Common pitfalls beset Advantage West Midlands’ search implementation

Ken Clark, regional website project manager for Advantage West Midlands, had a formidable search challenge land on his desk three years ago when the organisation asked him to “sort out the website”.

Advantage is the West Midlands’ regional development agency, and it spends its £300 million budget on projects such as the refurbishment of Birmingham’s New Street station.

“In 2006, we came up with a strategy to build a ready-made IT infrastructure that we could offer as a platform to our partner organisations at low cost. Search was to be a part of the regional website infrastructure,” Clark says.

“An early decision centred on whether search should be applied to all data repositories. Initial thoughts were that was the best way to go, but that changed as user requirements were overridden by the economics. We became more pragmatic and decided to search only those repositories which were it was practical and economic to do so.”

During early development, as is apparently inevitable in any search project, “someone said, ‘why don’t we just use Google?’”

But having considered the web’s primary search tool alongside the other search options, Advantage settled on information access platform Exalead.

The software only took eight hours to install, but with limited IT resources available full integration with existing systems took 25 days, he says.

During a training workshop on the proof-of-concept model for 15 users, Clark encountered one of the common early pitfalls of enterprise search: security.

“The users came back and said ‘we found information we didn’t think we had access to, and probably shouldn’t have had access to.’ Security was a key question during the pilot phase.”

Clark is now tackling a third obstacle: user adoption. “A lot of people said they wouldn’t use it; we had to convince them [with demonstrations of the powerful capabilities],” he says.

“For eight years, most of our records were filed on personal PCs. We’re now using our enterprise search technology to find them all and shift them to our main systems.”

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