General Mills Simplifies Research With Search Application

In the highly competitive global food industry, companies must develop and launch new ideas quickly in order to maintain a leadership position. One of the world’s leading food companies, General Mills, strives to do just that as it markets more than 100 consumer brands and runs operations in more than 100 countries.

Before developing new products, scientists and researchers in the General Mills Innovation, Technology and Quality (ITQ) group review available research for similar General Mills products. However, the sheer volume of information that the researchers need to reference made it difficult to navigate search results and reach meaningful conclusions in a timely manner.

As background, researchers stored much of their content on Microsoft Office SharePoint Server 2007 team websites but also consulted other applications within General Mills. Each of these applications had its own built-in search capability, so researchers had to perform the same search multiple times, usually by using different syntax rules. Besides consuming time, redundant search efforts produced a wide range of results and huge volumes of poorly qualified results.

General Mills also wanted to better connect its geographically-dispersed researchers with one another so that they could benefit from their shared expertise. However, none of the company’s search tools returned “people” results, which limited the researcher’s ability to find subject matter experts.

“We conservatively estimated that a better search capability could save our employees a minimum of a couple of hours a month, which quickly adds up to thousands of hours a year,” says Michelle Check, Research and Development Systems Leader in the Global Knowledge Services at General Mills.

The Search for Better Search Capabilities

In 2009, the General Mills Enterprise Collaboration Platform Team researched search technologies to both reduce the time spent searching for information and people as well as improve the quality of search results.

“We did a lot of benchmarking against other companies,” says Jenny Hon, Project Manager in the Enterprise Collaboration Platform Team at General Mills. “We were really impressed with what we saw of Microsoft FAST Search Server 2010 for SharePoint.”


Rapid Setup of Search-Driven Application

The General Mills Enterprise Collaboration Platform Team worked with Global Knowledge Services to create a pilot of a search-driven application for ITQ. By using the out-of-the-box data connectors in FAST Search Server 2010 for SharePoint, General Mills was able to quickly and easily connect all the diverse information sources that researchers had been searching separately.

“We linked in our existing SharePoint sites, internal websites, labeling system, even federated external sources, such as an external new-products database, and Bing, which is included with FAST Search Server 2010 for SharePoint out of the box,” says Jeremiah Werner, Development Consultant in the Enterprise Collaboration Platform Team at General Mills.

Comprehensive, Tunable Search

Now ITQ researchers can easily search multiple content sources by using a single search box. Icons for each content type tell the researcher what kind of document an item is—a Microsoft Office PowerPoint presentation, a Microsoft Office Word document and so forth—as well as which business application it comes from to help researchers more quickly find the information they need.

General Mills’ new application enables researchers to narrow search results by particular products. If a researcher performs a search for “high fiber cereals,” for example, he or she can further run specific product refiners for Total, Cheerios, and Chex cereals. All the content that contains those keywords generates in a separate area of the screen. By using refiners, General Mills can incorporate its business language while searching to yield accurate, useful results.

Connecting Experts with People Search

General Mills has also used FAST Search Server 2010 for SharePoint to implement people search. When a researcher performs a search on the cereal “Cheerios,” a list of other ITQ researchers affiliated with that product come up in a separate area of the screen so searchers can quickly narrow down the top subject matter experts.

With a possible future expansion of its new search capabilities beyond the ITQ group, General Mills Enterprise Collaboration Platform Team plans to tune the relevance of the search process to different areas of the business. By taking advantage of the user profiles in FAST Search Server 2010 for SharePoint, the company can adjust search results for particular user contexts.

Other benefits realized with FAST Search Server 2010 for SharePoint include:

Ease of Use — Leveraging several ease-of-use features to speed information search and to customize the user interface by adding photos and graphics to make search results more intuitive and engaging. More Time for Innovation — Finding information faster for faster, better-informed decisions during new-product development. “Researchers can go to one place instead of half a dozen to do their research, confidently knowing that they’re combing through all the relevant information,” Check says. Greater Opportunity to Expand on Existing Research — Reducing time spent redoing work that someone else has already done. When a researcher is creating a new soup, for example, and trying to understand other General Mills soups that contained oregano and pasta, he or she can consult relevant documents and experts.

Easy to Customize, Low Costs — Building on its IT staff’s existing knowledge and take full advantage of extensive functionality included SharePoint Server 2010 and FAST Search Server 2010 for SharePoint.

For more information about Microsoft SharePoint Server 2010, visit