Adam Gartenberg's Blog

Business Analytics and Optimization, IBM and Social Marketing

Study: Most info searches are useless

Here's a report I'm sure you'll be hearing a lot about from my Lotus and Portal colleagues in the coming year:  

In a survey of 1,000 middle managers at large companies in the U.S. and U.K., Accenture found that managers spend as long as two hours a day searching for information and more than half of the data they find has no value to them.

Of course, this isn't the first time someone's uncovered data like this.  Chances are, you've been hearing statistics like this from my Lotus and Portal colleagues going back 10+ years.

One of the things I've found about living in the IM-centered culture that IBM now has, is that often I get pinged for information that should be readily available should someone have done a quick search.  And I know I'm guilty of it, too (although I try to be conscious of it, and there are plenty of times where I've opened a chat message and then thought better of hitting send before doing a quick Google Desktop or intranet search.)

What I think would make for a really interesting study would be to measure the tradeoff between a time-consuming (and apparently ineffective) search you might do yourself, compared to asking someone else the question directly (and potentially making them do the same search that you should have done yourself).  

The majority of the "Hey, do you know..." questions I get over Sametime I can answer immediately off the top of my head.  Good or bad, much of the time I simply respond by sending over a URL to the Sametime page on our internal sales portal, which in a perfect world would be the place people would look first before IMing me (or anyone else), since 90% of the time the answer they want is readily available there.  But even then there is a cost - my time, and more to the point the interruption factor as I stop what I was doing, answer the question, and then try to get back into my previous task.  

It's a tradeoff of let's say at least 5 minutes of my time to save someone else doing what might have been 30-60 min on their end.  So, yes, it's my time.  But in my role, at least, it's usually to my benefit to help the people asking me questions (since usually I get questions from people trying to close a Sametime sale).  And in the grand scheme of things, there are plenty of times where I'm the one imposing my questions on someone else.  So maybe my time spent helping others is balanced out, and IBM comes out the winner with all of us spending less time doing unnecessary searches.  We all "volunteer" 30 min. a day answering questions, and in return we get back the 2 hours a day that we would have spent searching for the answers to our own questions ourselves.

Of course, a better answer would be effective deployments of search, knowledge management, and team collaboration solutions that would make the right information easier to find.  But even then there are situations where human intervention would help.  I'm guessing a large part of the problem revealed by the Accenture study is not that the answers aren't out there, but that people don't know how to properly search for data.  There's a reason universities have been awarding master's degrees in library science for years now.  And so I might be able to find you information in 2 minutes that would take you an hour to find, either because I've done the search before, or because I have a better idea of where to search first, or just because I'm better at structuring searches in general.  

The question then becomes what else can technology do to bridge this gap - is there a way of getting my personal search "expertise" without actually requiring me to do the search.  I've started using - and really hope more of my colleagues start doing the same real soon - our internal "Dogear" beta deployment (think for the enterprise).  And where I think this really becomes game-changing is when people don't just use Dogear, but also use the Sametime 7.5 plugin for Dogear, which allows them to see the public links I've posted when they click on my name in their IM client.  So, in theory, before double-clicking on my name to send me that "Hey, do you know where I can find information on click-to-call in Sametime," they might see the link I've bookmarked titled "One Stop Shopping for Click to Call Materials" and check there first.  

No doubt, this is something that will continue to evolve - hopefully in the direction of more answers (and correct answers) found in less time and with less human intervention required.