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July 23, 2018

Intelligent Search Delivers Big Benefits

Massood Zarrabian

Many companies are making significant investments in digital transformation to modernize their operations. An intelligent intranet — meaning enterprise-wide search incorporating machine learning and AI — is an increasingly important part of this evolution. Many people refer to this approach as “cognitive search,” an increasingly powerful way to address data and knowledge-sharing challenges faced by modern enterprises.

From ERP software to cloud storage and CRM systems, enterprises depend on an ever-larger group of business software solutions to automate functions and improve productivity. But that amalgamation of separate systems can also result in isolated tech stacks and disparate information silos. Although the individual systems improve productivity for specific functions, the lack of integration between them can reduce productivity, cause unintended consequences, and make it harder for employees to find information necessary to do their jobs well.

Smart enterprise search offers a way of unifying data found within both internal and external software systems, providing employees with customized portals to an organization’s aggregated knowledge. Enterprise search brings Google-like functionality to all of the information resources needed for an organization to function, from internal systems like Salesforce and Box to third-party data sources such as Lexis-Nexis and Acxiom. If this kind of search is implemented correctly, and if it uses machine learning and AI to handle the tedious tasks of meta-tagging and category labelling, it can make enterprise search more Internet-like, more personalized and far more useful to team members, providing a variety of benefits across organizations.

Increase Employee Engagement

Many of today’s employees do not work traditional nine-to-five days and 40-hour workweeks. They work remotely — sometimes internationally — which allows them the flexibility to blend their home and work lives and work on their own schedules.

Tools that improve productivity and minimize wasted time empower employees and promote organizational loyalty. Internet-like search functions that provide personalized suggestions based on machine learning capabilities save time by helping users find relevant information quickly. They are also highly flexible, so information and the user interfaces can be tailored to serve employees’ specific needs.

(Macrovector/Shutterstock)

Such functionality in an enterprise search solution can significantly increase the utility of information and therefore the frequency with which employees use it. Because information becomes easier to find, usage of the tools increases — as much as five-fold in certain cases. Simmons and Simmons, for example, is using legal industry-specific add-ons to locate experts in defined areas of law and to assemble specialized teams across the firm’s international offices.

Maximize Team Productivity

According to IDC, 61% of knowledge workers regularly access four or more systems to get the information they need to do their jobs. Close to 15% rely on 11 or more systems. The more complex that collection of applications and systems becomes, the more challenging it is for employees to find, pull together and synthesize the information they need to do their jobs.

IDC also found that more than one-third of a typical knowledge worker’s day is spent looking for and consolidating information spread across a variety of systems. Even more dispiriting, IDC reports that workers only find the information they are looking for 56% of the time.

With unified enterprise search, those problems can be addressed head-on. Single search functionality eliminates the need to switch between different apps and to waste time on tasks such as entering credentials multiple times. More important, consolidating data tools helps corporations streamline business processes. For example, customer service representatives who can tap multiple applications at a time — from shipping information to product data — can more rapidly resolve customer problems.

Reduce Operational Costs

The inefficiencies stemming from poorly designed enterprise search solutions can have an adverse effect on companies’ bottom lines. According to IDC, an average 1,000-employee company without such functionality wastes significant time looking for and consolidating information spread across multiple systems — a total of as much as $2.5 million in lost salary time annually.

A McKinsey Global study found that employees spend nearly 20% of their time looking for internal information or tracking down expert colleagues to help them to get things done. With advanced cognitive search, salespeople’s productivity rises significantly. They can quickly pinpoint internal experts who are able to help them clarify customer requests, without resorting to sending random emails in the hope that the right person responds.

Productivity clearly improves and costs are lowered when less time and fewer resources are needed to collect information. In industries such as legal and healthcare services that deal with massive document volume, the benefits of enterprise search that uses AI, with smart tagging and auto-classification, are particularly significant. International law firm Norton Rose, for example, reportedly saved nearly $700,000 a year by cutting the time spent searching for documents by a third.

Return on Investment

Return-on-investment metrics have been shifting during the past several years. Traditionally, ROI calculations focus on the cost and revenue associated with creating and selling products. Businesses aimed to lower the cost of materials or personnel, or to speed up production or increase sales.

With data emerging as the new enterprise currency, that mindset is changing. Employees’ ability to find and analyze data quickly are more important determinants than ever in an organization’s ability to differentiate its products and services.

Companies need to equip their employees and executives with easy access to the information and tools they need to do their jobs. Period. Cognitive search — one that takes advantage of recent advances in machine learning, is user-friendly, and requires little customization — delivers a much “smarter” solution than did legacy intranets. When data silos fall and information can be easily synthesized across enterprises, employees are empowered and organizations thrive.

About the author: Massood Zarrabian has more than 35 years of experience in software and IT. In addition to BA Insight, he has served as CEO at multiple leading technology companies, including Certeon and OutStart, which was acquired by IBM/Kenexa.

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