Finding information – why so difficult?

This monthly blog shares thoughts from an ongoing PhD research study re-examining and re-conceptualizing searching in the enterprise; towards a conceptual model of user satisfaction and search task performance.


Despite the investments made, delivering effective enterprise search appears difficult. Business surveys indicate the average professional spends 24% of their time searching for information and approximately half of that time is unsatisfactory in some way. Some attribute this to search technology issues or governance. Others to deep underlying information and knowledge management practices, beliefs and attitudes of management. Expectations, information and search literacy of users, mental models and metacognition has also been cited as influencing factors.

Senior management such as the Chief Information Officer (CIO) may believe search capability=search technology capability. Knowledge Management and Library or Information Centres may believe search capability is a service or simply the ability for users to use specific technology systems such as the Library catalogue or a KM/lessons learnt portal.

The research will seek to shine a light on the causal factors for user satisfaction and search task performance by taking a ‘systems thinking’ approach to enterprise search.

Systems Thinking Approach

Many staff want the ‘Google Experience’ but may not understand how much relevant information may be missed even using Internet search engines. Search tasks can be broadly broken down into two categories; ‘Lookup’ search, to find known items or facts and ‘Exploratory’ open ended questions or searches for unknown quantities of information. They roughly occur in the enterprise in an 80/20 ratio respectively.

There has been little empirical research on the causes for poor user satisfaction or search task performance in the enterprise.

The research will gather data through questionnaires, interviews and focus groups from business staff, support staff and management. This will be triangulated with data from search transaction logs, feedback logs and experiments inside large and small enterprises. Data from the oil and gas, defence, space, aerospace and pharmaceutical industries will be gathered during the study.

It is hoped the research findings will help reconceptualise views towards enterprise search. If your enterprise is interested in providing data towards the research please email:

Paul H. Cleverley

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