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In Focus: Why Search Trumps Management

You've no doubt heard the estimate that 80 percent of information in the enterprise is unstructured. But have you also heard that only 5 to 10 percent of that unstructured information is managed?

You've no doubt heard the estimate that 80 percent of information in the enterprise is unstructured. But have you also heard that only 5 to 10 percent of that unstructured information is managed? Executives from three different companies—Microsoft, Verity and EMC—have cited this approximate ratio, and it came to mind recently when a friend of mine—someone involved in IT—quipped, "if I can download Google Desktop and search my e-mails and everything on my hard drive, why do I need management?"

Okay, so my friend develops software that doesn't connect to back-end systems, nor is he responsible for controlling documents, records or Web sites across his company. Like many knowledge workers who collaborate with colleagues and business partners, my friend's whole focus is on "access." In fact, the typical enterprise with 1,000 employees wastes as much as $6 million a year searching for information or re-creating information that can't be found, according to research firm IDC. That's why search gets so much attention.

When I reminded my friend that management is about user and group access control, check-in/check-out, versioning and tracking, he replied "oh, that," as if to say it's something he's vaguely aware of but never encounters. That's not surprising if only five to 10 percent of content is managed. At a software company, for example, it's the product documentation that's well controlled. At a drug company, it's the FDA submissions, research and test results. But even in the case of so-called "fixed content," such as loan applications or signature cards at a bank or bills and statements at a telco or utility company, you can forget about library services. Users don't create new versions of permanent records, they simply need to find them, read them and, perhaps, fax or e-mail copies to customers.

I'm not suggesting that a good search engine can handle nine-tenths of the corporate need. After all, half the reason users spend so much time looking for information is that they aren't well managed. Organizations could do a lot with network-level security and file sharing, but they generally don't. So we end up with multiple copies of documents, e-mail messages and, worst of all, documents attached to e-mail. End users sit there opening version after version looking for the right one.

Perhaps lightweight collaborative document management systems such as Microsoft SharePoint, IBM Workplace Documents and Oracle Collaboration Suite will democratize document management in the years ahead. But for now, the grassroots tools for information sharing and access are e-mail and, increasingly, downloadable desktop search tools.

Additional Resources:

a. Low-Cost Document Management: When 'Lite' is Right
http://www.transformmag.com/showArticle.jhtml?articleID=22101082

b. Into Thin Air
http://www.transformmag.com/showArticle.jhtml?articleID=23904776

c. Yahoo! Desktop Search Beta
http://desktop.yahoo.com

d. Google Desktop
http://desktop.google.com

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