I have hit on intent before and our latest member of the Gilbane blog team, Fred Dalrymple has joined the theme with his entry this week. Welcome Fred! You have given me an opening for an already planned topic, how to conduct research for enterprise search tools, those that go beyond the search box. Actually, this guidance is appropriate for the selection of any technology applications.

Getting intent solidly defined is important for so many reasons, many of them relating to solving a business problem and the expected outcomes. Knowing what these are will give you the framework for isolating likely candidates, efficiently. A second critical reason for having strong intent is to stave off project scope creep. As a former vendor, and now consultant, I see this play out repeatedly as product research ensues. Weak backbones in selection team members or flimsiness of their business case leaves openings for vendors to promote additional features, which often distracts from what is really needed.

So, armed with the right skeleton, a strong framework, a core scaffolding you are ready to approach your research systematically. Four paths are open to a study team; I recommend using all of them, in overlapping passes. Discovery about products, product performance in real-world scenarios, vendor business relationships with their clients, and the user community you will be joining are all targets that need to be exploited.

Discovering a user community on-line that might have expressed a potential problem with a vendor or product, should drive you back to do more research to discover potential limitations or why a user might be having a problem that they brought on through inappropriate implementation. Iteration in research for technology requires perseverance and patience. A comment on each path to research might be helpful:

  • Online research – This requires creativity and the most persistence to verify and validate what you find. I am amazed at how superficially many people read any content. We may be taught that good business writing requires a clear statement in the first paragraph of what follows with a solid summary at the end, but most content does not follow “good” business writing practices. You need to read between the lines, think about what is not being said and ask yourself why, follow every link on the sites of vendors under serious consideration. Look at vendor news notes and press releases to see how much activity is going on with product advances or new installations, and read descriptions of customer implementations to see how closely those deployments match your business need. Finally, search those customer names on the Internet in conjunction with the product name. This may retrieve public content that sheds more light on user experiences.
  • Professional groups – Professional organizations in which you participate are fertile ground for asking about what others in similar situations to yours are using. As you get closer to a final choice, go back to others you know personally or professionally to get answers to the direct question, “have you had any problems with this product or vendor?” and “what is the benefit of this product for you?”
  • Societies and academic institutions – These organizations publish content that may have a cost associated. When you consider thousands your organization spends on a selection process (in people time), contracting, licensing, implementation and deployment, it is wise to have a budget of several hundred dollars for reports that give detailed product evaluations. Get recommendations of librarians and peers as to publications’ authoritativeness.
  • User and analyst blogs and industry publications – The same guidance holds for industry publications as for societies and academic publishers but you will also want to pursue blogs of users and analysts. Users are a great source of discovering tidbits about products and vendors but continue beyond what you discover to see if the comments are isolated or follow a pattern.

This is a longer commentary than I intended but the core of my intent needed flesh, so there it is.