their location. But what if the ‘location’ is the company intranet, where these tools are not available? Everyone who works in an office knows that it can be a real headache to locate that particular document or email. Should we abandon all hope and simply stock up on paracetamols? Not at all! The way forward is enterprise search.

This article discusses issues related to intranet search and the benefits of enterprise search, and explains the advantages of using IntelliSearch ESP compared to the well-known and highly respected Elasticsearch.

Issues with intranet searches

The first thing that comes to mind when looking for internal company documents is to go to http://intranet.company.com/, find a search box and enter a query. However, there are a few issues with this approach:

  1. The intranet site is usually implemented using SharePoint, Confluence or similar software. Therefore the search will be performed in this specific system only. To search another system, it is necessary to go to the other system and perform the search again. And again and again, for every system in the company. Sometimes the target system doesn’t have a user-friendly search functionality, sometimes we forget about a system that should be searched, and sometimes we are not even be aware that a particular system exists.
  2. More often than not, the search capability is treated by vendors of intranet software as a bonus feature rather than a core functionality. This means that the search functionality is very limited. It may be that only pages but not attached documents are searched, and support for various file types may vary from system to system.
  3. Usually several people are responsible for the search functionality across the company. This means duplicated efforts and higher support costs.
  4. The result is that employees are unable to search effectively, wasting valuable time in their daily work.

The benefits of enterprise search

Enterprise search addresses these challenges by unifying search across all systems. Here are the key benefits of having a single search solution in your company:

  1. Users can type their query in one search box and get the most relevant result from all systems, including Exchange (e-mail), SharePoint, file shares, source code repositories, CRM systems, case management systems, task management systems, web pages, databases and cloud storage.
  2. Users get the same experience for all the source systems. Searching file shares is no different from searching an SQL database.
  3. All search functions, such as different kinds of fuzzy searches, are available for every system. Examples include stemming, lemmatization, numeric searches, accented characters normalization and compound word decomposition.
  4. A powerful user interface, which enables users to fine-tune their search using categories or dates, is available out of the box.
  5. Security infrastructure support, which ensures that users get access only to the documents that they should have access to.
  6. Support for various file types, from Office files through PDF files and OCR-ed documents to custom file formats.
  7. Ability to fine-tune relevancy depending on multiple factors such as categories or click history.

Different types of enterprise search

As a developer you might think that all these things can be implemented using e.g. Elasticsearch and a bit of custom development. Strictly speaking every solution can be implemented from scratch, but implementing common functionality over and over again is usually not the best use of time and money. For this reason, it is recommended to select a software that addresses the most common needs and fine-tune the aspects that are specific to your company.

There are numerous providers of enterprise search solutions on the market. It should be noted however that they differ significantly in regards to how ready they are to be deployed in a company environment. Some tools style themselves as enterprise search solutions but are in fact more like a developer tool that could be used to implement such a solution. Other tools, like IntelliSearch Enterprise Search Platform, are complete solutions that are ready to be installed out of the box. This does not mean that implementing a companywide search solution is an easy task that can be done by anyone overnight, but it is usually not necessary to start the process by coding basic functionality.

On the other hand, IntelliSearch ESP is not a one-size-fits-all type of solution. It can be customized on multiple levels: from custom crawlers and connectors through item processors, filters, indexing and search plugins, security plugins, category and search result processors to customizations of a component based search interface. The implementation may require writing a custom system connector or integrating the search interface with the existing intranet site – but in nearly all cases it means added value for end users without any coding.

About IntelliSearch ESP

The development of IntelliSearch ESP is supported by services delivered by Making Waves for IntelliSearch Software AS, an Oslo based company specializing in enterprise search solutions for both the private and public sectors.

In subsequent articles, I will shed more light on how developers can customize IntelliSearch ESP to fit a company’s particular needs.

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