Most data retained by organizations is not identified or classified. This can be costly for storage, as well as being potentially non-compliant.

Data classification is the process of organizing data into categories for its most effective and efficient use. A well-planned data classification system makes essential data easy to find and retrieve. Written procedures and guidelines for data classification should define what categories and criteria the organization will use to classify data and specify the roles and responsibilities of employees within the organization regarding data stewardship. Once a data-classification scheme has been created, security standards that specify appropriate handling practices for each category and storage standards that define the data’s life-cycle requirements should be addressed.

Many take data security seriously and have sophisticated physical and logical security controls – yet they don’t use data classification standards, or even have policies and procedures covering data classification. How do you know what security controls are appropriate if you don’t know what data you want or need to protect?

Data classification standards are the starting point for any security initiative. Whenever data is created, amended or received, its sensitivity level needs to be defined. Then, an organization can establish the appropriate level of security required to protect it.

Classifying data and knowing how its value changes over time will improve service levels, create a better working relationship with business units and reduce costs. Data classification has other benefits as well. Organizations can reduce data duplication, cut storage and backup costs, and speed up search, retrieval and discovery. Data can be stored more effectively as well. Active data, for example, can be kept on high-performance systems with encryption accelerators where necessary, and archive data can be placed on lower ones.

Classification and taxonomy are two closely related words that some people find confusing. Both terms reflect the fact that we encounter large amounts of information in everyday life and our brains need some way to synthesize and contextualize that information. Concepts like classification and taxonomy help us make sense of the world by improving our ability to find important content in an information-rich world.

Classification and taxonomy are both methods for organizing and categorizing large amounts of data in a form that humans are able to comprehend. However, the real difference between the two is that taxonomies are more concerned with providing exhaustive lists while classification is not exhaustive. Taxonomies are based on providing a hierarchical relationship map between a multitude of items while classification usually only groups items according to one or two attributes. The fundamental difference is that taxonomies describe relationships between items while classification simply groups the items.

Even in topics of little to no interest, there are applications for the science of taxonomy. The important thing to remember is a strong standards-based taxonomy is one with true integrity. Access Innovations is one of a very small number of companies able to help its clients generate ANSI/ISO/W3C-compliant taxonomies.

Melody K. Smith

Sponsored by Data Harmony, a unit of Access Innovations, the world leader in indexing and making content findable.