As the Synaptica team prepare for KMWorld in Washington D.C., we talked with our solutions partner Agnes Molnar of Search Explained. Agnes is speaking at Enterprise Search about understanding, applying, and fixing SharePoint Search as well as leading the Search Managers Boot Camp sessions. Agnes is a Microsoft MVP with over a decade of experience in helping organizations around the world optimize the performance and value of their search applications, especially with SharePoint and Office 365. Agnes also develops comprehensive training programs focused on knowledge management and findability solutions.
AM: I run my own company, Search Explained, based in Budapest, Hungary. We provide consultation services, run workshops, and speak at events and conferences. Most of my clients are located in Western Europe and North America which means I travel extensively and I often work remotely.
I have been a Microsoft MVP for 11 years. MVP is an award Microsoft gives to professionals each year. I received this accreditation for SharePoint and Office 365. The award involves taking part in the KM community speaking at conferences, contributing to forums, mentoring young people and helping them improve their skills. Helping others and sharing my knowledge is my true passion.
My private life revolves around my family. I have three children, two boys and a girl. Having young children and running a business has an impact on the logistics. It’s always a big challenge. However, I learn a lot from them and it’s always fun to find the balance and to get everything right.
Where did your experience with Knowledge Management begin?
AM: My KM began in elementary school. I was very good with maths, and I had a very good teacher. This was before computers, the internet, laptops, and tablets. We had none of those tools when I was at school. Perhaps a few early Commodore computers. My teacher inspired me to learn to programme. It was fun initially then she encouraged me to take it seriously and think about this as something for my future and my career. In high school, I develop educational software to help others learning history as well as foreign languages.
After high school, I attended Budapest University of Technology studying computer science. I also started working as a programmer. By the time I completed my degree I had six years of programming experience.
Tell us more about being a Microsoft MVP.
AM: During my studies, I already started to work with Microsoft technologies and SharePoint as a product in the early years. Initially, I joined a training centre based in Hungary. So I started to teach and I began to blog, first in Hungarian, then later English. Microsoft started to contact me about speaking at their events. My profile started small and then grew. I started to get to know other MVPs and speaking opened international doors. About 5 years ago I set up Search Explained.
Tell us more about your company, Search Explained and SharePoint.
AM: I have a small team of people supporting me. I have a wonderful assistant who takes care of the logistics and operational side plus another level of support with marketing. This allows me to focus on consulting. If we are developing a big project then we bring in help from specific developers. We work with partner companies and developers to bring in the right skills we need. Although I started as a developer, I don’t do this anymore.
SharePoint is a platform rather than one single application. You can organize your documents and set up workflows. You can search and create forms to collect information from users. SharePoint is a complex and huge topic. I work with both SharePoint and Office 365. What I do is develop a strategy for search, looking at the content you have and store. I also work closely with the information architecture; how to organize information, the metadata, and taxonomy. All the elements you need to ensure an improved better search experience.
AM: Usually big companies realise the value of effective search. When you have millions or hundreds of millions of documents it becomes a big challenge to find what you need, quickly and efficiently. SharePoint also appeals to smaller companies with a specific need. Recently I worked for a company in the financial sector. They had less than 50 employees but strict requirements what and how they wanted to manage the volume of content.
With SharePoint, you need to manage the process of user adoption carefully. We have all had experiences when new software is launched as a project. People start to use it because they are excited, and it’s something new. You will see a pattern or peak of adoption then interest will start to drop.
The problem can be they don’t like the software or it might be something they don’t know how to use properly. There could be issues with the interface. If they stop using, it can be hard to rebuild the trust again even when improvements are made. I always recommend you start small with a select group of users. This could be one department or a group of users to establish proof of concept.
You can work with this set of people to look at results, collect feedback, and take a step by step direction. Always ensure its easy for the user to provide feedback. It needs to be a one-click option which is simple and friendly. I truly believe that making it easy to provide feedback is vital. We need to understand our user’s behaviour.
Tell us about the challenges of Search.
AM: Every client is unique, and different people have individual needs and personal mindsets. Although I work with technology, I actually work with people and the relevancy of their results. If you search for a document and the version you find is five years old, it’s usually not good. You need the most recent version. Relevancy and freshness of results is always a challenge. We need to look at the ranking, what comes up top and what we need to filter out.
Business will often ask for a “Google-like” approach to search. The reality is most companies we work with don’t have the resources to deliver this level of exploration. Organizations need to invest more into search resourcing. Often it might be one person spending 50% of their time on this function. You cannot expect the same level of results as an organization with a large team of search experts. Part of our role as consultants is to figure out how to achieve visible changes, improve search results and enhancements with the resources available.
AI, text analytics, and linguistic processing can help with search but in my experience, the human touch is still required. We need to check and curate machine-generated metadata.
How does SharePoint integrate with our products?
AM: Every time I speak at an event or lead a workshop one of my favourite issues to discuss is the importance of metadata and findability. You need to work out what your content is about. We have artificial intelligence and machine learning to analyze the text. However, you know your own businesses the best and therefore you are the one who knows the most about your content.
Simply, the better the taxonomy, the better your content metadata. This means improved findability and search. We can store different types of metadata in SharePoint including taxonomy. Within SharePoint we can have a limited hierarchical taxonomy but there is no provision for synonyms or polyhierarchy.
Synaptica KMS taxonomy management tool is much smarter. It provides a richer feature set to develop an enterprise taxonomy solution. SharePoint alone cannot provide this. Connection and integration need to come together. Integrating KMS with SharePoint gives you more. A rich platform where you can manage all your content, have effective search, KMS provides the reach and smart taxonomy management. This year Synaptica and Search Explained have joined forces to overcome some of the inherent deficiencies of SharePoint and deliver a richer search and browse experience that properly leverages the rich semantics of knowledge organization systems.
Will SharePoint introduce their own taxonomy feature?
AM: I hoped this would have happened a few years ago. Microsoft introduced the concept of managed metadata. It was promising, if they keep improving and enhancing this it could be amazing but Microsoft stopped working on this feature. What we have today in SharePoint is the same as we had 5 years ago. I think they decided to focus resources on other features like Microsoft Graph. But there is always hope for the future…
What advice to others developing SharePoint project?
AM: The first and most important advice is to do it step-by step. Don’t try to do everything in one phase. SharePoint is such a huge platform with so many options and different features. Finding the right combination for your organization is always a journey. Don’t view this as a one-time project. In a way you are never done, and you will be constantly improving.
Make sure you incorporate a test system and experiment before moving to production. I have worked with a few clients who started small, then grew, adding more content without any strategy and testing. This became a huge silo of content. Have a strategy to go step by step and always test the system. Test all those features before you launch or roll anything out to the users.
What do you think are the biggest challenges for your sector in the future?
AM: Information overload. Whatever the size of your company and organization, understanding what is important is the challenge. There is always something new whether it’s related to SharePoint, from Microsoft, or connected technologies – there are so many things to learn and understand. It can be a distraction, noise. You need to adopt a strategy about what to do and where you want to go. Focus on your role and navigate a way through the noise.
Synaptica Insights is our popular series of use cases sharing stories, news and learning from our customers, partners, influencers and colleagues. Synaptica LLC are Diamond Sponsors of KMWorld and co-located events Enterprise Search & Discover, Office 365 Symposium, Taxonomy Boot Camp, and Text Analytics Forum. KMWorld takes place in November at Washington D.C. and members of the team will be speaking at this year’s event.