Defining the Findability Problem

I had the good fortune of attending some partner training from FAST last spring.  I was really impressed with the product and was looking forward to working with it.  Unfortunately, one project fell through and then EMC acquired my company.  Predictably, a certain amount of chaos ensued while we learned about EMC and EMC learned about us.  FAST technology dropped a few points on the priority scale during that period.  However, I never lost my interest in the product and, more interestingly, the bigger problem of findability

I really don’t like that word, but I’m trying to get used to it 🙂  Despite it’s awkwardness, findability is a real (or at least, emerging) term.  Do a live search if you’re interested in finding more technical definitions, but the way I explain it around the office is like this: 

Intellectual capital that cannot be found may as well not exist.

It’s almost as true to say this:

Intellectual capital that cannot be found quickly and easily may as well not exist.

Intellectual capital (IC) starts as an idea in a person’s head and is then refined via collaboration with colleagues and interactions with various communities.  To be truly useful, these resulting ideas must be recorded.  This is where the trouble begins 🙂

These days, recording normally means that the idea is documented in the form of an MS Word doc, Excel workbook, etc. and eventually stuck in electronic format on a hard drive somewhere.  IC obviously takes other forms like, like images, videos, highly informative blogs, wikis … it’s impossible to list them all.  At the same time, IC is stored in a variety of places like file systems, databases, line of business applications (ERP, CRM, SharePoint, Documentum), etc. 

This is the findability problem: how can quickly and easily find IC that is stored in dozens or hundreds of formats in dozens or hundreds of thousands, tens of thousands (dare I say hundreds of thousands) of locations in an organization? 

It’s a difficult problem to solve.  Bill English has been writing about findability from a very grand perspective in what I have come to think of as the Panama Canal approach.  The history of the Panama Canal is amazing.  In a nut shell, a crazy Frenchman (Ferdinand de Lesseps) started a private company to build the canal, the project was abandoned for some years, picked up again and finally finished by the American government under President Roosevelt.  This reminds me of Bill’s approach because as he rightly points out, solving the findability is both hard and never stops.  It took years and years of effort from the some of the hardest working humans on the planet to start, continue, and finally finish).  And yet, it’s still not truly finished.  As far as I know, the canal’s banks have never met their angle of repose, meaning that they have to be shored up and otherwise maintained even to this day.  Solving findability is the same way.  I definitely recommend that you read Bill’s series and subscribe to his blog for his point of view on findability, particularly as it relates to SharePoint.

I too am interested in this problem.  Due to my exposure to FAST and on-going discussions on this subject with my brilliant EMC colleagues, I have some more ideas I plan to write about over the coming weeks and months.  In my next article on this little series, I’m going to try and put a box around the problem to show how awful it really is (it’s more awful than you think 🙂 ).  It’s awful, but at least it does fit inside a box. 


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