$49.51 billion.

By 2021, this is the size of the market for employee collaboration tools, a 13.2 percent compound annual growth rate from the 2016 market size of $26.68 billion, according to a 2016 report. Enterprise social networks, like Slack and Yammer, hold the largest market share.

Enterprises are making these investments to enable communication between employees with platforms that more closely mimic the experiences on social media. These applications will cut down on the frustrations of ignored emails and long meetings, paving the way to more productivity and innovation.

But they don’t solve the real problem facing businesses today: relevance.

Employees struggle to find the task-relevant insights they need to do their jobs: an IDC report indicates that workers find the information they need only 56 percent of the time and it takes at least eight searches to find information for 80 percent of respondents according to a 2013 survey.

For organizations with these issues, employee collaboration tools are the equivalent of applying a new coat of paint to a car with transmission problems. At best, it’s ineffective but at worst, it creates the impression the real problem has been solved. These tools make it seem as if providing a platform for instantaneous communication will make it easier to find and access knowledge, when in reality, they rely on employees to do their searching and sharing of knowledge, understanding of context, and analysis of effectiveness of the knowledge.

Imagine a call center agent on a call with a customer on their first day after training. The  customer’s question wasn’t covered in training and digging around in the database gets them nowhere. Messaging a more experienced coworker on one of these tools may help, but that depends on the coworkers’ availability and understanding of the customer’s context, not to mention if he or she is even the right person to approach for this question.

What does the new employee really need? A way to find the relevant insights from the veteran employee in one knowledge base. Employee collaboration tools don’t provide this. They are merely a platform for receiving relevant information, but their technology won’t solve the relevance problem.

How to solve the relevance problem

There is a better approach to solving the relevance program: AI-powered search with user-driven insights and machine learning.

  1. Connect the ecosystem of record. Information silos keep employees from accessing each other’s knowledge and adding to the organization’s collective expertise. Break down these silos by joining all of the knowledge systems, including on-premise and the cloud, with connectors into one ecosystem.
  2. Leverage intelligent search to meet and anticipate employees’ needs for relevant insights. External search engines set a high bar for what employees expect when they use search, and when your search technology does not use context, it just doesn’t pass. AI-powered search applies machine learning to usage analytics to deliver the right information to the right person every time. The system continuously learns from users what content will be most helpful and automatically tunes for relevance.
  3. Provide user-driven insights to improve the knowledge management strategy. What queries are not returning results? What about results with low clickthrough rates? These are the types of questions usage analytics can answer in order to guide the content creation and KM strategy.

Solving the relevance problem this way is more difficult than installing an enterprise collaboration tool, but there is more business impact as well. Employees are able to do more on their own, becoming proficient at their jobs in less time. In fact, one Fortune 50 Healthcare company decreased the amount of time for new hires to become proficient with highly technical and complex support calls from two years to two months during a crucial period of expansion into new markets. Some companies have even been able to lower their cost of hiring by hiring for lower skilled employees and then using AI-powered search to upskill them to handle more complex tasks.

In addition, the next generation of businesses will be driven by the ability to be innovative and agile in response to customers. Innovation and agility depend on the ability of employees to collaborate, build upon coworkers’ expertise, and make decisions quickly based on the data they have – all objectives severely threatened by the information silos dominating businesses today. Losing insight into those changing needs inhibits the ability of the organization to connect with their customers, and fail to become truly customer-centric.

For a more in-depth look at solving the enterprise relevance problem with AI-powered search, download the Guide to Building an Intelligent Workplace.