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How Federal Agencies Can Reinvent Search for Digital Government Success
If you use a search engine to find information online, you’re not alone. A recent Pew Internet & American Life study revealed that on a typical day this year, 59 percent of adults online used a search engine—that’s double the number of search users in 2004.1 Search is ubiquitous, and people want answers, not endless links that create more questions. As federal agencies respond to digital government mandates—and look to improve customer service in the digital age—next-generation site search is more essential than many might expect.
Overwhelmed by too much information and impatient for answers, digital citizens now expect search power from government websites. Yet their expectations are going largely unmet as most federal public site search capabilities are lacking in comparison to commercial sites. The bottom line is that in today’s environment—especially considering the imperatives of the White House’s Digital Government Strategy—federal agencies simply cannot improve multichannel customer service without getting their website search right.
1Search Engine Use 2012, Pew Internet & American Life Project, March 9, 2012.
Gone are the days when people relied solely on navigation to access the information they wanted from your website. Done right, search provides a more user-centered front door to your agency’s website content. It’s even becoming a bellwether of customer satisfaction as data emphasize the connection between customer satisfaction and search engine experiences.2
The increasing sophistication of consumer grade search engines is continually changing these experiences—and expectations. Instead of traditional search engines that use “single-shot” relevancy that relies solely on keyword density to deliver results without considering patterns or context, innovations like Google’s “Knowledge Graph” and Wolfram Alpha’s natural language search with answers are providing fast, relevant answers that reflect user intent.
Accenture’s work with some of the largest and most complex federal agency websites reveals search practices that agencies must consider to make the most of their digital government investment. While each has a different emphasis, the common thread is the importance of answering questions with intelligent, context-aware searching instead of a one-size-fits-all approach.
Whether your agency has invested in enterprise search tools such as Google Search Appliance, Endeca or FAST; is building off open source technology; or is leveraging Search.usa.gov, there are flexible, cost-effective federal solutions to remake search—and give people what they want in the digital age.
Success factors for reinventing search include the following:
Amassing new information daily while maintaining archival data, many federal sites have tried to keep up with content explosion with multiple search engines across multiple sites, databases and pages. This fragmented search is far from intuitive, making searching complicated, cumbersome and often unsuccessful. Agencies must integrate search functions with a federated search approach like the one that powers Science.gov, which brings together information from more than 50 databases and 2,100 websites from 13 federal agencies all in one place.
Federal agencies have tremendous opportunities to change the game on customer service and improve citizen interaction by using geo IP—connecting people to local benefits offices, post offices, armed services recruitment centers and more.
Next-generation search solutions have an intelligence layer and a context-based approach that can let them provide specific knowledge even before the search results appear. Just imagine the ease of typing in the word “tax” and getting an immediate display of the date that taxes are due this year or typing in “income” and getting median household income statistics for your state even before you hit return.
The recent addition of “Knowledge Graph” to Google’s search is taking context-based searching to the next level, providing traditionally unstructured data in an easily consumable format. Put to use by government websites, this kind of context-based search can enhance public information access and can help agencies meet expectations for using application programming interfaces to drive data accessibility.
September 11, 2012
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