Last year at the Enterprise 2.0 conference in Boston, Andrew McAfee of MIT quoted Lew Platt, former CEO of HP, who once said “If HP knew what HP knows, we would be three times as profitable.” I included that in a blog entry as a challenge to SharePoint practitioners, and now that challenge has come full circle. We are building out a complex site to store information on a variety of subjects, and one of the challenges will be to somehow cut across the lists and libraries to discover what we know about ‘x’. Typical of the math courses you hated in high school, ‘x’ is unknown.
The information we create and collect from others will be categorized, tagged with metadata and managed according to the type of content it represents. For instance, we will have news articles, policies and procedures, maps, contact information and perhaps even material gleaned from social media. The challenge to my team will be to create a page where someone can select a topic and effectively ask “what do we know about…?” Once again, if I put my ear to the tracks, I think I hear “isn’t that why we have search tools?” I say no. I fear that “search” has become the Cntr-Alt-Del of the information professional, i.e. the thing that should be the last resort bubbling to the top of every challenging issue. I seriously hope that we can do better.
In our case, I am hoping to build one or more composite information pages where the consumer can ask about a topic and we can show them what we know about that topic. “How is that different from search results?” While search results usually contain items that might answer the question, by querying our well organized content, we should be able to assemble a series of results that absolutely answer the question. If someone asks about ACME Company, they don’t want to see every document that includes the name “ACME” – they want to see every document that somebody has already read and has already declared is about “ACME”. I should be able to show them a page full of webparts like: “Documents about ACME”, “People you can contact to learn more about ACME”, “Recent news articles about ACME”, “Maps related to ACME”, “Projects underway involving ACME”, etc. Clearly, I can augment that page with a webpart of “Search results” or perhaps “More Information about ACME might be found here” but I would hope that I could nail down about 80% of what we already know about ACME before someone has to start the burdensome task of reviewing search results.
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