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How To Build A High-Octane Taxonomy For ECM And Enterprise Search Systems

By January 27, 2009December 20th, 2017Controlled Vocabularies

We all know that building controlled vocabularies in enterprise settings is not simply a nice (fun?) intellectual effort. The point is to deliver value to the enterprise, whether it’s aiding in realizing revenue or ensuring full utilization of knowledge assets. In “How to Build a High-Octane Taxonomy for ECM and Enterprise Search Systems” (Forrester Nov 2008 free with registration), Leslie Owens presents a strong discussion of exactly how to go about building that “taxonomy” for your enterprise.

First and foremost, you should never engage in a “taxonomy” project in a vacuum. Ultimately, it’s all about context and knowing that context. Owens echoes this belief. We work closely with our clients to first clearly define and document the business objectives and ensure the project’s objectives are aligned with the enterprise’s objectives. The work must be done within the context of a specific set of business objectives and goals. Then we work with our clients to identify the systems which will utilize the controlled vocabularies:

What are their constraints?

How will they process the information?

How might they display the information and surface the controlled vocabularies for the users?


Speaking of users, they are the third aspect of context which we have front of mind as we work with our clients to initiate these long-term efforts. Who are they, what is their level of knowledge about the content and its use, why are they using the systems to be enhanced, how do they do their work and how do they think about the content base(s), etc.

Owens presents a good, but academic, discussion regarding the techniques for building controlled vocabularies. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter which techniques are employed or in what combination you use them as long as you’re effective and the outcome is a controlled vocabulary which can be deployed, maintained and re-used for long-term business value. In our experience, most engagements involve utilizing a hybrid of techniques in an iterative process. It’s not worth getting caught up in labeling the technique (even for those of us often referred to as “the word police”).

If you’re considering initiating a “taxonomy” program within your enterprise, or you’re already well down the road, we strongly recommend reading Owens’s report. You will glean good information to guide you in your process. One last thought I would leave you with; no matter how “simple” you think this effort is, it should not be undertaken believing it is a “once and done” project. You are initiating a long-term program which should always remain as an active component in your ECM, search, knowledge management, or whatever larger appropriate program.