President and CEO at Sinequa. Over 18 years of experience as a top executive within enterprise software.


In the 1980s, the IT industry promoted itself by promising “information at your fingertips.” This was a worthy goal, but it proved to be too aspirational, and the slogan was abandoned after only a few years. Fast forward to four decades later, and after the corporate world has invested trillions in enterprise technology, and the concept of “information at your fingertips” is still evasive.

But we’re supposed to be living in the Information Age. What went wrong? While many factors work against universally accessible and actionable information, data silos are emblematic of the problem. The information is there, but no one person knows where it is, how to find it, or put it into context to create useful knowledge. Too often, efforts to solve this problem result in data swamps and digital landfills. Some companies have made progress toward being data-driven, but those successes have revealed an even greater need: The data needs context, and that context — often in the form of unstructured text and documents — is frequently missing.

Yet there is hope. The new generation of enterprise search technologies offers a solution. Organizations are leveraging intelligent search to capitalize on their information assets and become information-driven. In this series of articles on the future of enterprise search, we look at how embedding search inside and across core enterprise functions promises to cure content chaos.

The Information Economy…Without The Information?

We may be in an information economy, but the information is still often hard to find. A primary culprit is the data silo. Some information about a customer lives in the customer relationship management (CRM) system. Other tidbits live in various document repositories — the enterprise resource planning (ERP) system, legal’s contract database and even in emails. Each system is a standalone silo that may have its own search capability but is blind to all the other silos. All the information is there, but good luck trying to get it in a hurry. Someone would have to know all the silos, have access rights and have the time and know-how to search each and every one.

The Information-Driven Workplace

So what does an information-driven workplace look like? As we’re starting to see in forward-thinking organizations, it’s an environment where the relevant content is not just easy to find but appears automatically in the course of work processes — all the right information assembled automatically and provided to employees prioritized and in context. For example, while processing a customer invoice on the ERP system, the system searches for relevant information and finds that the customer recently lodged a complaint against their SLA. It notifies the worker, who can check with the account team before sending the renewal invoice — and maybe upsell them to platinum support. That’s how an information-driven workplace functions: with a complete picture, assembled intelligently from all information sources across the enterprise.

Realizing The Information-Driven Workplace

How are these companies accomplishing this? It’s a multilayered approach that starts with intelligent search as the glue that brings all the silos together. Placing the right information in the right place at the right time is precisely what search is designed to do. In this context, search works differently from the way we experience it in services like Google or Bing. Instead of starting with a search box, a modern enterprise search tool is proactive — and reaches out to gather information pertinent to the topic at hand or workflow in process. This takes place behind the scenes; think of it as implicit, rather than explicit, search. In the course of processing an invoice, the system automatically pulls in additional information from other systems that might be relevant to your work: customer info, purchase history, SLA incidents, account team interactions and all relevant information in context in one place in real time.

With intelligent search, we’ve seen successes that accelerate R&D, mitigate risk and improve the customer experience. Increased use of artificial intelligence, specifically machine learning (ML), will bring more complex scenarios within reach and make search more personal. The pattern-matching capabilities of ML crowdsource the most useful results and learn personal work habits and preferences. This understanding is automatically incorporated into business processes and workflows. Information-driven workplaces are moving past the “one size fits all” experience that is all too common with current systems and processes. Instead, employees will interact with information the way they work best.

The real power of intelligent search is manifest in the use of search-based applications (SBAs). Often referred to as “search without the search bar,” these are applications powered by search to connect employees with information specific to their needs. SBAs use the unique capabilities of intelligent search to provide a unified view of a subject, explore embedded relationships or facilitate research, whether it be for fraud or the next blockbuster drug.

Applied Enterprise Search: A Look At What’s Coming

This is the first in a series of articles about how enterprise search will serve as the foundation for the information-driven workplace. The next article will discuss how to assess your organization’s information utilization. Subsequent articles will serve as a guide to become an information-driven workplace and how to capitalize on the trends enabling this transition, such as information unification, content enrichment and deep learning.

The Way Forward

The information-driven workplace is coming. It may not look quite like what was envisioned four decades ago, but modern enterprise search is beginning to deliver that long-sought-after ideal of “information at your fingertips.” Not just any information, but all the right information, even if you didn’t know you needed it, or that it existed at all. Proactive, implicit search, embedded into the applications we all use on a daily basis, promises a new way of working: the information-driven way.

Forbes Technology Council is an invitation-only community for world-class CIOs, CTOs and technology executives. Do I qualify?