My role:
As a core team member (out of three individuals), I helped—

  • Evaluate and test the candidate products with users and stakeholders.
  • Develop the business case and oversee project execution.
  • Write the strategy paper and present it to senior leadership and various stakeholders.

This project was lead by our department (Digital Innovation, Strategy and Architecture), with a small core team of 3 people. We collaborated with various knowledge management group across the company to ensure that we were addressing user needs and concerns. For the execution phase, we worked with both internal and external project delivery teams.

The problem

According to multiple sources (McKinsey, IDC [📃 PDF report], Google [📃 PDF report], and others), workers spend about 2 to 3 hours a day looking for information. That translates to about one work day for every week, or five days a month. For a large organization that employs thousands of people, this is a problem.

Based on our own conservative calculations, the cost to a company that employs 5000 people is about USD 80 million a year. This does not take into account the time spent duplicating information that already exists, but was not found.

Average Hours per Worker per Week (Source: IDC)
Create Documents
Analyze Information
Gather information for documents
File and organize documents
Create presentations
Data entry to eforms
Create images
Manage document approval
Publish to Web
Manage document routing
Publish to other channels
Create rich media
0 2 4 6 8 10 12 14 16

Why is this the case?

Organizations produce data at a remarkable rate. Over time, and particularly in the digital age, this information tends to end up scattered across multiple, isolated systems. Without a unified (and up to date) knowledge management strategy, business units take it upon themselves to organize that data in a way that best fits their needs, and on a system that they own. These systems tend to be disconnected, so that a user who only has access to one system has no way of retrieving, or even being aware of the existence of information in another.

A multitude of content repositories and search engines may have made sense some years ago, but in today’s highly connected and collaborative environments, it hinders productivity.

Strategic decisions

First of all, I’d like to emphasize the fact that we were in no way trying to solve all of our Knowledge Management (KM) issues at once. We had no such authority (or expertise—or enough money!), and it would’ve been a tall order for a team as small as ours. Instead, we wanted to begin by solving one, and only one, problem—the existence of a multitude of isolated content repositories and search engines.

It was clear from our discussions with users, and from our own experiences, that having a “single point of search” would, on its own, be an improvement over the existing state of affairs. However, we couldn’t move on with execution based on that alone. We needed a strategy—a vision; a masterplan that would guide the evolution of Search within the organization. Without a strategy, the project risked eventual death.

With that in mind, we began by developing a five-year roadmap for what we termed “Intelligent Search”. The first two years were the most critical, and were therefore more detailed than the remaining three. It was important to set up a solid foundation that could be gradually built upon over the years. Once the strategy was defined and endorsed by various stakeholders, we moved on to the next aspect—technology.

The “right” technology

Rather than speculating on what the ideal technology for our use would be, we decided to invite three of the top search engine technology providers in the industry for a month-long Proof of Concept (POC). The goal was to find out how effective these products would be in our environment, with our people, and so these POCs were set-up using a set of real data. A small group of individuals (including ourselves) from across the organization were provided access for one month, and were encouraged to use these products as their main search engine during that period.

It’s difficult to evaluate anything without a set of criteria defining exactly what it is that needs to be evaluated (What matters to your users? What’s important to the success of your strategy?), and in what manner. We therefore developed a comprehensive list of evaluation criteria before deciding on which technology providers to invite. A simplified copy of this list was provided to the group of testers, allowing them to keep an accurate record of their experience with the products.

Once the testing phase was over and we were done analyzing the data we’d gathered, it was time to make a decision. Which product would make the most strategic, technical, and financial sense? We worked with out collaborating departments to answer this question, and to build our case. Once the business case was ready, we presented it to the leadership team for endorsement.

The outcomes

Digital technologies are complicated. Change is complicated. I can’t say with confidence that this project was an absolute success—there were many hurdles throughout, and we continued to face challenges post-completion. The first phase was up and running, which was great. Our overall strategy, however, was too optimistic; the timeline too short.

Today, the company is on the right path to realizing the team’s vision, albeit at a slightly slower pace, and with a bigger team. Change, as with all good things, takes time.