The power of search: “Google-like” capabilities impact enterprise system use

Enterprise vendor IFS says its approach to increasing the productivity of its system’s users is unique, and builds on the popularity of “search” as the means to obtaining needed information.

By Kevin Parker, editorial director September 27, 2007

One of the challenges for small and midsize companies using enterprise resources planning (ERP) is the system’s over-segmentation based on roles and functions common to large companies. This segmentation can make it difficult for users who work cross-function—i.e., those who “wear a lot of hats”—to navigate and interact with the system without a lot of wasted motion.

Recognizing the challenge, system providers focused on the midmarket have, for example, examined “archetypes,” which combine roles based on a certain commonality of purpose. Steps being taken to integrate enterprise applications with desktop productivity tools also could be seen as addressing this problem, among others.

Most recently, enterprise vendor IFS says its approach to increasing the productivity of its system’s users is, to date, unique—and one that builds on the popularity of “search” as the means to obtaining needed information.

In August, IFS delivered “integrated enterprise application search,” which gives information workers access to business information through a “Google-style” search-based interface embedded within the enterprise application.

Enterprise search is a simple concept,” says Rick Veague, CTO, IFS North America. “But our implementation of it is unique. It mirrors how people look for information today. They don’t type in a Web site address; they go to Google and access information across sites.

Heretofore, to run a query on enterprise data, users typically go to the correct form and run a query in the appropriate field. In other words, to find the information, they need to know where it is. This doesn’t work well for the occasional user, or even for a heavy user searching in an area that’s particularly unfamiliar.

Other vendors besides IFS know the power of search. Google and other search-engine providers have products to locate data not only in the enterprise system, but also on the company intranet and its other databases. SAP and Oracle have solutions for this too.

What makes IFS’s approach unique, says Veague, is the fact that the search technology is integrated with IFS’s enterprise application, which means it has a better “understanding” of the application and its underlying metadata. Users are better able to narrow their search based on whether they’re searching for a person, company, purchase order, or other type information—eliminating extraneous results.

Veague says one problem with some forms of enterprise search surrounds the possibility of bringing back results to users that include information they wouldn’t be able to access through normal workflows. Integrated enterprise search ensures this doesn’t happen because it is fully aware of reigning permissions.

The IFS product portfolio also includes document management. Thus, correspondence, diagrams, photos, and engineering drawings can be attached to records within the application, and also are subject to contextualized search. This in itself, IFS believes, will make users more diligent about getting such documents into the system.

Of course, emphasizes Veague, none of this invalidates normal workflow practices associated with ERP systems.