Posted:January 1, 2010

Brown Bag Lunch: Search and the ’25% Solution’

(And Wishing All a Healthy and Prosperous 2010!)

According to iProspect, about 56 percent of users use search engines every day, based on a population of which more than 70 percent use the Internet more than 10 hours per week.[1] The average knowledge worker spends 2.3 hrs per day — or about 25% of work time — searching for critical job information.[2] IDC estimates that enterprises employing 1,000 knowledge workers may waste well over $6 million per year each in searching for information that does not exist, failing to find information that does, or recreating information that could have been found but was not.[3]

Vendors and customers often use time savings by knowledge workers as a key rationale for justifying a document or content initiative. This comes about because many studies over the years have noted that white collar employees spend a consistent 20% to 25% of their time seeking information. The premise is that more effective search will save time and drop these percentages. For example, EDS has suggested that improvements of 50 percent in the time spent searching for data can be achieved through improved consolidation and access to data.[4]

Using these premises, consultants often calculate that every 1% reduction in the total work time devoted to search works out illustratively on a fully burdened basis as a big cost savings benefit:

$50,000 (base salary) * 1.8 (burden rate) * 1.0% = $900/ employee

Beware such facile analysis!

The fact that many studies over the years have noted white collar employees spend a consistent 20% to 25% of their time devoted to search suggests it is the “satisficing” allocation of time to information search. (In other words, knowledge workers are willing to devote a quarter of their time to finding relevant information; the remainder for analysis and documentation.)

Thus, while better tools to aid better discovery may lead to finding better information and making better decisions more productively — an important justification in itself — there may not result a strict time or labor savings from more efficient search.[5] Be careful of justifying project expenditures based on “time savings” related to search. Search is likely to remain the “25% solution.” The more relevant question is whether the time that is spent on search produces better information or not.

Friday Brown Bag Lunch This Friday brown bag leftover was first placed into the AI3 refrigerator on September 14, 2005. No changes have been made to the original posting.

[1] iProspect Corporation, iProspect Search Engine User Attitudes, April/May 2004, 28 pp. See http://www.iprospect.com/premiumPDFs/iProspectSurveyComplete.pdf.
[2] Delphi Group, “Taxonomy & Content Classification Market Milestone Report,” Delphi Group White Paper, 2002. See http://delphigroup.com.
[3] C. Sherman and S. Feldman, “The High Cost of Not Finding Information,” International Data Corporation Report #29127, 11 pp., April 2003.
[4] M. Doyle, S. Garmon, and T. Hoglund, “Make Your Portal Deliver: Building the Business Case and Maximizing Returns,” EDS White Paper, 10 pp., 2003.
[5] M.E.D. Koenig, “Time Saved — a Misleading Justification for KM,” KMWorld Magazine, Vol 11, Issue 5, May 2002. See http://www.kmworld.com/publications/magazine/index.cfm.

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Brown Bag Lunch: Search and the ’25% Solution’

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(And Wishing All a Healthy and Prosperous 2010!) According to iProspect, about 56 percent of users use search engines every day, based on a population of which more than 70 percent use the Internet more than 10 hours per week.[1] The average knowledge worker spends 2.3 hrs per day — or about 25% of work […]

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