How to troubleshoot issues created by fragmented and distributed content
Fragmentation of content and knowledge poses a challenge to the continued productivity of the workplace. A Study of Igloo software found that 51% of employees avoid sharing documents because they can’t find them or it would take too long to do so. This statistic demonstrates the importance of two elements necessary for successful collaboration in the workplace: convenience and accessibility. This could be exacerbated by the isolation of remote working arrangements, but still exists in centralized working environments. With the continued popularization of microservice applications to improve productivity, the only answer is better unified search capability – sometimes referred to as federated or enterprise search.
Content fragmentation occurs when knowledge, documentation, or internal files are spread across multiple silos. In more concrete terms, these silos are established through the use of SaaS products which, in most cases, exist disparately from other parts of the employee productivity stack. As even the mainstays of the industry have capitulated and embraced cloud-based applications as the future of productivity software, this newly created convenience has many benefits, but its main downside is the fragmentation it perpetuates.
How does knowledge fragment?
Relationships with happiness that the average employee uses 8 SaaS applications for their daily work. They also found that the average business uses 137 organization-wide applications to power all the inner workings of a business’s operations. Most of them are never used organization-wide, and many can only be used by one or two people. Consider some of the favorites for each department:
- Organization-wide: G-suite, Zoom, Slack, Office 365
- Engineering: Github, Jira, Confluence
- Marketing: Mailchimp, Semrush, Canva
- Sales: Salesforce, Hubspot, Pipedrive
- Customer support: Atlassian Suite, Zendesk, Intercom
- DevOps: Pagerduty, Sentry, Datadog
- Product: Typeform, Adobe Creative Cloud, Sketch
- HR: LinkedIn, Gusto, BambooHR
- Finance: Bill.com, Quickbooks, Expensify
Interestingly, there is little to no overlap except for some parts of the Atlassian suite of tools, and this is only a small part of the list of required tools. You might think there must be some consolidation or redundancy opportunity here, but a solution that involves elimination is not that easy. It is quite possible for some departments to choose different tools for the same job. Take for example the humble wiki. Tech teams tend to prefer Confluence, but customer support can store knowledge in Zendesk, while HR can just store documentation in Google Drive. Each department has different needs that might be best met by one product or another, but the only thing that remains certain is that all of these different silos are confusing as to where knowledge, documents, or content are located. This is the crux of the fragmentation problem we all see in the modern workplace.
How serious is the fragmentation problem?
Fragmentation causes such a prolific problem that McKinsey quantified it’s a waste of up to 20% of an employee’s week – it’s an entire working day per week spent just looking for the information needed to do the job. The situation is dire, but what we do know is that if we are to overcome the problem of fragmentation, higher levels of convenience and accessibility will be essential. Let’s take a look at the two components of a successful collaboration mentioned earlier: convenience and accessibility.
Without paying attention to the user experience that leads to smooth workflows, employees will default to counterproductive behavior. They can ignore the support issue, defer resolution, or delegate to another employee (sometimes more junior or senior), which ultimately creates additional work for team members. An example of a lack of convenience is in a typical customer support workflow. An agent can receive a request via Intercom or Zendesk chat such as “How to promote a user to administrator on their account.” The agent can quickly refer to the Zendesk Guide for copy / paste instructions in a response. this needs to be documented accurately in one of the many knowledgebase solutions, but if it’s not where the agent checks first, the typical reaction is to ask another agent where the script is copy / paste for this support issue. of their existing workflow to another and reduces their productivity, which has the cumulative effect of increasing the time to resolve customer issues for both agents.
Accessing content or knowledge can be a painful experience with a content fragmentation issue. Checking multiple silos can be an exercise in guesswork and frustration. Support seekers trying to triangulate the right location with educated guesses and finding the file or content with multiple queries may not persist after one or two guesses. It’s a bit like Google searches – if your answer isn’t in the first 3 results, you can give up – skipping the second and third page of results. You can try to refine your query multiple times, but it’s unlikely that someone will try to delve into the millions of possible results without just asking a friend for help.
What about eliminating silos through service consolidation?
You might be thinking that if a business is using hundreds of organization-wide SaaS applications, there must be an opportunity for consolidation or elimination. For example, there are a few products that claim to do more than just a function, like combining wiki, project management, email, tasks and more, all in one SaaS tool. For a low price, the companies that offer these products aim to provide users with everything they will need to be productive, which would have the benefit of consolidating silos. The problem with the “Swiss Army Knife” approach is that these solutions rarely do everything right, and more dedicated microservice applications perform and scale better.
So if consolidation is difficult, then the logical solution to explore is better research. As mentioned above, finding silos one by one is a painful exercise. The answer to this problem is a tool that searches all of your existing silos at once. Tools that use federated search technology accomplish this goal.
What is federated search?
Sometimes referred to as a business search, federated search is a term used to describe research tools that retrieve information from multiple sources rather than a single silo. In the world of knowledge management, there are two main ways of providing a single source of truth for internal support. The first is consolidation into a single repository, which we saw as a challenge given the growing trend towards the use of SaaS microservices. The second is much less disruptive and involves replacing a single silo or repository with better search tools. This research tool becomes your sole source of truth.
The reason why federated search tools are good candidates for solving the fragmentation problem is twofold: low switching costs and low workflow. Let’s take a look at each benefit.
Low switching costs
When your single source of truth is a federated research tool, your silo change costs are extremely low. You can have as many silos as you need to meet the use case of each business unit and not disrupt or compromise end user requirements. You can also switch silos as needed, as business needs change or an existing service fails to scale. As long as the search tool is compatible with the new repository, there is very little disruption to the support function.
When you rely on research as the sole source of truth, it’s much easier to inject a research tool than a silo into common workflows to maximize adoption and increase the chances of success. Take, for example, a place where knowledge and content is commonly shared in the workplace – internal email clients like Slack and MS Teams. So many questions are asked and answers are given on these platforms, and as tools like these are extensible, it becomes much easier to merge a research-based workflow directly where a question would be asked to the square. This keeps assistance seekers on the same path to completing tasks and increases overall productivity. By eliminating multiple siled searches, federated searches accelerate support issues, so escalation is only required when the user is satisfied that they have questioned the only source of truth.
Solving a content fragmentation problem requires reframe the problem to examine what is the optimal single source of truth. When companies continually increase the number of silos in their toolset, the preferred solution is not consolidation, but a better search tool that uses federated search technology.