Building and Implementing Successful Taxonomies

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Building and Implementing Successful Taxonomies records taxonomy is a corporate-wide schema for the identification, retrieval, and disposition of all business records. It provides an easy-to-use system that allows people to easily store and retrieve the documents they use in their day-to-day business. (See the sidebar on page 43 for an example.) Although the term is often used in a limited sense to describe the hierarchical classification structure to be used for storing documents or records, in the modern and technological environment, it should certainly include more.


For all the importance assigned to taxonomies, few studies have shed light on what taxonomy design methods are effective, how much should be spent on the design, or how to make designs more successful. A September 2010 survey, “Records Classification Systems – Taxonomies,” included approximately 4,000 members from the United Kingdom (UK), North America, and Records Management Association of Australasia ListServes. The survey results, which included more than 170 responses worldwide, provide clues about how to improve taxonomy design methods and implementation planning to significantly increase their success rate.

James Connelly, CRM Ontology (Relationships)

Records Taxonomy

Classification (Heirarchy & Clustering)

Naming (Thesauri and Metadata)

Taxonomies should comprise classification schemes and relationship models, as well as detailed naming conventions, as the figure shows. With the advent of enterprise content management (ECM) tools, we can now easily manage “function-based” groups of records within repositories



that allow for proper disposition and, at the same time, we can display the documents or records in user-friendly structures that can include personalized taxonomies, faceted relationships, or business team-related arrangements. Along with policy and procedures, a taxonomy is one of the most crucial el-

ements of a records program. In fact, it is a linchpin. Once it is built, other key program elements can be established, including a records retention schedule and disposition program, a vital records program, and a program to manage personal information banks. Without a taxonomy, these elements are difficult to establish and maintain.

What were the main reasons your organization decided to build a records classification system/taxonomy? (Respondents could select more than one reply.) Improved Records Control or System Improved Lifecycle Management Following RM Best Practices Enterprise Content Mgmt. Implementation Mission-Critical

73% 62% 60% 52% 49%

Productivity Improvement Improved Hard Copy Management Improved File Server Management Cost Savings Needed to Improve SharePoint

35% 31% 26% 22% 18%

Providing Rationale for Building a Taxonomy It is interesting that the most commonly selected rationales, “better access and control” and “improved lifecycle management,” are traditional and embody basic records management principles.

Access and Control

During the design of a taxonomy, it is common to identify all business records in the data-gathering process. Simply knowing their location and ownership gives an organization better control over existing records. Also providing a structure to simplify storage and retrieval enhances access to individual records or documents.

Improved Lifecycle Management

A taxonomy is always the foundation of a records retention schedule. Legislation and policies often mandate recordkeeping for records that support specific business functions. By grouping similar business functions, it becomes easier to assess the need for retention, select an appropriate retention period, and make retention periods and “event triggers” more consistent throughout the organization.

Business Case Ra