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The great information hunt

Four reasons why your company is potentially losing thousands of dollars every week: a look at the importance of information to productivity.

As part of our recent ‘smarter not harder’ campaign, we’ve produced a downloadable guide that illustrates lessons learned from working with some of New Zealand’s most innovative and productive organisations.

The inability to find relevant information is something we often come across when designing systems for clients. As you would expect, there are some common themes. Often the root cause will be a combination of:

  • Search results - Too many versions of the same document
  • Too many systems – No central source of the truth
  • No metadata – No details about the information stored 
  • Navigation – No clear signposts to the correct information 

Computer says ‘no’

British comedy show Little Britain has a sketch where a customer care worker is searching for information on her computer. After repeated failed attempts to find it, she delivers the famous catchphrase, “Computer says no.”

The startling reality is that more often than not, the computer does say ‘no’ to users looking for information. How much does this cost your organisation? Thousands? Possibly millions?

A simple equation can provide an answer:

[A] 50% of the Average Salary at your organisation x [B] Number of employees = Potential Non-Productive Cost 

This equation is based on the fact that staff spend 50% of their working hours searching for, duplicating or gathering information.

So, let’s look at some of the ways to improve this.

Search is poor… the system must be poor

I would guess that 50% of us use search as the primary tool for finding information. So, many users will conclude that if a system’s search tool is poor, the entire system must also be.

I’ve lost count of the number of systems I’ve used where the search functionality is truly dreadful. If I have to use a site and I can’t find what I need, this results in a call to a service desk of some kind, costing the company money. If I really don’t have to use the service, well then I won’t!

In a world where Google is a verb, we now expect search on every site to be as good as Google. Yet sadly we are often disappointed when we do not get close to this.

The good news is that most search tools can be configured easily to provide user friendly results.

Food for thought: How well does your application / website’s search really perform for users?

You need to look on the other system

“Well of course you won’t find it on there, it’s not on there, it’s on the other system.”

So went the conversation I once had with a client’s IT service desk technician. He was unequivocal in his reasoning that I should go looking for things on this other system (that I had no idea existed!)

Sadly, this attitude is all too common. And even though information may sometimes have to be spread across multiple systems, there’s a lot we can do to help users find it. 

For a start, efforts should be made to ensure information is stored on a single platform. If users have to logon to a system with multiple user names and passwords to find information, not only will they be reluctant to do so, it will normally mean the information is non-searchable.

With tools like SharePoint enabling search from multiple sources, you can offer users a far better experience when looking for specific information across multiple systems.

Food for thought: What different systems do your users currently have to go to find the information they need?

It’s all in the name

Picture the scenario. You are dashing off to your next meeting, but before you head out the door, you quickly upload the just completed, and finely named, “W85675 Prod Update 210115” to the company system.

One slight problem. When your colleagues try to find this document, they won’t know what your abbreviations, codes or date conventions mean.

By dumb luck, however, your colleague does find the document and makes some changes. And so “W85675 Prod Update 210115v2 becomes alive.

And so the vicious cycle begins.

Executives alone can waste up to six weeks a year looking for lost documents, and it’s estimated that (on average) up to 18 instances of the same document can exist at any one time.

All of this means that

-       Information can become out of date very quickly

-       Multiple versions of the same document exist with no version control

We often hear the phrase “we don’t know which copy to use”. However, with the application of some simple metadata (information about information), users can ascertain which document to use with minimal effort.

Food for thought: What methods do you currently use to distinguish correct documents?    

Follow the signs

As part of a multi-billion dollar refurbishment completed in 2013, London’s Gatwick Airport spent over $3 million on improving signage throughout the airport. The primary reason for this was the penalties they were forced to pay to the airlines when passengers could not find their departure gates.

We can learn a lot from this when helping users navigate through the tools and systems we provide.     

The biggest frustration for users is that they know the information they need is there … somewhere … but they cannot find it. 

By creating clear and simple ‘signposts’ we can guide our users to this information, trouble free. Simple techniques such as minimising the amount of text on a page and creating logical groupings are often ignored.

Food for thought: What new signposts could you create to help users find existing information more easily?

While not the complete answer, some of the above approaches can make a huge difference to users hunting down that elusive information.

Good relevant information that can be easily and securely accessed from anywhere and on any device is a key to empowering people and raising productivity. Productivity and the systems that empower it are the lifeblood of Intergen.

Posted by: Lee Stevens, Solutions Specialist, Product Management & Marketing | 07 May 2015

Tags: Search, productivity

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