Every department and government body now has a huge proliferation of data, files and documents stored throughout, and more being ingested daily via email, social media, video, and many more digital data points. The number of applications and programs that create and store that data has grown in equal measure.
Further to this, employees no longer use one single application to create, communicate and store their work, as in times gone by. While these new systems, applications and solutions are each designed to increase efficiency and make life easier for staff, paradoxically they sometimes impact user productivity. With more tools and systems at their disposal, employees may need to consult information from multiple sources in order to complete their tasks.
Whereas in the past a trained and experienced employee would know exactly what to search for in any given situation, they must now know where to look for it as well – across a multitude of applications and systems.
This is not always an easy task, given that agencies often use hundreds or even thousands of applications including content repositories, SharePoint sites, email systems, network shares, intranets, extranets, external consultancy or partner websites, databases, and even legacy systems that still hold valuable data but were perhaps too cost-prohibitive or tricky to migrate.
The complexity of modern government is another factor affecting information retrieval, as users are often dealing with multiple offices across regions or states, and in some cases across time-zones. These systems are often disparate, in the sense that they don’t integrate with one another, and information may appear across an array of content types, data pools and departmental systems. Some of these may have been designed in-house for a specific purpose, and not given to reacting well with ‘foreign’ search platforms asking to retrieve information.
Having to search for information in various places can take considerable time out of the workday and lead to important information remaining hidden in silos, never to be discovered. Besides impacting productivity, this can also create serious delays in situations like litigation, eDiscovery, audits, information requests and breach forensics, as well as reporting back to management and committees. Delayed information gathering and inefficient systems can also impact interactions with the public, and slow down many facets of a smooth-running constituency.
Tying all of those sources and systems together in a way that enables useful information retrieval is a difficult, but critical task.
For this reason, Enterprise Search is becoming an essential ‘uber tool’ for content organisation and discovery. More than just adding yet another layer of applications to the department’s arsenal of tools, enterprise search allows for the organised creation, indexing and retrieval of data – both structured and unstructured – through one simple interface.
There are a number of different versions of enterprise search including local installations, hosted services, and search appliances. Customisation is a major advantage of a local installation, as it allows the department or agency to pick and choose their own services, perhaps integrate them with existing tools and the elements they require for their particular needs. Hosted services takes this a step further, with an external body such as a systems integrator or vendor providing ongoing support for the solution.
A sophisticated enterprise search capability will work through the metadata layer, sorting the large volumes of underlying data into structures that can be easily organised, searched and retrieved.
However, searching across millions of files can produce more results than the user would generally be able to review. For this reason, it is important for the enterprise search application to also provide smart features that make it easier to find the right information.
For example, query-building tools can help users search by phrases, patterns, synonyms and, in more advanced software, even account for misspelled words and terms. ‘Refiners’ make it easy to narrow the results by topic, sources, dates and other contextually-relevant options. Users should also have the power to ‘subscribe’ to certain searches, so that they are alerted when new documents or files are added to that particular category.
Depending on their specific role, many government agencies need to communicate with diverse ethnicities, across a host of languages. This is often a serious stumbling-block when sharing information, and frequently a major point of inefficiency. Therefore, having the ability to search for files across multiple languages is also imperative in an enterprise search tool.
Since the advent of social media and the digitisation of workloads, data sources have become more complex. Multiple file formats, unstructured data in the form of mobile images and different operating systems can all have an impact on the data that a department ingests, which in turn makes the organisation of that data more complex. However, an enterprise search tool ensures that ALL data files are rendered in real-time, regardless of where the data originally came from, or what file format it happens to be.
This brings to account the nature of how that data is ingested, and the manner in which it is prioritised and categorised by the agency or department. Governance of files through an enterprise search tool requires good governance of the data, which in turn will have a positive impact on the user’s ability to find what they are looking for in real-time.
Security is another element of enterprise search that has become crucial. Files must be delivered securely to the user, have a clear, auditable trail of ownership and access rights, and in some cases may require an automated end-of-life plan for secure, final disposal.
A content services platform, built on an Enterprise Content Management (ECM) foundation, will provide the department with the capability of a 360-degree view of files and workflows. Enterprise search extends this capability to the user, ideally in a way that does not impact their daily work-life, but rather allows them to find the files and content they are looking for without having to learn new systems. In other words, simplifying rather than making life more difficult.
Enterprise search cuts through the complex array of systems, storage and data pools, and improves workflows by allowing employees to quickly and easily find mission-critical documents. In essence, it is the antidote to the ‘digital sprawl’ that is so prevalent in the modern world, and a critical tool for the efficient running of a government agency or department, on any level.