Business Taxonomies and the Democratization of Content Management

In today’s information systems, an organization’s business users are more active than ever in the creation, publication, identification, and consumption of information. From big data, to social computing, to content and document management, users are generating more and more information.  I refer to this as the democratization of content management.  What was once the role of a few within an organization is now a component of virtually every employee’s job.  In practical terms, this means more people have a voice.  They are translating their tacit knowledge, ideas, and expertise into content the organization can use and reuse.

This democratization of content management also comes with a price, however.  More content being generated by more people can result in a dilution of the information that is most valuable.  In other words, many organizations are now struggling under the weight of their own successes to capture information.  My review of a myriad of information systems, both public and private, demonstrates this fact.  Often times, users are accessing no more than 5-10% of the content within a system on a regular basis.  As more content gets added, this most valuable and most used content can become harder to find.  Moreover, the larger corpus of content often acts as a roadblock or hiding place for information that might otherwise benefit users.

Organizations are often trying to address this dilution challenge by seeking new or updated technologies.  Though there is certainly a place for that, it is commonly not the panacea many try to sell it as.  A recent client, for instance, invested over $3m in license fees and big-name consulting services to modernize their content and document management systems.  The end result was a system with lower end user satisfaction and increased administrative costs.

A much more practical and cost-effective solution is in the design or refresh of the taxonomies that power your information systems.  I created the concept of the business taxonomy to refer to end-user focused controlled vocabularies and information structures designed by the user and for the user.  Business taxonomies present an integral component of the solution to the challenge I discuss above.  A well-designed and implemented business taxonomy can improve the “findability” of information, improving search and browse as well as the broader user experience.  A business taxonomy can also lead to the discovery of content users weren’t aware of, thereby revealing efficiencies that would’ve otherwise gone unrealized.

Though taxonomies are just one piece of the puzzle, they are compelling for the potential return on investment.  Instead of investing millions in software, hardware, and complex customizations, not to mention the heartbreak of change management and user adoption, a taxonomy redesign effort can be measured in thousands.  For that relatively minor investment, however, the potential returns are massive.  Internals systems with a well-designed business taxonomy will provide time savings via improved findability and discovery of unknown content that can be reused instead of recreated.  External sites see even greater returns, especially when effective business taxonomy is applied to eCommerce, resulting in drastically improved sales.

Zach Wahl Zach Wahl Expert in knowledge and information management strategy, content strategy, and taxonomy design. Zach is passionate about forming and supporting high-functioning teams and facilitating results-focused outcomes with his clients. More from Zach Wahl »