BlogLeon Zucchini6 min read

The hidden cost of search

The hidden cost of search

Do you know how much search is costing your team?

Have you ever spent an hour clicking through a network drive, wondering where you or your colleague saved a file? Or navigating pages and pages of Confluence or some other intranet site, only to not find what you’re looking for? If so, you know how frustrating and time-consuming it can be to find information in large companies.

Companies often view poor search experiences as merely an annoyance for employees. That’s a mistake, because besides all the frustration caused, search can cost a surprisingly large amount of money.

If there are 30 people in your team, search costs you over 500.000€ a year

This post explains how lack of good search solution can cost teams money, and offers a simple way to estimate (some of) the value for your team.

Frustration is real when you lose hours to find something at work

How (the lack of) search costs you money

Time wasted searching

The most obvious way that lack of a strong search system costs money is search time. McKinsey estimates that knowledge workers spend 19% of their time searching and gathering information.

Source: McKinsey Global Institute report

In a team of 30, an average of six people spend their time looking for information. All day, every day.

Search time is the time employees spend looking for information. That can be clicking through network drives or scrolling through emails, or it can be writing to colleagues asking for information.

On the internet, we’re used to finding results in seconds. However, finding information in companies can take hours, even days. We worked with one engineering group where finding justification for old engineering decisions could take many months at a time.

Reinventing the wheel

A second common cost of search is the time employees spend reinventing the wheel.

Anyone who’s experienced this knows how frustrating it is: You know there’s a document somewhere, but after a lengthy search you just give up and create it again.* And you’re lucky if it’s only a document, and not entire projects that are duplicated across really large companies.*

The crazy thing is that the company already invested in creating this knowledge, but is now investing in creating it again. It’s almost as if the work had been done and then the results were just deleted. This is especially problematic when you factor in employee attrition.

As people retire or change jobs, any knowledge of theirs that is not easy to find is lost.

This kind of wasted rework is common across many different areas. To name just a few examples:

  • Teams run projects that have already been done in a different part of the companies

  • Customer support agents re-type answers to questions that have already been answered before

  • R&D teams duplicate studies they aren’t aware of

  • Agencies and consultants re-invent proposal documents because case-studies and approaches are hard to find

Other ways search costs money

There are other ways that search costs companies money. Here are a just few other common impacts:

Customer satisfaction: Customers do not love waiting days or weeks for proposals or answers to their questions. They also expect companies to be consistent in their responses. Lack of strong search can cause delays and inconsistencies that reduce customer satisfaction. This is especially important for customer service teams.

The shoulders of giants: When teams can’t find each others’ work and end up recreating it, they’re not just wasting time. There’s an additional opportunity cost because they could have been building on the previous work to create new results. These lost synergies are particularly costly for project teams and R&D departments.

Risk avoidance: Employees who are unable to find the right information can pose a risk for companies. Incorrect, inapplicable, or outdated information can impact decisions and even damage customers and partners. For example, in engineering teams there is often no margin for error when providing technical information.

Employee satisfaction: In our private lives we’re all used to working with sleek, modern tools. That makes fighting slow and outdated tools at work all the more galling for employees — especially with something as basic as search. Employees can end up feeling undervalued, which can lead to loss of motivation and productivity, or even increased attrition.

How much does search cost?

What makes (lack of) search expensive

So how much money does search actually cost your company? It’s hard to say in general because it depends on the company and on the use-case, but there are some common mechanisms.

All other things being equal, lack of strong search will cost more:

  • The more people are involved (the bigger the team / company)

  • The more information is affected (more documents / systems), since this affects search time and failed searches

  • The more important searching information is for a team, e.g. search will be more important for an R&D team than for restaurant

  • The more damage caused if the team is unable to find accurate information quickly

A simple template

To help you get started with estimating the cost of search to your team, we put together an Excel template. You can download it here.

Template for estimating the cost of search for your team

For simplicity, we included only the mechanism of time wasted searching. Even so, you can see the numbers quickly become substantial. The other mechanisms tend to be a bit more use-case specific. However, as an example at Curiosity we’ve have worked with teams where reinventing the wheel has easily doubled the cost of search.

If you’re interested in estimating the cost of search to your team, go ahead and download the template. And if you’d like to dig into more detail, please feel free to reach out on our website or directly by email — we are happy to give you advice on building a business case.

Final thoughts

Searching for information at the core of many jobs, but it’s increasingly difficult. The amount of information in companies huge and growing rapidly, and we are constantly exposed new data sources and software tools.

While search is a pain-point for employees, its cost is frequently underestimated by management. That leads to insufficient investment and consequently to a waste of time, effort, and money.

This post aims helps you understand the cost of search to your team, to galvanize action and ensure your team’s knowledge put to the best possible use. If you have any thoughts or comments, please let us know!

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