Enterprise Search: What You Need to Know

Enterprise search is a method for retrieving data within your company’s systems, thereby helping people find the information they need. Search is essential for helping users to quickly locate exactly what they are looking for, especially as your company and the amount of information you are storing grows.

However, enterprise search is not always well understood by users. Today we want to answer some frequently asked questions and give you a better understanding of how to make enterprise search work for your business.

Looking to implement an enterprise search solution, but not sure where to start? Download our Software Evaluation Checklist for a step-by-step guide on selecting the right technology for your company.

How is enterprise search different from web search?

Enterprise search and web search index content from different sources. Whereas web search makes content on the open web searchable, enterprise search pulls from a company’s private databases, intranet, content management systems, etc.

Enterprise search can also take advantage of the fact that your company controls the sources of data and how they are structured, which helps the search engine serve up better results. For example, enterprise search engines can make use of tags/metadata that have been applied to content.

How does an enterprise search system work?

First, the system needs to know what content is available, which can happen through either a push or pull model. A push model alerts the system in real-time when new or updated content is available. In a pull model, the system performs “crawls” at regular intervals to check for changes to content.

Then, the enterprise search system processes and analyzes the content. Since the content may be in many different formats or documents types (HTML, Word documents, PowerPoints, plain text, etc.), the system has to “read” the various documents and convert the contents into plain text that can be referenced against search queries.

Once the text of the documents has been processed, it is stored in an index. The search engine can use the index for quick lookups, rather than storing or searching the full text and metadata of all the documents.

All of the preceding steps have occurred in the background without user-initiated action. Once a user enters the picture, all of the groundwork has already been laid, and the user can simply type a query in the search box. The system processes this query, compares it to the index, and returns search results that best match the user’s query. Results are typically sorted by relevancy, which is determined by a number of ranking factors. These factors may include similarity to the search query, how content is connected, how often items appear in search results, and which search results users are most likely to click.

What is advanced search?

Single query searches are what most people think of with regards to search, envisioning the simplicity of the Google homepage with a single search box. In this type of search, users type all of their search terms into a single field.

Advanced search, on the other hand, gives users more options and filters. Based on your unique needs, advanced search can be set up with any number of fields, giving users more granular control over search criteria. For example, users could search for documents of a particular file type, written by a certain author, and containing an exact keyword in the title. These advanced refinement capabilities help users to narrow down search results to find desired content faster.

How secure is it?

One concern that many companies have around search engines is the level of security. Businesses have a need to restrict access to certain content and documents, and they don’t want sensitive data to appear in search results for unauthorized users.

To address this need, enterprise search engines take into account user permissions. The permissions for documents are analyzed and applied at one of two stages: either during indexing or at the time of the search query. Checking the permissions at the earlier stage (indexing) is more efficient, but brings the risk that a user’s permissions may change between the time of indexing and querying. On the other hand, checking permissions at the time of the query is more accurate, but is slower and uses more system resources. Your business will need to weigh your priorities and configure settings accordingly.

Example: Enterprise search in SharePoint

There are many different enterprise search solutions on the marketplace, but let’s take a closer look at one common platform: Microsoft SharePoint. SharePoint includes a built-in enterprise search engine and extensive search functionality, as well as people search functionality that allows users to locate specific personnel by name or associated content.

Businesses can further customize and configure out-of-the-box SharePoint search according to their specific needs. As a platform, SharePoint natively supports full text, wildcard, and single query searches. Organizations can add advanced search features by adding whatever custom fields they desire. People search, for example, can be expanded into a fully-fledged expertise management system to help employees find colleagues with specialized areas of expertise.

Admins can also configure the schemas that determine what is included in the search index and how search results are ranked for relevancy. The appearance of search results can also be customized. For example, search results can be configured to show previews of content, which will help users more quickly identify the content they need.

Of course, SharePoint is not the only business technology platform for enterprise search. Our business and technology consultants have extensive experience assisting organizations with enterprise search on a variety of platforms. We can help you select a search solution for your company or customize your existing search software. If you would like to discuss your specific needs with a consultant, reach out today!

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