6 reasons why you spend time searching for information

[date-stamp]Why do we spend time searching for information? This is a trivial question, but is the answer so obvious as we all think? Do we search because we have forgotten something, want to gain new knowledge or because something is badly organized? There can be surprisingly many reasons why we search for information. But with all new technology innovations in recent years, is there a better and more time-efficient way now to find and locate information other than searching? According to McKinsey, workers spend 19% of their day tracking down information to complete their tasks. That's 7.6 hours a week (given a 40-hour work week), almost one whole day a week! This is clearly inefficient and a waste of time. But why does it happen?


1. Information is stored in silos

Information within a company is rarely stored in one single system that is easy to navigate and find things. The reality is normally a multitude of systems, and useful information is stored in each one of these systems. When you're looking for something, it's not always clear in which system the information you're looking for is stored, so you have to look in each system. Naturally, this takes time. Also, some of the information you're looking for may be stored in one system, while the rest is stored in another system, so you have to put the pieces together yourself in order to get a complete picture.

In addition, not all employees have access to all silos, making the task of finding required information very hard. Then you have to ask for permission to access a system, and this also takes time. So having information in data silos makes it harder and more time-consuming to find information when you need it.


2. No context or metadata

Files and records are normally just stored somewhere, and no metadata or context is attached to it. This makes retrieving it again later rather difficult. Imagine you're looking for project files for project number 123, but not all information related to this project was tagged with the project number. Then you have to guess based on file dates and such, and things get fuzzy very quickly.

Ideally, properties of documents like author name, project number/name and such was something that was available for all information within the company. Then you can use this to find what you're looking for instead of manually filtering through files in your file server.


3. Limited knowledge sharing

Within most companies, there's a lot of knowledge that has accumulated over the years. This knowledge is some of the most valuable assets in a company, and should be transferred to new employees through a training program. But this does not always happen, leaving new employees to fend for themselves and they have to study on their own. So how to find out what has been done in previous projects and how it was done? Search for information, and read project documents. Naturally, such do-it-yourself-training requires a lot of searching to find the correct documents to learn.


4. Outdated information

The information that is stored in the "correct" place can be outdated. Imagine looking for the current price list for your products, and when you find the official price list, it contains products that were discontinued two years ago. Clearly, it's not the correct one, and then the hunt continues in order to find the correct version of the price list. Does this sound familiar? It sure does for me, and it's a common scenario. Keeping all information up-to-date is a massive task, and sadly one that is often neglected. Even in small- and medium-sized businesses, keeping information updated would require at least one person, full-time.


5. Available tools are not used

Many companies are well-equipped, and have the latest versions of a lot of tools available for their employees. But for some reason, the tools are not used. There's a brand new collaboration suite available, but few use it and then it loses its relevance. Why do such things happen? There's no obvious answer, but maybe a lack of training and no phase-out of old tools is the reason? Unused tools are one reason why workers spend time looking for information, if (for example) the collaboration tools had been used there would have been less searching for things because sharing information between employees is what collaboration software is designed to do.


6. Over-Reliance on email

Let's face it, email is used as file storage. When we have a document at hand and we want to be sure we have a backup of it, what do we do? We email it to ourselves. Project plans and contracts, chances are big that the final versions of these are in someone's mailbox, and only there. So the email system is basically used as a giant information container instead of the messaging service it actually is.

This makes finding this information again later rather hard. Anyone who has used the search function in Exchange Online can testify that it's terribly slow, Gmail is better but finding attachments there is not that easy. In short, it takes time to find a document in an email system; they are not designed to be a primary document archive.


How can this be solved?

There are many ways to solve this problem, and enable workers to spend less time tracking down information and more time on their actual tasks. Storing all information in a company in one, single system is the idea that many have. But this is far from practical, and hard to implement. Having emails, CRM information and CAD drawings in one system? Does not sound like an ideal solution.

Another solution is to limit the number of systems, so there's at least a limited number of systems to look through. But even though this is done, there will easily be 5-6 different systems in your company to look through when searching for something. This is a better solution than using one single system, but it will still require workers to spend a lot of time searching. Some systems have great search functionality of course, but this is normally only within each system, it cannot search across systems.

A third solution is collaboration software. Sharepoint is often used for this, but the number of failed Sharepoint installations tells me this does not work for everyone. But sooner or later there will come a collaboration software that may help cutting the time spent on searching for information.

A fourth approach is to take the idea behind google.com (connect to all web sites from one interface) and transfer that to the enterprise world: connect all data sources to one search interface. This is fully possible, and it eases the process of finding the information you're looking for and makes it a lot less time-consuming. This is what Coxito has done, our product connects to internal data sources (both on-premise and in the cloud) and enables access and findability from one interface.


SearchStein J. Gran