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Thursday, March 8, 2007

The Power Of The Enterprise Taxonomy - Part II

With an enterprise taxonomy, the organization gets a tool for increasing the findability of its content through unified access and improved searching and browsing. It also simplifies integration, maintenance, reuse, translation, exchange and syndication of content. So, the business benefits of an enterprise taxonomy should be pretty clear. But how do you actually develop and implement it?

The main challenge in development and implementation of an enterprise taxonomy is of course political. The different units within the organization will need to cooperate and agree upon a common taxonomy and vocabulary. This is by far the trickiest part of the taxonomy development and implementation process, and it should not be underestimated. Otherwise, the process is pretty straightforward. I have made a try to sketch it out below:

1. Define & Research

Developing an enterprise taxonomy should of course start with determining the objectives, scope and requirements for the enterprise taxonomy. The scope should be easy to define, since it should be an enterprise taxonomy. But for what is it needed? How will it be used? How will it be maintained, by whom, how often and with what resources? How will it need to scale? And so on.

You should also perform a content inventory – produce a complete list of all the content that currently exists in the content landscape. To be able to do that you need to go to those who are developing and maintaining the content. What content do they develop or maintain? What is it about? Where is it located? Who needs it? What do they need it for? Once you have the list of all content with questions like these answered, you can start analyzing the content and design the taxonomy.

2. Analyze & Design

Analysis means trying to understand the semantic relationships and patterns between existing content. As in software development, analysis and design are two intertwined activities, two sides of the same coin. You really cannot do one without the other. So, when you start analyzing you will also start designing the taxonomy.

However, it is important to select an architecture that is suited to its purpose and that is scalable, i.e. can accommodate new content. As in software development, establishing the type of architecture should be done as early as possible. Otherwise, there will be problems later. A taxonomy is often envisioned as a hierarchic tree structure, but it doesn't need to be. A taxonomy could also have a flat, network, or faceted architecture. It can also be a mix of two or more of these architectural types.

3. Validate

Now it is time to test and evaluate the taxonomy with the appropriate validation techniques. You can use qualitative validation, quantitative validation, or a combination. In any case, by this stage you should have a first version of the taxonomy so that you can test it on users and stakeholders.

4. Deploy & Implement

Deploying and implementing the taxonomy can be expressed with simpler words - making it ready to use and putting it into use. Deploying the taxonomy means that it is available and can be used by content management systems, search engines, and so on. Implementing a taxonomy means actually attaching its attributes to the existing and new content. The taxonomy attributes can be terms from a controlled vocabulary, a list of standardized terms that describe concepts within the domain. Using a controlled vocabulary with agreed upon and carefully defined terms ensures consistency in content metadata and also sets a common language for the organization that reduces the potential for misinterpretation. So, using a controlled vocabulary for the taxonomy has its clear benefits.

Again, as in software development, there is no such thing as a big bang approach to implementation. Instead, start with a pilot and then start implementing the taxonomy throughout the organization according to a realistic roadmap.

5. Evaluate & Revise

Once the enterprise taxonomy is deployed, you need to maintain it. Two important activities in the maintenance are to evaluate how the taxonomy is performing and revise it when needed.

But how to govern and maintain an enterprise taxonomy is basically a subject of its own, which might also be the subject for a post or two later on.

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