Monday, February 2, 2009

Desktop Search vs. Enterprise Search: a very different game

I was pleased by my conversation Friday with a knowledge management executive from a large international firm. He considers that desktop search has little to do with enterprise search, which was not how he saw things six months ago. Customers or analysts sometimes ask me why Sinequa doesn’t create a desktop search product, except when we adress very specific customer needs. There are two reasons: one is functional and linked to the usage, to our vision and our value proposition, and the other one is technical. The two work quite well together.

The functional reason is simple, Sinequa is an Enterprise 2.0 specialist. This means that through our enterprise search solution, we deliver individual productivity as well as collective intelligence.

  • I am convinced that the Enterprise 2.0 serves this goal, making sure that anyone in the organisation is efficient and in phase with the rest of the company (what is new and disruptive here is the idea that productivity comes just as much from rich interactions as from organisation schemes and processes, cf. my december 2008 post « Taking advice from the ants »). In other words, collective intelligence comes from better interactions between employees. A prerequisite is that each employee must have access to shared information within the appropriate context. That means access to shared knowledge, according to his/her profile (i.e. a sales person must not have access to the knowledge of the CFO). This knowledge includes but is not limited to: documents, information within applications, employees who could provide valuable advice, or those who are interested in the same topic, or who would be relevant for the user to know of, customers that will be impacted, and so on...
  • An exhaustive enterprise search solution such as Sinequa CS, equipped with all necessary connectors managing security and access rights, providing advanced extraction functionalities and appropriate scalability can offer all this. All that needs to be done is to deploy the indexation on all the applications (CRM, ERP, PLM, HRS,...), the Intranets, the file systems, the mail servers, …

  • Some say that desktop content should be added to that shared content. I think this is highly inapropriate. As a matter of fact, information on the desktop happens to be… personal. Sure it must be easily searchable, but it should not be mixed with enterprise shared information and knowledge. The two applications (desktop search and enterprise search) should be different including the functionalities they offer. If not, you would get the worst of both worlds. One can actually legitimately compare desktop information with real world desktop and office documents: everyone of us organises his/her files according to his/her own needs. I file documents in a way that helps me stay efficient. What is on my desktop or in my drawers is there to help me do my job, and there is no capitalisation or sharing preocupation there. When I capitalise or share, it's from outside of my desktop. It does not mean that things should not be easily accessible and archived on my desktop (of course I need to be able to retrieve quickly from my drawer). But it could be dangerous to mix those contents with the rest of the enterprise content. That could lead to a massive slowdown of individual productivity. Indeed, it is important that when an employee searches something other than his/her own files, he/she searches only on the updated, validated, complete data sources, the ones that are on the shared environment. If the enterprise search always brings back personal desktop results, the employee will tend to go to those first (they are already known, I don't have to read them, just recognise them), and the risk of missing the right information increases.
  • On the contrary, when I search within the shared content of the Enterprise, I search, then navigate, then need to check what I have found,... It's a different mental process from retrieving a file on my hard drive. In the end, mixing both search applications is thefore dangerous and confusing and will also slow down the shift to the Enterprise 2.0. Guess what: employees are more likely to continue to work alone.

I’ll be more concise on the second and technical reason.

  • Desktop and desktop search is a discipline in itself, it happens to fit perfectly in the ergonomy of the desktop; not using too many resources to slow down the desktop. Moreover, I'm already familiar with the documents on my desktop since I am the only one downloading them on my hard drive. As a consequence, I can be satisfied with a very basic keyword search to find a document I already know exists. I do not need to search within context: the date, format, or location on my hard drive are enough to help me remember the context of a document. And desktop search must completely integrate within the operating system. Virtualisation does not change the argument.
  • It is quite interesting to notice that vendors selling a desktop search and an enterprise search solution actually sell two different solutions with no real technical integration. There are no synergies, not even commercially, as most desktop search solutions are free. In that respect, desktop search has a lot to do with World Wide Web search, I'll do a specific post on that...

In conclusion, I recommend Microsoft Windows Desktop Search if you are using Windows (free), or Google Desktop (free). For your Enterprise search solution, it shouldn't be a surprise if I tell you I would pick Sinequa CS. But most of all, I strongly recommend testing the solution in the real environment, to keep in mind the complete deployment scope of the project, and be sure to talk to exisiting customers of enterprise search vendors. By the way, the best enteprise search solution integrates seamlessly with good desktop search products.

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