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Using SharePoint search in the enterprise

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To get the most out of Microsoft Office SharePoint Server 2007, you have to know the technology well and have a keen sense of your organization's business needs. Having the creative know-how to mesh the two is a big help too. There are many features of SharePoint -- search is just one of them.

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SharePoint search features allows users to index content, file shares, public folders, websites and even external databases. In order to go from business to benefit with search, organizations need to know these three ways to use SharePoint search: rediscovery, research and prediction.

Using SharePoint search for rediscovery

When users try to locate a document that they know is out there somewhere, they'll be using SharePoint search for rediscovery.

More on using SharePoint search and MOSS 2007
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Create custom global search scopes in Microsoft SharePoint 2007

 To get the most out of rediscovery, businesses must first define multiple search scopes that then show up for users in a dropdown menu when they put search terms into the search box. Users can then select the search scopes from the menu, and results appear in order of relevancy. Multiple search scopes narrow down the search, which keeps relevancy of the results high and makes users more likely to find what they're looking for.

IT administrators, who are defining search scopes, must first determine what can and cannot be crawled, perhaps excluding some data for security reasons. After your index is crawled, you can define scopes for your users based on what's been indexed. For example, you can configure a SharePoint search Web Part for a department and put it on that department's home page. With it, users can search for only their file shares, public folders and SharePoint sites within this scope. This kind of preemptive configuration makes it more likely that users will be able to find what they need.

Using SharePoint search as a research tool

When using SharePoint search as a research tool, the user searches for information on a specific topic from multiple sources in the organization. Unlike rediscovery, anything related to the topic is searched. This can be used for internal or external research. For example: A consultancy has a research department whose role is to gather information the consultants can use in, let's say, a presentation to attract customers. Since the consultants don't always share what they learn, the research department is often responsible for finding data on that topic that can be used by other consultants. This wastes time for the research department, and it causes a delay for the consultants because they have to wait for the department to create the presentation. It also causes delays in the consultants getting data to the clients and puts pressure on the research team to reproduce reports only slightly different each time. The solution here is to crawl all previously produced research and ensure that whatever is found is collected and included in the search index.

Using SharePoint search for prediction

With SharePoint search, users can also look for information that may not appear in the index to identify patterns and predict trends. Let's say a veterinary college collects animal examination data using tablet PCs and InfoPath forms. Each time an animal comes in, its symptoms, location and diagnosis are collected. Using alerts in SharePoint search, a researcher looking for data on a specific disease would automatically receive an alert if an animal comes in with certain symptoms or a similar diagnosis that might interest him.

In addition, search can be used to show what information is most frequently searched for, things that aren't easy to find, as well as work patterns in an organization.

Always get the best benefits from SharePoint search in the enterprise by continually reevaluating the three search methods in order to find what the user knows is there; research and bring together data from multiple sources; and to spot trends in the index and report them to the business.

Simply installing the software and setting it to index everything is not enough. You must create custom scopes on the sites of the users that target their individual requirements and make sure the most valuable information is indexed and searchable while the irrelevant content is excluded. Finally, you have to use Microsoft Office SharePoint Server 2007 to automatically sift through the data and push information to those who need it whenever it appears.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Stephen Cummins, founder of www.spsfaq.com, is a SharePoint consultant and has been a SharePoint MVP (Most Valuable Professional) for the past seven years. He lives in Kildare, Ireland with his wife, daughter, two dogs and an ever-changing number of goldfish.

This was first published in March 2009

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