Searching for People

Posted on August 23, 2011 by in Latest Articles

Your organization has implemented a new search engine and things seem to be running well. Staff are able to search for and find documents that help them get their job done. Employee feedback has been positive, and people are overall quite happy with how the search implementation has turned out. Now that the first phase of your search overhaul has been completed however, what’s next? How about this: look into ways your search engine can be used to improve not only its document findings, but also the finding of human experts who can help provide you with appropriate answers.

At Norconex, we’ve been quite lucky to be able to work with numerous different types of clients, ranging in size from start-ups to Fortune 10 companies. One of the most interesting benefits of working with a wide variety of clients comes from observing problematic behaviour patterns within organizations. This post focuses on one of these patterns: not being able to find who has particular knowledge within your organization. You may not realize it, but the solution to this problem is likely closer than you think.

Who Knows What?

When working on or dealing with a particularly challenging task, people often turn to knowledge area experts for help. Unfortunately, it is often quite difficult for internal resources to know who knows what with regards to specific knowledge areas in their organization. Sure they can ask for help on internal company mailing lists, forums, newsgroups, etc., but more often than not, their plea for help will be sandwiched between the retirement of Mr. Smith email, and the new (old) fax machine policy memo. We’ve often noticed the problem of internal staff not being able to find out who they can turn to for help on a given topic within their company. They can use their corporate search engine to find content relating to the issue they’re dealing with, but a search engine, unlike a human expert, doesn’t always help them understand what is being returned. In relation to this, sometimes the material published on a given subject matter is simply lacking. From our observations, when organizations have problems understanding internal content, they tend to outsource for helpful expertise. Is this because the same expertise couldn’t be found within their organization? In some cases yes, but in many cases no. Employees simply had no reliable way of tracking down who knows what within their organization, so they naturally turned to the outside world for help.

We’ve witnessed many cases where appropriate knowledge and skills could have been found within an organization. The employees looking for this type of help simply couldn’t find it. If they had known this type of help existed within their organization, their issues could have been resolved faster and probably cheaper.

Search to the Rescue

The good news is that you already have the tool needed to help address this costly behavior: your enterprise search engine. What if you could search for people with specific skill sets within your organization, based on the content those people are actually searching for, working with, and contributing towards on a regular basis themselves? With your enterprise search engine, achieving this may be a lot easier than you think.

An enterprise search engine is not only a powerful tool with regards to searching and finding content, but it can also serve as an excellent behaviour modelling and data analysis platform. Your search engine can be customized to keep track of information pertaining to the employees using the search engine, and the employees who have contributed to the content indexed by the search engine. Who regularly reads what on a specific topic? Who routinely helps produce specification documents for our new product components? Who reviewed and signed off on last years’ office supply budget? All of these questions can be answered by capturing user search behaviours, indexing them, and thoroughly analyzing indexed content. By collecting and organizing this information through your search, you can develop your own searchable database of knowledge area experts within your organization. This database would be based on actual work patterns, and would also be automatically and continuously kept up to date. Not only could you find experts, but you could also find colleagues in other departments who are struggling with the same issues as you, therefore helping reduce the duplication of effort.


While thinking about this, keep one thing in mind: given the need, behavioral information may be as valuable, if not more, than the information contained in your digital content. Combine these information areas within your search system, and you will achieve a greater return on your search investment by giving users more advanced capabilities than simple document retrieval. We beg of you – break the mold and start looking at enterprise search “information” as being much more than “documents”.

David serves as Vice-President of Professional Services at Norconex, where he currently leads our team of highly qualified enterprise search specialists. Mr. Gaulin manages projects across North America for clients ranging from law firms to government agencies, helping them select, architect and implement enterprise search solutions tailored to their needs.