Search platform fuels information flow at BG Group

When the UK’s monopoly gas supplier British Gas was broken up in 1986, the majority of international gas exploration rights were allocated to new entity BG Group. It stands to reason, therefore, that 60% of the company’s 6,100 employees are based outside of the UK, in countries including India, Kazakhstan and Nigeria.

Ensuring the ready availability and flow of information is critical in such a geographically diverse operation. "Sharing information is key, particularly when you’re a global organisation with a disparate workforce," explains Mike Fishwick, global head of business information and intelligence.

Until September 2009, however, the natural gas giant found that the flow of information was undermined by a similarly diverse content infrastructure. It owned a number of content repositories, including Microsoft SharePoint and EMC Documentum, each of which has its own search function, but the process of finding relevant content was time-consuming for the user and often inaccurate.

"The average time it was taking for a user to get a result was one minute and 13 seconds and a minimum of 26% of searches did not offer any result," Fishwick recalls. "We simply wanted to reduce the amount of time users spent not performing critical activities and improve accessibility to BG’s knowledge assets."

BG Group decided not compile all of its content in a single repository, given the upheaval and costs this would entail. Instead, it wanted to implement a solution that could pluck the desired information from each of the repositories if and when it was needed.

The company decided to trial Google’s Enterprise Search Appliance, which applies the web giant’s search technology to internal data, and after an eight week proof-of-concept rolled the technology out across the company. As a result, the average time it has taken to retrieve a search result has fallen by half and search accuracy has risen by approximately a third.

More importantly, though, the project has shone some light on the quality and completeness of the content that BG stored, which had previously been disguised by the fractured nature of its content stores. In turn, this has prompted business units to address any gaps in the information for which they are responsible. For example, a spike of searches for ‘annual leave’ in January of this year revealed an absence of relevant content.

Following this discovery, the human resources department decided to share additional information on the subject. "You start to push the ownership and accountability of improving the content back to the content creators," explains Fishwick.

The switch has also encouraged BG to address its existing information security model. "All of a sudden we’re in a position where our data is now able to be found but do we want people to be able to read it?” Fishwick remarks. “That’s presented us with some clarity." BG has now implemented security measures that mean search results are filtered depending on the characteristics of the user.

For Fishwick, the project was more than just a technology deployment; it brough about a cultural change in the way the organisation shares, manages and secures information. "It was about trying to provide a common hook across the organisation and to allow all of our user community access to BG Group’s information assets,” he says.

Peter Done

Peter Done is managing director of Peninsula Business Services, the personnel and employment law consultancy he set up having already built a successful betting shop business.

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