Special Series: Taming the Intranet Beast, Part 4

Part Four: Get Serious about Intranet Search

In the fourth of a five-part series on Taming the Intranet Beast, senior consultant Denise Eisner asks if search is so important, why are there no resources allocated to it?

Ask a government communications executive what they see as the problem with their Intranet site and invariably the answer is “our search engine doesn’t work.” Colourful variants on that response aside, it’s clear that management understands that search is an important function that users need to find content easily.

Then we ask the web teams and their IT colleagues how many resources they have devoted to search. Answer? None.

That disconnect between acknowledgement of the single most important function on a website and the reality of no resourcing to support it defies logic. So why does this happen?

First of all, search is partly technical. It involves an IT tool. IT largely sees their role with respect to search as infrastructure provider, with little to no maintenance required. Meantime, Communications is not comfortable with new technology that is outside their area of expertise.

Second, search requires understanding of how information should be classified so it can be retrieved. This would be the rightful domain of IM, but sadly not too many departments see it that way. The result is that the metadata is poor or nonexistent and therefore the search results have little meaning.

Third and lastly, search needs constant testing to make sure it is performing as expected. I have yet to see a usability or public opinion research plan that incorporates testing for Intranet search.

So management sees the problem, but no one appears to have the solution? Not quite. Some departments have taken up the cause with vengeance, and rather than wait for the solution to be bestowed upon them, have gone out and procured a decent tool (Google Search Appliance for example), configured it to meet their needs, tested it and then monitored it for performance. Voila: search now works with some degree of predictability. For one department that meant a quasi-full-time resource embedded on the web team, who brought the requisite skills to make it happen. It also meant the full support of management.

Search on an Intranet site can be improved, as long as it’s accepted that resources are required to manage it.

In the fifth and final part of this series, we nominate the contenders for the Intranet dream team.


Denise Eisner is a senior-level web strategist and communications specialist with a passion for creating enhanced user experiences. As a member of the Government Service Excellence practice, Denise’s experience and specializations include web strategy development, information architecture, web analytics (WebTrends and Google Analytics) and web project management. She has led large-scale content audits, developed performance measurement frameworks, and coordinated site updates to meet Treasury Board policies standards and guidelines. Engaged in the evolving spheres of information technology, corporate communications and media for almost two decades, Denise has transformed business objectives into web strategies and information architectures for corporate and government clients in the U.S. and Canada.


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