One of the problems of information management, as represented by both Master Data Management and Metadata Registry efforts, is a confusion of terms. Have we always referred to “purchasing decisions” or has there been a shift in terms with the merger or the change in management or simply a cultural evolution so that now we’re talking about “buying decisions”?
Not a big deal, right? We can ask our programmers to write some code to recognize both in the marketing reports. Speaking of markets, does that term represent groups of users to whom we target our advertising or does ‘markets’ represent the physical space from which our product is distributed? Ah, language, such a challenge.
A taxonomy can help – a list of the concepts integral to our business, arranged in a hierarchy that imparts relationship meaning when used to navigate the website or our content repository. We can even include notes to disambiguate terms like ‘markets’ and associate synonymous or functionally equivalent terms with one “preferred” expression. Export it in XML format and combine it with a rule base to use in tagging all those disparate forms of information and we’ve accomplished the core of the solution to making effective use of diverse information sources and silos.
But I think the process of developing an organizational taxonomy is even more important than the fully developed taxonomy. And it should involve representatives from every department and division of an organization. Identifying and organizing the concepts of an organization’s operations and repositories uncovers information needs and uses and makes the path to effective integration clearer. Those user surveys done by the PR firm for Marketing to use in targeted advertising can be useful to the Product Development and Customer Support people too. Metadata collected from promotional offers can inform the “buying decision” branch of the taxonomy.
In the recent taxonomy webinars hosted by ASIS&T, Zack Wahl and Jill Tabuchi of Project Performance Corp. emphasized the use of workshops and feedback interviews to involve a cross section of organizational representatives in building the organization’s taxonomy. It takes a significant commitment, but what better way to collaborate and share resources? A workshop focuses attention on the task while providing a forum for interaction among participants. As always, success depends on clearly defined goals and a well iterated plan and timetable to achieve them. With those in hand, I think the process of developing a taxonomy can be the keystone to effective information use.
The key concepts identified in workshop focus groups become the top terms of an organizational taxonomy, and perhaps some of their level 2 “child terms”. The information resources used in your organization that you’ve inventoried can be a source for the rest of the taxonomy terms. You can then turn the job over to professional taxonomists to complete the taxonomy. It can then truly serve as an effective road map to organizational resources.