After critical business information has been identified at a high level and a focal has been assigned, best practices from complementary disciplines can be incorporated.

Identify the main subjects for a business-specific controlled vocabulary 

Each company or organization develops its own language for talking about what it does. Like all languages, organizational languages are based on a common way of seeing and thinking. A technology or farm machinery company may use alphanumeric designations to identify thousands of products. An entertainment firm may use cryptic acronyms in discussing thousands of events or programs. An agricultural organization may talk about plans and events as they relate to “the harvest.” Even within one company, the language varies between departments. A finance department is likely to have a language that is different from the language used in research or operations departments.

Controlled vocabularies provide the key for translating organizational language between departments, between new and experienced employees, and between internal and external stakeholders. Controlled vocabularies also provide the basis for consistent analysis, visualization, and reporting, as well as effective search, retrieval, and distribution. Maintaining effective, business-specific controlled vocabularies provides a competitive advantage. They can also provide operational advantages by supporting the translation of business concepts into rapidly evolving IT technical concepts.

Creating and maintaining controlled vocabularies, including relationships and cross-references, has been a best practice in library science, information science, and records management for a very long time. Over time, effective principles, practices, and standards have been developed for them, but currently marketed tools do not always use them.

At the beginning, it is important to identify the main business subject areas that might benefit from a controlled vocabulary. They may be specific to one or more industries, to a discipline, or to a technique. Existing vocabularies and standards can then be identified as building blocks or goals for future cooperative efforts.  Industry and subject vocabularies can usually be found through associations, through research, or through vocabulary lists such as Access Innovations’ TaxoBank. General standards for creating and maintaining vocabularies can be found through ANSI and ISO and apply more generally than technology-specific standards.

Once pertinent subjects, vocabularies and standards are identified, basic policies should be established regarding their use and upkeep. Like all languages, organizational languages change and evolve with use.   Because cultural and business environments are rapidly evolving, vocabulary policies need to support rapid innovation and creativity.

Define the general types of needed metadata

The metadata needed to identify and track business critical information and data is specific to an organization and is a corporate asset. Defining and maintaining it in a consistent, reliable, useful form is essential, even when a tool provides “OOB (Out Of the Box)” implementations or automated discovery. At a minimum, tools must be configurated and business vocabularies, codes, users, and processes retrofitted to the tool and then maintained. Ongoing tool success and return on investment require significant effort and investment in the definition of policies, standards, vocabularies, processes and procedures. Usually this involves changes in work, roles, and responsibilities for which planning and ongoing management are essential and need to be added to tool costs.

As with vocabulary creation and maintenance, many effective principles, practices, and standards have been developed over time for metadata definition and maintenance, but tools do not always use them.

At the beginning, it is important to identify the main areas of business concern and vulnerability, such as regulatory compliance, product liability, cross-departmental standardization and communication, fulfillment of marketing strategies, or a variety of business specific customer and product-related issues. Each of these areas requires specific tracking techniques and processes that dictate specific metadata. ANSI, ISO, and technology specific standards, such as those designed for the Internet, may be applicable to a business.  Determining which standards are applicable will require research.

Governance Level Understanding of Information and Data Needs 

Developing a governance level understanding of information and data needs, consisting of the four steps outlined in this and a previous blog posting in this series can be handled as time bounded projects. This high level understanding will be invaluable in providing a business-oriented basis for prioritizing and managing additional work, scoping and justifying the creation of an information and data governance program, and evaluating and efficiently implementing cost-effective new technologies.

Watch future blog postings for more on this subject.

Judith Gerber (guest blogger), JGG Enterprises

Sponsored by Access Innovations, the world leader in taxonomies, metadata, and semantic enrichment to make your content findable.