“Building a Business Case for Enterprise Search – the Role of the CIO” By Martin White – Intranet Focus Ltd


Information is a business-critical asset

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Over the last two decades I’ve walked through the doors of a very wide range of organisations to start work on enhancing the performance of an enterprise search application. Although that might be the working title of the project the reality is somewhat different. In almost every case the enterprise search team knew what actions to take but lacked the resources (people and technology) to do so. In effect my role is to persuade the CIO of the importance of enterprise search.

Almost without exception the question I am asked is what the return on investment will be if the search team is expanded (it is always too small!) or the decision is made to upgrade or replace the existing application. I can understand why the question about RoI is being asked but have to explain to the CIO that RoI is not a sensible approach to assessing the business case for search investment.

This is especially the case at the present time. The Covid-19 pandemic will have a significant impact on business strategy and operations for the foreseeable future. Organisations have to be able to respond quickly and authoritatively to new challenges and to new opportunities, doing so with employees working primarily from home and facing severe restrictions on meeting together and travelling between office locations. Although they can be networked together with video and social technologies they also need to be networked to the information assets of the organisation. These information assets are not just internal documents but also specialized external information services providing intelligence on changes in markets and the activities of customers and competitors.

Delivering information across the enterprise

In the enterprise employees write documents primarily for their colleagues and immediate managers. They rarely have a wider enough picture of the operations and interests of the enterprise to be able to alert others to what they have written. It is not just documents that contain information of value but also a wide range of enterprise applications.

The primary challenge for all employees is being able to find the information they need as a matter of urgency without knowing in which repository or application it is stored.

This is where enterprise search becomes business-critical. The low adoption of enterprise search is largely because the CIO finds it difficult to make a business case. In the past there was a tendency to focus on ‘productivity’ as the business case but that is very difficult to measure. At the present time the best way to justify an investment in a scalable and extensible enterprise search application is to show the Board the way in which effective access to internal and external information can make a measurable reduction in business risk.

Define who should own Enterprise Search

To make this case the CIO needs to work closely with line-of-business managers across the enterprise. All of them face a common problem in making effective use of information assets but do not have a common management platform to bring these to the attention of each other and the CIO, and then up to the Board for approval. Invariably they cannot define with certainty what the employees they are responsible for need in terms of information, so there is an urgent requirement to listen to and collate these requirements. In organisations which have highly mature enterprise search applications there will always be a search support team that is constantly assessing these needs and working with the CIO, business managers, experienced search users and the search application vendor to make the best possible use of the Technology. In making the business case the CIO also needs to take on full responsibility for information quality.

Balancing opportunity and risk

In this report I have set out the core characteristics of enterprise search applications and the way in which a business case can be made. Across many different types of organisations and business sectors I have found that using a risk-based business case can be very effective as it immediately aligns the enterprise search strategy with the business strategy. In my experience a significant improvement in the levels of search application satisfaction can be achieved in just three months of coordinated action across the organisation led by the CIO.

Not only will this programme of action make a significant short term impact it will also provide the evidence needed to invest in enterprise search technology to ensure that the organisation is positioned to take advantage of the opportunities that are now emerging whilst minimizing the business risk of taking decisions without having effective access to information.

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About the Author


Martin White has gained an international reputation over the last twenty years for his understanding of how to manage the information assets of organisations, ranging from the United Nations and the World Bank to some of the world’s leading pharmaceutical companies. Many of his clients have been multinational organisations with complex information management and information discovery challenges. Since founding Intranet Focus Ltd in 1999, he has worked on over 100 search-related projects. He is the author of eight books on information management, including Making Search Work in 2008 and the second edition of Enterprise Search in 2015. A book on Managing the Enterprise Search Experience is scheduled for publication in 2021.

Martin has been a Visiting Professor at the Information School, University of Sheffield,
since 2002, specialising in information management and information retrieval. He has
been a member of the Editorial Board of the International Journal of Information Management since 1997 and serves on the Committee of the Information Retrieval Specialist Group of the British Computer Society. Martin is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Chemistry, a Fellow of the British Computer Society and a Member of the Association for Computing Machinery (USA).


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Enterprise Search in the Digital Workplace

easy-enterprise-searchThis article originally appeared on the APQC blog.

Any knowledge-intensive organization of significant size either has a digital workplace or is scrambling to establish one. As Gartner so clearly stated back in 2017, the goal of the digital workplace as a business strategy is to boost employee engagement and agility through a more “consumerized” work environment. Employees should be empowered and motivated to get the information they need and then act on it to further the goals of the organization. The tools and resources provided to employees should seem familiar—like those used outside of work — in order to drive adoption and maximize ongoing productivity.

Building the Foundation

Gartner’s “building block” diagram illustrates the components necessary to enable and sustain an effective digital workplace. Note the “Information” building block, described as data and content being delivered in context. As organizations continue to pursue initiatives around digitization and digital transformation, they often create new challenges for their employees to overcome. Many of these challenges emanate from content and data that is accumulating quickly and constantly across siloed repositories in different formats and languages. For employees, navigating this complexity means wasted time, missed insights, and lost opportunities. The answer to this problem is enterprise search.

Gartner's Building Blocks of The Digital Workplace

Collaboration that Scales

A modern enterprise search platform includes a combination of capabilities that work together to provide information from enterprise content and data. It provides information relevance that is tuned to user needs and can improve through self-learning over time. It can scale in multiple directions, enabling many end-users to simultaneously access relevant information and insights from huge, diverse volumes of content and data. Modern search provides speedy response times, even in the most complex and demanding environments where time is literally money. The user experience can be easily configured to accommodate specialty use cases. Analytics are automated wherever possible, allowing the machine to do analysis while users apply judgment and make decisions.

Driving Business Value

Depending on the environment and application of enterprise search, the business impact can take on different forms. In some cases, enterprise search can drive revenue.  This has been proven in large pharma companies that are able to bring new drugs to market faster and in manufacturing and service organizations that can generate more proposals without sacrificing quality. In other cases, enterprise search drives cost optimization, accelerated productivity, and responsive compliance.


What companies need now is a practical means of connecting the dots to tap the potential value of all the content and data that resides across enterprise systems.  Doing so will address all kinds of business challenges, including those that were unforeseen in the implementation of each individual system.  Intelligent search platforms such as Sinequa can enable organizations to rise to these challenges and help transform the way professionals, businesses, and industries interact and operate in the digital world.


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Sinequa Featured in IDC Technology Spotlight Dedicated to Manufacturing Organizations


Constrained by manual processes and lost productivity, AI-powered search platforms are critical for manufacturers to streamline production and decision support.

We are proud to announce that we’ve been featured in a new IDC Technology Spotlight report: Digital Transformation of Manufacturing Through Intelligent Search. The report, written by Jeffrey Hojlo, program director, Product Innovation Strategies and Hayley Sutherland, senior research analyst, AI Software Platforms highlights the importance of how intelligent search — the combination of artificial intelligence, machine learning, big data analytics, and enterprise search — can optimize a manufacturer’s Industry 4.0 strategy.

According to the report and a recent IDC study, knowledge workers in the manufacturing industry remain constrained by manual processes. On average, knowledge workers waste up to 18 hours per week searching for, combining, and reformatting information. This time usage creates the general impression of inefficiency and brands the overall experience of information access as discouraging. Further, the manufacturing company’s yield might be injured, and important business conclusions could be drawn using inadequate information.

“Manufacturers should look for tools like Sinequa’s that are contextually aware and semantically savvy, able to analyze and categorize info from across the organization to deliver the most relevant insights”

With the demand for AI technologies that enable intelligent analytics increasing every year, IDC estimates that enterprise data from things like IoT devices, smart devices, email, metadata and other sources created annually is expected to grow exponentially.

“Sinequa’s platform allows manufacturing companies to streamline procedures and create operational efficiencies that alleviate the major challenges highlighted in this report,” said Scott Parker, director of product marketing at Sinequa. “By offering a broad AI-powered platform including search, content analytics, semantic understanding and auto categorization technologies, Sinequa provides relevant details to users when they need it, while supporting a range of machine learning algorithms and capabilities that improve findability and relevance.”

Harnessing the power of intelligent search, “manufacturing organizations see faster time to decision, better business decisions, and increased employee productivity as the most common benefits,” said Sutherland. “To achieve this, manufacturers should look for tools like Sinequa’s that are contextually aware and semantically savvy, able to analyze and categorize info from across the organization to deliver the most relevant insights.”

Download a complimentary copy of the IDC Technology Spotlight report: Digital Transformation of Manufacturing Through Intelligent Search.

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Les Misérables and the Digital Workplace

When Optimizing Data Access Shows Soft and Hard ROI

When Optimizing Data Access Shows Soft and Hard ROIs

Les Misérables? Ring a bell?

Of course! This is a famous book by Victor Hugo, and the story is amazing! But what does it have to do with the digital workplace? Let me focus on a specific quotation and comment on similarities with the digital workplace.  It occurs in the chapter where Jean Valjean and Cosette are residing in a house with a garden.  In that part, Victor Hugo explores the multiple dimensions of nature.  What caught my attention is the following question: “Where the telescope ends, the microscope begins.  Which of the two has a grander view?”  The quotation resonated in my mind as it evokes similarities with the digital workplace, particularly in reference to data access.  For large and diverse content, having relevant and timely information is critical to companies.  There are different methods to query the data and the kind of ROI that can be expected varies by orders of magnitude.

The telescope – see far into the universe

What does it mean for the digital workplace? This means breaking internal data silos and opening up global information to your entire organization (any information shared by all, such as policies, procedures, HR information, compliance, etc.).  Having a digital workplace that includes an enterprise search layer that connects people to corporate content is therefore critical.  Every employee can see beyond its reach and access data spread over a wide range of different repositories.  This data is made available to everyone and everyone stays informed.

Such use of enterprise search does not bring a high degree of business specificity.  This is typically a Google-like experience with a simplified interface that is used indifferently by marketing, sales, engineering, or accounting people – any employee.  Working across business units to address multiple audiences (a horizontal approach) – its value can be uncovered by helping a large number of employees to find information; the ROI (Return on Investment) is based on an overall improvement of the company’s productivity.  According to McKinsey, employees spend close to two hours per day search for information.  In addition to increased productivity, such employee empowerment also has positive impacts on a company’s culture and employees’ wellbeing.  This is what we call a soft ROI.  A soft ROI is not easy to measure and rely on in a business case.  Benefits are referred to as indirect.  Having said that, some dollars savings can be estimated through productivity gains.  The main assumptions include the number of employees,  the average salary, and the percentage of working time saved thanks to a simple information finder.  A summary of an ROI that was calculated for a company comprising of 30,000 employees can be seen below.

ROI of Search for Digital Workplace

Assumptions were made regarding user adoption ramp-up schedules, with a greater number of users and a higher efficiency over time.  The ROI in this example is close to 13 million dollars over 3 years.

The microscope – explore what is next to you

How would this translate for the digital workplace? This ability would indeed be very helpful to assist intensive-knowledge workers in their daily tasks.  The term “knowledge worker” was first coined by Peter Drucker who defined knowledge workers as high-level workers who use advanced data collection techniques, statistics, complex correlations, case studies, and a lot more.  Data is key in helping them to perform their jobs.  And guess what? Enterprise search technology can also help in such a context.

As opposed to the simple Google-like experience, the objective here is to design a “Search-based application” customized with business-specific knowledge.  The value resides in the ability to follow a targeted business function along the key phases of its work.  Only enterprise search can index and aggregate very diverse data coming from both structured and unstructured content in order to extract the nuggets of information and provide a unified view on a specific topic (product, customer, company…)  For example, for a bank advisor, it is critical to aggregate internal data such as payments, information from the CRM, transaction history as well as external data, such as market analysis and news, to recommend the most relevant products to a customer.  The ROI is no longer related to a high number of people but to clear business-process improvements.  To do so, we target a precise group of knowledge workers on a designated use case in a specific vertical, a tryptic of “industry, use case, persona.”

Let’s take the example of clinical trials with a large pharmaceutical company.  Clinical trials are research studies that are aimed at evaluating a new drug.  They are the vehicles for evaluating a new drug.  They are the primary way that researchers find out if a new treatment is safe and effective.  In that case, the tryptic mentioned previously would then be “pharmaceutical, clinical trials, researchers.”  A specific “Search-based application” has been designed to dive into clinical data dispersed across millions of files and multiple systems and applications, surfacing insights to support the evaluation of new drugs.  The enterprise search technology had increased speed to market for new drugs.  Knowing that in the pharma industry, the average cost of new drug development is $1.0 billion, any slight improvement in the global process immediately gives better margins leading to bottom-line improvement.  This is what we call a hard ROI.  This type of ROI refers to clear measures that can be quantified in hard dollars.  To give you a flavor of the way the above pharmaceutical company calculated the ROI, you’ll find below some of the assumptions that were made (for your information, clinical trials include 3 main phases):

  • 10% to 14% of all drugs that make it to phase 1 succeed
  • 31% of all drugs that make it to phase 2 succeed
  • 50% of all drugs that make it to phase 3 succeed
  • 32% of drugs make it to phase 3
  • Average trial costs- phase 1: $170m; phase 2: $400m; phase 3: $530m
  • The cost of a trial is between $800m and $1.8b
  • The cost of patient/site recruitment averages $40k per patient/site

Locating key data and deriving insights is a key success factor for researchers.  The “Search-based application” has increased efficiency, shaving months off drug development timeline.  According to this large pharmaceutical corporation, the ROI realized is 25 million dollars per drug.

So, which has the grander view- the telescope or the microscope?

Both reveal worlds that are normally hidden from view.  For the digital workplace and data access, you require them both.  Accessing the right information at the right time is becoming ever more complex, and there are many factors with the potential to make it even more complicated.  Either for corporate content or business-specific data, enterprise search can help with both dimensions.  The ability to retrieve a company’s data assets and provide actionable insights in order to make informed decisions is indeed vital for business efficiency.  By applying methods and technologies, you can be sure that “Even the darkest of night will end and the sun will rise.” Another quote from Les Misérables.

Digital Workplace telescope vs microscope

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Working Effectively while Working Remotely with Enterprise Search

COVID-19 Work From Home

The working world is experiencing an unprecedented spike in remote work. “We’re being forced into the world’s largest work-from-home experiment and, so far, it hasn’t been easy for a lot of organizations to implement,” says Saikat Chatterjee, Senior Director, Advisory at Gartner. “In a recent webinar snap poll, 91% of attending HR leaders indicated that they have implemented ‘work from home’ arrangements since the outbreak, but the biggest challenge stems from the lack of technology infrastructure and lack of comfort with new ways of working.”

At the center of these challenges are employees not having a consistent and reliable way to reach the information they need to be well-informed. In some organizations, this is happening quickly and even starting to threaten business continuity, especially as more employees begin to rely on the digital workplace to be productive.

Enterprise Search in the Digital Workplace

Any knowledge-intensive organization of significant size probably has a digital workplace that includes what could be referred to as enterprise search (even if they don’t call it that). Maybe they downloaded an open-source kit that provides employees with a rudimentary way to query across sources using keywords. Or maybe they’ve chosen the ecosystem of a large technology company like Microsoft, Google, or IBM, which tend to exclude content and data stored outside of the ecosystem.  Now, faced with a sudden surge in the importance of quickly accessing essential information, regardless of its source or format, companies are realizing that these solutions fall short.

Regardless of the initial path chosen, there are some fundamental requirements that must be seriously considered to maximize the value of an enterprise search investment. These requirements include the following:

  • All enterprise content and data across time, locations, and languages must be securely available for employees to access without the need for risky data migration projects
  • Data security and access control must be rigorously enforced by default
  • Relevance and information accuracy are a must for users to do their work properly and swiftly. This requires different types of linguistic analysis, preferably provided out-of-the-box to save time in implementing enterprise search.
  • Classification-by-example powered by machine learning algorithms must also be available out-of-the-box for scenarios where a rules-based approach does not suffice
  • The user interface must be flexible and agile to support solutions for multiple use cases across the organization

These capabilities provide significant benefits for employees in the digital workplace in several different ways. Let’s take a look at some of the key benefits.

Employee Productivity

Having a robust enterprise search solution in place allows employees to quickly find the document, content, and information they are looking for, rather than spending time trying to contact other employees and disturb everyone’s workflow. This enables people to save crucial time, which can be channeled into more productive work.

Knowledge Sharing

According to data collected prior to the current spike in remote work, Fortune 500 companies were already losing roughly $31.5 billion a year by failing to share knowledge. Much of this “hidden” knowledge could be extremely useful in providing new hires with information that is not widely known by other employees within the organization.  Making sure this knowledge is explicit and findable lays a foundation for a much more efficient workforce.

Enterprise search enables organizations to surface the know-how and experience of senior managers so that the knowledge of the organization does not remain hidden when the employee leaves.  With an enterprise search solution in place, your current or future employees can easily access this information and continue doing their work with ease.

Information Access

It’s difficult to know with any certainty how much productive time employees are leaving on the table just because they cannot find the desired information or content they are looking for.  According to a benchmarking survey done by the folks over at IntraTeam, users within only 25% of organizations surveyed are satisfied with the internal search functionality.  And that was before everyone was suddenly displaced from their offices and forced to use online tools for the majority of their work.

Having a robust digital workplace structure in place means easy access to information. Enterprise search in the digital workplace provides a central place to look for all files, documents, presentations, spreadsheets, weblinks, and other rich media. This makes it extremely easy for team members, irrespective of their location to access information from any device quickly.

Competitive Advantage

Consistently well-informed employees can also provide better service to customers and offer better turnaround times. Since they are saving a lot of time, they can focus on the things that really matter and contribute to the business’s success more effectively.


The old phrase “Make hay while the sun shines” reminds us to make the most of our opportunities while we have the chance. In the current world health climate, with travel restrictions becoming more prevalent and events being canceled or postponed, now might be the ideal time for organizations to invest in tools and technology that directly drive operational efficiency. The positive impacts in terms of business continuity, cost savings, and employee empowerment can be enormous.


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