Design & Technology June 22, 2015
How to Approach a Corporate Taxonomy
Many organisations struggle to know where to begin with a taxonomy; often, it will be in use on an ad-hoc basis in pockets of a large organisation, but without an overall strategy.
There are a number of important considerations that must be reviewed when thinking about a taxonomy. We like to start by asking these questions:
What are you going to tag?
This is going to help to determine where the taxonomy lives. Is the scope of your content in a single system or many systems? Will this change in the future? Are there technical limitations to existing systems that may impede integration?
Is multi-lingual translation a requirement?
Many tools in common use today contain some form of taxonomy, but not all of them support localisation of the keywords. Make sure that you capture this requirement on day one, even if you don’t localise until later.
How will you use the tags?
There are many benefits to a taxonomy, but introducing one just for the sake of it will add overheads that may outweigh the benefits.
Document your use cases and then look at how a taxonomy could help. For example:
A content editor in Brazil needs to locate all content in the organisation relating to your ‘WhizzBang 2.0’ product, known in Brazil as ‘Bang-o-whizz 2.0′.
How taxonomy helps:
The content editor in the UK tagged a press release about the release of WhizzBang 2.0 with the keyword ‘WhizzBang’ from the global taxonomy. This press release was indexed into the enterprise search server.
The editor in Brazil searched for ‘Bang-o-whizz’ in their search interface; the keyword ‘bang-o-whizz’ was indexed as a synonym / translated version of ‘WhizzBang’ and the UK article was returned.
Who will benefit from an applied taxonomy?
Answering this question will help you to assign a priority to the order in which you integrate the taxonomy into your systems.
For example, if you have identified that visitors to your public website are struggling to locate relevant content and leaving after viewing a single page, you may wish to prioritise adding a ‘Related Content’ component to the website, powered by your taxonomy.
Who will add and maintain the tags?
It goes without saying that the taxonomy of a global business is going to be large. People need to be in place to maintain this.
We see that this falls into three general scenarios:
- A central team manages all of the terms in the taxonomy.
Creates a bottleneck for publishers wanting new tags.
Places a large workload on the admin team.
People may choose to abandon the taxonomy if the required terms aren’t available.
2. Everybody is free to create terms.
The taxonomy becomes fragmented.
Little or no governance.
Taxonomy becomes hard to use and compromises the effectiveness of content discovery tools.
3. Everybody can create terms but new items must be approved by a central team.
In general, this option works well if your organisation can support the workflow.
Which system will be used to store the terms?
Once you have the answers to the questions listed above, you can start to consider where the terms will live.
This may be an existing system, such as SharePoint or your content management system, or it could be a dedicated taxonomy management tool such as PoolParty
How will you integrate your other systems with this?
Consider how your chosen system would integrate with your existing applications. Are good APIs available? Is access going to be a problem (for example, across corporate firewalls or for mobile apps). Can the taxonomy be easily indexed into a search server?
Produce a roadmap showing how you plan to roll the taxonomy out:
How will you create the first set of tags?
Perhaps you already have a taxonomy (or taxonomies) in use, but does this need reviewing to ensure that it fits with the needs of your whole organisation?
Consider that attempting to capture every term required for your business could be time-consuming and inaccurate.
Instead, it may be beneficial to begin by identifying the top level categories in which all of your terms will live, for example: People; Applications; Machines; Products. You can then expand this with more specific content.
Keep your initial taxonomy broad and shallow and build out from there.
Automated text-mining can also be beneficial in creating your initial taxonomy, but beware of flooding your taxonomy with unnecessary terms!
Some further considerations
Answering these basic questions will help you to gain a better understanding of your needs, and some ideas about the work required to implement a solution. However, there are a number of other important considerations when dealing with taxonomy:
Do you already have an enterprise search platform? How will the taxonomy affect this? A taxonomy is one way of facilitating cross-system content discovery, so you must plan how to integrate and place the taxonomy at the core of your search system.
Your taxonomy is only as useful as the terms within it. If you choose to implement a workflow then consider: do you have the resources to support this? Do new business processes need to be defined and new roles created?
You must ensure that there is no bottleneck in the workflow, so that content owners adopt the taxonomy and feel that they own it.
If your taxonomy is multi-lingual then ensure that you enlist local area experts to translate the terms in the taxonomy. A successful taxonomy should allow global audiences to find the information they desire, regardless of language.
A taxonomy becomes truly useful when it is adopted across as many information systems as possible. Tagging all content, regardless of the system, with the same keywords and indexing this into an enterprise search system is the holy grail of content discovery!