Leveraging the New Normal to Drive Adoption of Enterprise Search

How RWJF leveraged the “new normal” to promote effective internal search capability, as well as the staff engagement, collaboration, and leadership support necessary for enterprise search to succeed.

Speakers: Ari Kramer (Knowledge Management Officer, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation) and Sara Teitelman (Co-Founder & Principal, Ideal State)

Session Description: When the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) was just starting to roll out a new enterprise knowledge management function, enterprise search was part of the plan, but RWJF expected to approach it gradually. Then COVID hit, and everything changed as remote working became the norm. RWJF capitalized on this through a rapid-cycle user research process and enterprise search prototype that garnered broad organizational awareness and support. RWJF is now firmly on the path to implementing an enterprise search experience that combines enhanced use of available in-house technology capability with targeted new supporting roles to help it continually identify and elevate the kinds of information RWJF staff most want and need. Learn how RWJF has been able to leverage the “new normal” to drive dialogue around the importance of effective internal search capability, as well as the kinds of staff engagement, cross-departmental collaboration, and leadership support necessary for enterprise search to succeed in the long-term.

[These are my notes from the KMWorld Connect 2021 Conference. I’m publishing them as soon as possible after the end of a session so they may contain the occasional typographical or grammatical error. Please excuse those. To the extent I’ve made any editorial comments, I’ve shown those in brackets.]


  • When the lockdown began, they shifted from a general KM strategy to focusing primarily on implementing enterprise search. Here are the steps they took
    • establish a strong baseline understanding of the organization’s current and emerging needs relating to internal search and discovery
    • recommend technology to address immediate search needs and establish a foundation to guide future development
    • identify governance and supporting resources necessary for the effective management and maintenance of enterprise search
  • Discovery Stage
    • Interviews: they talked to staff to understand the needs generated both by the staff and by the foundation’s grantees. (The foundation is a network of networks, so there are many stakeholders.)
    • Mapping: they mapped the content types and locations. They found that their content lived a large variety of places. So what to keep inside the search experience and what to leave out?
    • Key themes:
      • confusion about where to search
      • duplicate content across multiple systems
      • workarounds used to index key resources (e.g., parallel system of Google Docs “link farms” that were shared from generation to generation of staff members)
      • people as “systems” of record
      • difficulty searching key systems
      • use of different naming conventions and standards
      • use of G suite (and later Google Suite) for file storage, sharing and collaboration
      • difficulty in finding staff, their expertise, and their projects
  • Philosophy: They decided to use what the organization had, rather than bringing in any new technology. The key existing tools were Microsoft 365 for email and content creation (although not much SharePoint use), and G-Suite for document collaboration and resourcing.
  • Process:
    • They started with a lightweight prototyping exercise.
    • Leveraging the native search in these existing technologies, they built a lightly customized search experience. This was done in parallel on Microsoft 365 and G-Suite so that they could choose the best technology for the organization. Then they configured two or more search connectors to index select data from their system and grantee/partner websites. Their goal was to generate excitement among staff for the possibilities of enterprise search.
    • They selected Microsoft 365 as the basis of their enterprise search engine
    • They selected Raytion in Germany as their implementation partner. (Raytion was familiar with both Microsoft 365 search and G-Suite search.)
    • They created a project team and staff search liaisons who could provide depth and reach in terms of knowledge and support.
  • Architecture: Their working architecture for Phase 1 of enterprise search involves indexing a fixed set of materials via Microsoft Search Index. Then they used SharePoint User Profile Service to collect content from their Oracle data warehouse and Azure active directory, and SharePoint Online Search Index to reach content in SharePoint and Google Docs.
  • Custom Development: They believe that there is a lot of promise in what Microsoft Search is planning to roll out. So they will first take advantage of what Microsoft offers before committing to a lot of customized development.
  • Extending the Impact:
    • the search project has allowed them to expand KM-related relationships with Program, Learning, IT, HR
    • they have created a stronger connection with other key organizational initiatives such as their Internet redesign
    • they have elevated the value of key related KM work areas (e.g., metadata, governance, etc.)
  • Takeaways for an enterprise search project:
    • establish and maintain strong alignment with organizational strategy
    • leverage user research as a chance to connect with staff across the organization
    • identify champions and staff in natural positions to play supportive roles
    • find the right balance between search rollout priorities and long-term opportunities
    • engage key stakeholders as much as possible in ongoing decisions and work

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