Taxonomies are emerging from the boondocks of biology, library science, and book indexing into a dynamic knowledge-centric world. In this environment, taxonomies are being viewed potentially as the ‘silver bullet’ that will help knowledge workers find the needle in the (digital) haystack, reduce “friction” in electronic commerce, facilitate scientific exploration, and promote fruitful collaboration throughout the enterprise.

Taxonomy (with roots in the Greek τάξις, taxis (meaning ‘order’ or ‘arrangement’) and νόμος, nomos (involving ‘law’ or ‘science’) has been defined as “an organized classification of a conceptual space”, in that it attempts to cover and tag all noteworthy content and artifact within a particular domain. One of the best-known taxonomies is the one devised by Carl Linnaeus, the Swedish scientist, whose classification for biology is still widely used (with modifications).

Taxonomy makes available a hierarchical structure for the content and artifacts, from the broadest to the narrowest allowing users to comprehend and appreciate the context of each tag as they navigate through the taxonomy scheme.
Before taxonomies become an acceptable productivity tool within a corporate setting, the responsible executives need to dispel the myths and uncertainty created in part by the multi-disciplinary nature of taxonomies and the hype surrounding enterprise content management (ECM) and knowledge management (KM) solutions.

Taxonomy Myths 

Current myths associated with taxonomies include:

  • Taxonomies are provided only as a hierarchical list of topics.
  • There is only one suitable taxonomy for an enterprise.
  • Organizations can shortcut the taxonomy development work effort by the adoption of a generic taxonomy.
  • Taxonomy applications (what the end user works with) must conform with the same policies and conventions as the underlying taxonomy structure (how the data is stored).
  • Organizations craft successful taxonomies by investing at the end of the information life cycle (post-publication) and ignoring the beginning (content creation).
  • A taxonomy is derived exclusively from the content in a corporate repository.
  • Separate taxonomies for workers and documents are appropriate.
  • Personal and departmental taxonomies lack integration with other corporate taxonomies.


Organizations creating and deploying a taxonomy framework should set in motion an analysis exercise by identifying and understanding their corporate content demands, business process interactions (internal and external) and end-user needs and requirements. The formulation of a taxonomy strategy will, in general, provide the opportunity to dispel the myths outlined above and formulate an appropriate and pragmatic taxonomy implementation plan.

Taxonomy Design & Development Approach 

The Taxonomy design and development approach includes the below activities:

  1. Define a domain(s) for taxonomy use throughout the enterprise.
  2. Identify and assess corporate systems architecture with planned taxonomy use.
  3. Identify key decision points within business processes.
  4.  Formulate goals for taxonomy development and deployment.
  5. Develop taxonomy design and system requirements.
  6. Create a vocabulary of terms, a hierarchy of categories, and thesaurus.
  7.  Create navigation tools based on the taxonomy structure.
  8. Create a forward action plan for taxonomy development (or sourcing) and implementation.

The Bottom Line

The benefits of a successfully developed and implemented taxonomy include:

  • Time and effort savings
  • Streamlined business processes
  • Improved enterprise data and information integration
  • Faster searches and navigation and increased productivity
  • More highly leveraged knowledge and skills
  • Improve employee productivity and thereby influencing profitability


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