Case Study: How BG Group made Google work internally

Natural gas supplier, BG Group, has deployed the Google Search Appliance (GSA) , to help staff find...

Natural gas supplier, BG Group, has deployed the Google Search Appliance (GSA), to help staff find corporate information more quickly. The project showcases enterprise search best practices. BG Group claims the technology is helping users find information twice as quickly with 33% greater accuracy.

BG Group is using Google to provide a consistent search capability, allowing users to find relevant information across SAP NetWeaver Portal, Microsoft SharePoint and Documentum enterprise systems. BG employees are also using the system to find shared files on the corporate network and postings on BG Connect, the company's wiki and blogging platform.

BG Group needed to improve how users found information. Each of the enterprise systems had their own search capability, but were unable to "see" data in the other systems. Mike Fishwick, global head of business information and business intelligence, BG Group, says, "We are trying to put the I into IT. BG has a global user base of 8,000 people with lots of ways of searching across different systems . So we had information all over the place."

Reasons why BG Group selected Google Search Appliance

  1. Cost model
  2. Brand recognition
  3. Modular approach to rollout


The project aims to improve accessibility to BG's knowledge assets and improve confidence in search tools and search results and to help the company start improving data quality. The project aimed to build a common hook across the company to allow everyone to have access to the BG Group's information assets. "We want to improve "findability". We had too many people searching and not enough people finding."

GSA has solved these problems and the use of corporate search has skyrocketed. Only 6% of users were using the previous methods of finding corporate information through searching. This has now grown to over 40%.

The project has had three main benefits. First, user surveys have shown GSA is twice as fast as the old search and returns 33% more relevant searches. Second, it has allowed BG Group to understand whether the content returned by search results is "good enough", providing feedback on what users information users are looking for, and where there is a shortfall in relevant content. "We monitor all searches. After Christmas we found "annual leave policy" was a big search but there was not enough information on the portal to pull up the relevant information. After we flagged this to HR, we now have good content on annual leave."

Fishwick says that Enterprise search is only useful if information is readily available. If data is classified, users will be unable to find it. "Now we are trying to drive a change in business behaviour where we move from a culture of secure by default, to only [classifying] the documents that need to be secure."

Tips on rolling out Google Search Appliance

  1. Get users involved at start. Provide relevant information from enterprise search queries. If content is thin, get relevant departments to produce additional content
  2. Scope management. By tightly controlling the project BG Group was able to deliver the project in seven months rather than 12
  3. Design in quality right from start. If it does not work, users will not use it.
  4. Google was not involved in day to day management of the project. Instead it was used to do quality assurance.


Both Google and independent analysts have recognised the BG Group implementation of GSA as a major achievement. Neil Ward-Dutton, research director at analyst MWD says, "Search engine technology is everywhere, but for large organisations, it is often seen as a second class citizen by the people who deliver IS services. It is very rare to find organisations with a common view, which is what makes BG Group interesting."

Deploying the Google Search Appliance is more than plug and play

The Google Search Appliance puts Google's search algorithms into a server that businesses host within the corporate network, allowing them to run searches across unstructured data. While some deployments of GSA simply rely on plugging the appliance into the corporate network, BG Group's implementation shows how it can link tightly with IT security policies, to ensure people only see search results of information they are authorised to access.

Security at BG Group is handled using the Kerberose network authentication protocol, Windows NT LAN Manager and SAP Authorisations APIs. With these, the GSA can restrict which users see classified documents.

BG Group is also using the dynamic clustering feature of the product, which, like Google's internet search, gives users suggested queries. Chambers says, "We also have attribute filtering switched on so users can modify search results refine searches iteratively."

Pilot project

BG Group began the enterprise search project in September 2008. The company called in analyst house Forrester research to help identify products and used the Gartner Magic Quadrant for enterprise search to produce a shortlist. It looked at Autonomy, Microsoft (Fast) and Google. According to Mike Fishwick, global head of business information and business intelligence, BG Group, "Google came out on top, in particular in terms of user sentiment, since people were using Google at home."

Andrew Chambers, project manager, BG Group said the company needed a search tool that would offer a single integrated security model. "We needed to prevent users from seeing information they were not authorised to see. Speed was an additional requirement. The BG knowledgebase had to remain accessible, even if network bandwidth was poor.

Before embarking on the project the IT department ran a survey which found that users were unhappy with corporate search. Some said searching took too long. Others complained they were not having much success, because the information was either irrelevant or out of date. "69% of our users rated the accuracy of our data as poor or very poor."

BG Group invited Google to deploy an eight week proof of concept using the Google Search Appliance. According to Chambers, the pilot took just a few weeks to implement and proved a success. "We were able to create a pilot that could search across Documentum, SAP, file shares, SharePoint and test the security model and access across our enterprise systems." But he says, moving from pilot to a production system would take significantly longer, as BG Group needed to spend a lot of time ensuring the security would be correct.

BG Group began development in February 2009, and by September 2009 had a production system to access the SAP portal. Google specialist Sword Group, provided the technical know-how, while BG provided information specialists. Quality was a key criteria for Chambers. "We spent three months in testing, since we wanted to make sure it was fit for purpose and did what it said on tin, both at a system test and load test level." For instance, the GSA had to return search results within five seconds.

The rollout of Google's enterprise search appliance at BG Group is fully fault tolerant. It uses the 7000 GSA platform, running two Tomcat web application servers. "We have had no production outage since going live in September 2009," says Chambers.

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