Many people hadn’t even heard of taxonomy up until last year when Microsoft released their SharePoint 2010 platform.
The word taxonomy comes from the Greek taxis means arrangement or division and nomos means law. It is the science of classification according to a pre-determined system, with the resulting catalogue used to provide a conceptual framework for discussion, analysis or information retrieval. It takes into account the importance of separating elements of a group (taxon) into subgroups (taxa) that are mutually exclusive, unambiguous and taken together, include all possibilities.
It is estimated that “A company that employs 1,000 information workers can expect more than $5 million in annual salary costs to go down the drain because of the time wasted looking for information and not finding it, IDC research found last year.”
So why are taxonomies important?
Well, it has to do with the fact that organisations are basically collections of people who need to work together to create business ventures or to manage something towards a purpose. With Enterprise 2.0 the opportunities for people to collaborate have increased exponentially. Taxonomies are essentially about how we link people to information. This means that we have to understand how organisation’s think, which means that we need to look at how people think.
People think in terms of “implicit” taxonomies, internal to themselves. These implicit taxonomies are informed by their learning a language from childhood, their educations and experiences. For example let’s look at the concept of “cats”. At the next level we see varieties of cats – felines, lions, cheetahs, bobcats, cougars, leopards, jaguars etc. At the next level we encounter white lions, Bengali tigers, King Cheetahs, DSH etc. This is a typical example of an implicit taxonomy.
Ontologies on the other hand are characteristics that inform classification as a cat, type and sub classification; for example it is a cat if it is a mammal, has retractable claws, a Jacobson’s organ, is a carnivores with 4 legs, tail, whiskers, ears, fur etc. Tear ducts enhance the classification as a cheetah. Stripes enhance the qualification as a tiger. It is the combination of the terms in the ontology which tells you what type of cat it is.
Then we get associations such as “like” or “unlucky”, which are informed by experience.
As mentioned above organisations are collections of people and information is structured around shared or “explicit” taxonomies.
At the top we find “preferred” terms which are the broadest taxonomies which describe the domain, for example “products”. Then we have synonyms, for example offerings, services, goods, merchandise. These synonyms are used to aide search in case the user isn’t using the preferred terms when looking for what he wants.
Next we have extended terms which describe the category for example stationery, luggage etc. At the next level we have specific terms pens, paper, pencils etc.
It doesn’t matter what you call these various levels. Microsoft has its own words “group”, “termset” and “term”, but the meanings are essentially the same.
Metadata is information about the information which guides where it fits in the taxonomy, who can read it and what should be done with it. It includes ontology, document types and tags as well as curatorship information such as who has looked at this document in the past and who found it useful, which is the equivalent of “associations’ in implicit taxonomies.
It is a vital way of tying the user to the information he needs.
Benefits of using taxonomies and metadata
There are two primary beneficiaries; the employees who use the information and the organisation.
Done properly, users find it easy and intuitive to find information and it increases relevance of results. This increases adoption and reduces the cost of time wasted on search.
Metadata and taxonomies can also be used to automate the tagging functionality for uploads and classification of documents. It can also enhance the system’s ability to push the right information to the right user at the right time, which makes the system more useful.
For the organisation, taxonomies and metadata bring the promise of managing and customising in future, in other words curatorship of the knowledge within the organisation.
It also enables multi language support across multinational organisations. But its primary value is to unlock information within the organisation and to create and organise institutional knowledge.
As a further benefit organisations can now analyse data for innovation and report on it.
With the explosion of data within organisations, if they don’t organise their data now, they will be at a great disadvantage in the future. Upgrading to SharePoint 2010 provides the ideal opportunity for organisations to understand and manage one of their greatest assets. It is a daunting task, but critical to competitive advantage.
About Digital Bridges
Digital Bridges creates high performance organisations by unlocking the business value of the web. We create business cases, digital strategies, user requirements and functional specifications (including taxonomies and metatdata) for Intranets, websites and web applications. We also develop and implement social media strategies and create powerful digital brands using eMarketing and communication and manage brand conversations with consumers.
Digital Bridges has partnered with Innocentrix to bring Innovation solutions to the market which include a combination of people, process, technology and information gearing for Innovation. We are bringing Spigit software into South Africa and Africa. See this video http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=giptk7QCkXk
Digital Bridges approaches the web from a management consulting position and relies heavily on rigorous academic thinking as well as business experience. It is headed up by Kate Elphick who has a Law degree and an MBA from GIBS. Kate has spent the last fifteen years of her career on the business side of the IT industry with companies such as Datatec, Didata, Business ConneXion and Primedia.
Digital Bridges has a broad range of experience working with significant, successful clients in the Financial, Gaming, Tourism, Pharmaceutical, ICT, Legal, Airline, Professional Services, Media and Public Sectors.
To find out more about Digital Bridges, please visit www.digitalbridges.co.za or contact Kate Elphick on email@example.com