Employees waste a lot of time looking for stuff. It can be hard to quantify, but most of us are aware of this uncomfortable truth. I consider myself a savvy searcher, and I spend hours each week digging around for past research insights, instructions someone shared with me, and old documents I want to update or borrow from. If I multiply my personal time by the number of knowledge workers in a large global organization, the hours add up quickly.
This year, APQC partnered with intelligent search provider Sinequa to survey KM and IT leaders about what’s really going on in terms of enterprise information management and search. You can find the details in our new white paper, Knowledge Isn't Power When You Can't Find It, which lays out the strategic outlook for 2021. But here are a few highlights that resonated with me.
There’s an Urgent Need to Improve Search and Findability
Like many problems that hang around for a long time, mediocre search can become an accepted part of the status quo. But this headache is creating real problems for end users and their employers. Nearly two-thirds of KM and IT leaders say that an inability to find information is a significant drain on employee productivity. Nearly half say it also hurts employee satisfaction, time-to-competency, and the cycle time to complete work and solve problems. Even as organizations strive to be more efficient and agile, many are hamstringing their efforts by making it harder for employees to seek answers, discover reusable knowledge and innovations, and troubleshoot issues.
The chaos of the last year intensified these challenges. More than half the KM and IT leaders we surveyed say that virtual work and large-scale shifts in the business strategy forced them to adjust their KM and information management strategies in 2020. Over 80 percent say their employees relied more on KM and information management tools and solutions in 2020 than in previous years, and 68 percent say that the level of concern about findability increased.
“The workforce is digital first, and they’re more distributed than they have been,” explained Sinequa’s Alana Centro, when we spoke about these changes on a recent APQC podcast. “Knowledge is growing really quickly, which is great, but workers are relying a lot more on these tools to uncover knowledge more than they were before, when they would ask a coworker who sat next to them for answers or help.”
With the shift to virtual work, employees hungrily scoured enterprise systems for updates on rapidly changing policies, processes, and strategies. Knowledge flows that had been “good enough” no longer were. When the digital office is the office, seamless access to the latest and greatest information becomes critical to a happy, productive workforce.
Organizations Are Working on the Findability Problem, But Not Fast Enough
KM and IT leaders are acutely aware of the need to enhance their current information infrastructure—and many are putting their money where their mouth is. More than three-quarters expect to invest more in search and findability over the next 18 months, and 41 percent expect to invest a lot more. And they’re counting on big returns from these investments. The most common goals are to reduce the time employees spend searching and make them happier, but many are also expecting better search to reduce cycle times, improve problem resolution, and speed time to market.
Unfortunately, these ambitious projects will take years to manifest and start delivering value, and user experiences are likely to remain complicated and messy in the interim. Only 28 percent of KM and IT leaders say their organizations currently have search solutions that span across most or all their repositories. A quarter of the survey respondents say their employees still have 5 or more different places to search for information—and some have upwards of 20. I worry that evolving business needs will outpace KM and IT’s capacity to address them, especially if organizations emphasize incremental improvements over more wholesale transformation.
How to Approach the Problem of Findability
For many KM and IT leaders, search and findability are a work in progress. Among organizations that do not have a search tool to span across repositories, 52 percent are currently developing or implementing one. With so many organizations revamping their infrastructure, I asked Alana what she sees as the critical success factors for putting solutions in place efficiently and effectively.
A lot of her advice focused on the design process.
- Pinpoint the business issues you want to target. KM and IT leaders should outline exactly how better search will support business needs—and then keep the project focused on those objectives. “This seems obvious, but it can become really complex given the number of stakeholders involved,” she said. “Make sure you stay focused on the issues that you’re solving for.”
- Take a scalable approach. Don’t box yourself into a point solution only capable of addressing your initial business case. Search and discovery are moving targets, and you’ll probably want to expand scope and capabilities over time. “Find a solution that can actually scale and go in the direction of your business,” Alana recommended.
- Choose a solution you can dedicate the right resources to. “That’s for implementation, but also on an ongoing basis,” Alana said. “A lot of technologies market themselves in a way that suggests you just flip it on and it will do the work for you—but that’s not the reality in a lot of cases.” Make sure you’re aware of the resources required to design, deploy, manage, tweak, and expand the system and secure a commitment before proceeding.
Alana and I ended our conversation talking about the right people to guide search projects. A strategic view across the organization is vital, she said. “When you’re implementing an intelligent search solution, it needs to be able to connect to systems that lie across multiple different departments.” This involves understanding the underlying technologies, but also the needs of different teams. Someone needs to communicate the business perspective to the implementation team while ensuring business stakeholders get how proposed capabilities fit into existing strategies, systems, and workflows.
Strategic KM programs are critical to getting search right because they have a broad view and the ability to translate between geeks and end-user groups. They also approach the problem with the right goals in mind. KM knows it must “strike a balance between delivering value to the business—making sure the company can grow and be efficient—and thinking about satisfaction,” Alana said. This sweet spot between user experience and organizational value drives the development of tools that both solve problems and encourage employee engagement and learning.
In short, the time to fix search is now, and KM should play a leading role.
Learn more in APQC's Trends in Information Management and Search collection.