Four Challenges in Taxonomy Management

By Agnes Molnar posted 02-24-2014 14:43


Taxonomy Planning, Taxonomy Management, Metadata Governance—these expressions have been very commonly used recently. But when one asks what these mean, the answer is usually a hesitating "Well…”  It gets even worse if we ask HOW to do these.

In this post, my goal is to start a conversion with some thought-provoking points.


1.  Planning

A colleague of mine told me a couple of months ago, "Taxonomy Planning is an art similar to painting." Well, I really like the expression "Taxonomy Painting", but in my opinion, it’s much more than that — art and science at the same time. The very first challenge to face during a taxonomy project is the planning: How can we figure out what a good taxonomy means to this customer? What does this company need? What's the best taxonomy for this business? How to get there? 

Basically, there are two approaches here:

  • Buy a pre-defined, industry or problem-specific taxonomy.

  • Extract information from your existing content, and use statistical and analytical methods to generate taxonomy suggestions.

Of course, you can combine these, by buying taxonomy and then customize it with statistical and analytical tools, but involving tools that analyze your existing content to align the taxonomy to your needs. But whatever way you choose, you have to be aware. You must involve human resources into this phase (too). There’s no solution that can provide 100% to your taxonomy automatically, without any human interaction.

Besides these considerations, there are also some additional questions to answer. For example: How to identify the relationships between the terms in your taxonomy? How about the synonyms? What are the additional considerations in multi-lingual enterprises?

Answering these (and many more) must be the part of your planning phase.


2.  Implementation

Once the plans are ready, it's time to implement the taxonomy.

First, you have to create the hierarchical list of the terms to be used. With all the relationships, synonyms and multi-lingual variations.

But first, regardless of the content management system to use, you have to decide if you want to use its own taxonomy management feature (if any), or to integrate with a third party solution — if you want to edit them in place or use an external editor. If use an external editor, you have to make sure it supports all the features you'll use and vice versa: the taxonomy editor doesn't have any feature that cannot get imported into your system. Sometimes it seems to be very simple to “enter” the taxonomy into the system, but it has to be repeatable and consistent, and this can make it really complex.


3.  Keeping in Sync

If you have multiple content management systems, it makes sense to have the intent to keep their taxonomies in sync. You have to decide where the "master" taxonomy gets stored and managed: How will it be managed? Who are the owners? How can we modify or update the existing ones? What is the process of adding new tags? What is the process of removing a tag? What is the process of synchronization? What is the sync schedule? Is it a time-scheduled job or happens automatically after each update? What happens if the synchronization fails? How can we avoid and fix inconsistencies between the systems?


4.  Folksonomy vs. Controlled Vocabularies

Once your solution is in production, your users will start using it. This is definitely good for this was the goal of the whole implementation project, wasn't it?

But as every single piece of your ECM system(s), taxonomy needs "gardening" too. You have to take a look at it regularly — to remove the unneeded terms, merge some into your controlled vocabulary, and make some of them to be the synonyms of the other existing ones. Or maybe, you simply have to create new terms in your vocabulary.

Of course, you have to do this to keep your systems in sync. You have to keep the consistency across your systems. You have to follow your company's policies and recommendations, as well as the governance plan (it does exist, isn’t it?). You can use the tool that you used during the implementation, but as you can see, the challenges in this phase are a bit different.



As you can see, Taxonomy Management is a real, complex science (but at the same time, a nice one, too!). There are a lot of things to consider in each phase. You can never stop and say, "I am done". First, you plan where you want to have shades to relax under, where you want to have beautiful flowers, and where on the lawn you want your kids to play football. Then you plant trees and flowers, water them, and wait. They'll grow, and bloom and soon you'll have a beautiful garden. But then, winter comes, and in the next spring, you have to work in your garden to make it more beautiful. You have to keep working there regularly: mowing, cutting, planting, etc. Each is an important step.

Taxonomy Managementis very similar to this — it needs continuous gardening. But with the considerations above,you can keep it under control.

#EnterpriseContentManagement #governance #planning #taxonomymanagement #TaxonomyandMetadata #InformationGovernance