Why Can’t You Just Make It Work Like Google?

How many knowledge management and IT professionals have heard this refrain? Why can’t we just use Google (or something like Google) to find documents inside our organization? Why do we need to spend time and money organizing documents and adding indexing or classification or a taxonomy?

The problem lies with a significant difference between web pages on the Internet and internal documents: Google uses links from other websites as recommendations as to what is good content. It uses links plus a number of other things together in its secret algorithm–which gets changed periodically–to help its system figure out which web pages it will automatically surface to the top of the Google search results list, which will have greater weight in the page ranking.

linkagesUnfortunately we don’t do this type of linking with internal documents. We do not typically link (or hyperlink) them, unless they are on the same intranet or portal. The document management systems don’t usually link documents directly together. We aren’t writing new letters with links built in to previous reports, for example.

What to do, then, with search inside the organization, also known as enterprise search?

Last week Ryan McLead over at 3 Geeks and a Law Blog looked at this question in Why You Can’t Find Anything at Work. I have to admit, I chuckled nervously when I read this post. This was the very same question I was thinking about when I was still in the law firm over five years ago. The question then was, why don’t we just drop the Google Search Appliance onto the network and let it just do its thing? What do you mean we will still have to index individual documents? And you want how much for it?!

McLead talks about the “electronification” of the workplace:

Files, documents, memos, and forms were all replaced by their electronic counterparts. Rather than creating everything on paper in triplicate with copies sent to catalogers and archivists, we began to store electronic versions in document management systems, shared network drives, keychain thumb drives, email inboxes, intranets, extranets, collaboration portals, and knowledge bases. We stored at least as many different document formats as we had locations. We had faith in the promise of Google, or their in-house equivalent, to sort it all out later.

He says that, sadly, enterprise search tools still have not met this expectation:

they rely on algorithms which weigh the prevalence and proximity of search words in the indexed content to determine relevant results. This is roughly the equivalent of determining the most powerful family in town by the number of entries in the phone book with the same surname.

What to do? His suggestion is three-fold:

  1. Manage expectations of the users. [i.e. Lower the overly high expectations]
  2. Admit that search alone is not enough to find the right content. It still takes work (i.e. people) to index and archive the content we want to find later.
  3. We need to find a simple equivalent to the web page ranking on the Internet for enterprise search.

So there is our call to action: to find a way to make enterprise search work better. McLead says: “It will probably seem extremely obvious in retrospect and I promise it will make you fabulously wealthy.” I tend to agree.


  1. Presumably the resulting electronic records management system would also be expected to make the organization that uses it prepared for electronic discovery – including ready to implement legal holds, etc. One of the business purposes for which one wants to retrieve one’s documents is to make them legally effective if necessary – as plaintiff, defendant or regulated entity (or maybe as regulator, if one is a public sector body).

    Would compliance with the Canadian General Standards Board’s Standard 72-34 (2005) on Electronic Records as Documentary Evidence help? It requires a policy about records management (electronic and paper) and continuous compliance with it – so the preliminary work that Connie mentions is certainly needed.

  2. John, I don’t know that this would mean creating a records management system per se, but you make some good points that records management must be kept in mind as well as discovery specifically when doing information management or knowledge management planning. And search fits in there.

    I feel a Part 2 of this blog post coming on…stay tuned next week!