Part 1 of this series focused on the overall role of governance in taxonomy management. It described the tasks that are part of governance and pointed out some of the pitfalls to avoid and questions to answer when developing governance policies. In this article, we’ll focus on the people involved in taxonomy management, covering the make-up of a taxonomy governance team and discussing some staffing strategies for taxonomy operations.
Maximizing ROI on Taxonomy Investments
Quality control mechanisms are an important function of governance, especially for businesses that operate in highly regulated environments, but they are not the only, or even most important purpose of governance. The high-level goal of taxonomy governance is to maximize the return on taxonomy investments. The taxonomy governance team establishes strategic goals for the taxonomy and develops organization-wide policies for taxonomy management and use designed to meet those goals. Goals, policies and procedures should not only be designed to mitigate risks but also to improve organizational performance and capabilities. As we discussed in Part 1, an enterprise taxonomy is used by many different individuals, groups, and systems and can impact multiple business processes. All of these stakeholders, at a minimum, should have insight into taxonomy management processes and a mechanism to provide feedback. Because of the breadth of business processes using the taxonomy it is also important that the governance team include high-level representation to provide strategic guidance and advocacy for taxonomy operations. In return, the governance team must communicate the positive benefits to stakeholders so that policies are more than just vague background noise.
A well-governed taxonomy requires a time commitment from stakeholders. Participation in governance team activities is one manifestation of this but of greater significance is the impact that policies and procedures developed by the governance team have on stakeholders and business processes. One of the most important tasks of a governance team is to communicate these policies and procedures in a positive way. Governance is often perceived as an enforcement mechanism and it’s natural for stakeholders to react defensively if they believe that policies are in place because they’re not trusted to produce high-quality work. Processes, standard operating procedures, responsibility matrices and so on are viewed–at best–as a necessary evil and are often thought of as active obstructions to productive work.
Taxonomy Governance Team Makeup
The size and precise makeup of taxonomy governance teams vary greatly depending on the size and complexity of both the organization and the taxonomy implementation. At one end of the spectrum a governance team might consist of a few individuals. In contrast, in an enterprise environment taxonomy governance might be one part of a larger data or IT governance organization made up of multiple teams. It’s also worth emphasizing that size is only one factor to consider when devising governance policies and allocating governance resources. For example, regulatory requirements vary widely across industries. It is completely appropriate for a business operating in a highly-regulated industry to dedicate a relatively higher proportion of resources to governance activities.
Governance efforts are more likely to fail because of human factors than technological ones. This means that a realistic assessment of organizational context is an important first step when creating a taxonomy governance team and setting expectations for taxonomy efforts. For example, significant disruptions to existing workflows typically result in poor compliance with governance policies. Identifying these potential pitfalls in advance is best accomplished by soliciting input from workers at all levels of an organization. This is just one reason why the governance team must include representatives from all stakeholder groups, not just from leadership and project management.
The table below describes the functional roles performed by a taxonomy governance team and lists the team members who are typically associated with a given role. The individuals fulfilling the roles will vary depending on the structure, management philosophy, and staffing model of the organization so these descriptions should be considered as general guidelines rather than specific job titles. It is also not uncommon for an individual an on the team to play more than one role.
|Team Member||Primary Role|
|Executive Sponsors||Provide strategic guidance, advocacy and support for taxonomy projects within the organization.|
|Identify business objectives, resolve cost/benefit issues and oversee resource allocation for taxonomy projects.|
Implementation and Support
|Develop and support taxonomy management tools or manage integration of third-party tools with relevant systems and organizational IT infrastructure.|
|Responsible for high- and low-level execution of taxonomy strategy and day-to-day taxonomy administration. May be an in-house team, an outside vendor in a long-term consulting relationship or a mix.|
|Systems, groups, and individuals that use taxonomy data in their day-to-day business operations. Typical consumers include content management, content strategy, user experience and web design, writing and publishing, site search, SEM and SEO, and business intelligence.|
|Provide expert advice on intellectual domains, business processes, and other subject areas described by organizational taxonomies. Subject matter experts may or may not also be taxonomy consumers.|
In broad terms representatives from management and business groups, information technology, taxonomy management and taxonomy users come together on the governance team to serve as advocates for their respective groups.
Taxonomy Governance Team: Leadership
Taxonomies can take many different forms and they serve a wide variety of purposes in different organizations. A customer-facing search and browse taxonomy that describes a product catalog is a typical application for an e-commerce company while a taxonomy could provide a detailed profile of a scientific domain for indexing research content for a company focused on R&D. Website navigation, customer and employee profiling, inventory management, records management, writing, publishing and content management and site search are some (but certainly not all!) possible taxonomy applications.
Because of the wide range of potential applications, taxonomy management can be the responsibility of an equally wide range of groups. Information technology groups, user experience and web design groups, libraries, and a range of marketing and business groups are all potential homes for taxonomy management. A taxonomy governance team needs executive sponsors and management representatives who can provide high-level guidance and steer taxonomy efforts in a productive direction for the business as a whole.
All members of the taxonomy governance team should contribute to the creation of a high-level strategy but this is fundamentally a task for executive sponsors and business decision makers. Some of the important questions that business leaders must answer include:
- Given that most large organizations have multiple applications that use taxonomies, will a single, multipurpose enterprise taxonomy be created and maintained or will multiple specialized taxonomies be used? Taxonomy implementation will be very different depending on the answer to that question.
- How will different taxonomy applications be prioritized?
- Given multiple taxonomy users, how will resources be allocated and how will taxonomy projects be funded? Will there be a central taxonomy management group?
- How will taxonomy goals be defined and what metrics will be used to measure success?
- How will new and emerging technologies and trends be evaluated and potentially incorporated?
A taxonomy deployment impacts many different groups within an organization, which means that conflicts over priorities and resource allocation are not unusual. Awareness of potential conflicts and a transparent decision-making process helps to minimize the strife between stakeholders. Managing the relationships between stakeholders is the single most important task of leadership representatives on the governance team. Leadership representatives on the governance team should include both executive sponsors and business group personnel who can provide insight into business processes and business needs.
Taxonomy Governance Team: Technology
Technical support is crucial for successful taxonomy implementation and use. Strategic and business goals must be realistic given an organization’s technical capabilities and constraints. The primary role of taxonomy governance team representatives from technology implementation and support groups is to provide the expertise needed to ensure that business goals align with technical reality.
Taxonomy implementations range from a small number of terms applied through a web publishing platform and managed in a spreadsheet to highly specialized vocabularies consisting of thousands of terms and relationships that are managed with dedicated software and support dozens of consuming systems. Obviously, the specific details have a dramatic effect on technical requirements.
Many taxonomy management systems provide tools for workflow and governance modeling and enforcement. Alternatively, if the taxonomy is maintained and applied from within a content management system then the governance team should determine an appropriate level of control and develop mechanisms to implement it. Finally, it’s important not to underestimate the work needed to integrate taxonomy management with consuming systems. The reality we see is that most organizations have a mix of third-party systems and systems that were built in-house and supporting multiple consuming systems is complicated. Development resources are required in all of these scenarios and input from technical stakeholders is needed when planning and prioritizing implementation and ongoing maintenance.
At the beginning of a taxonomy implementation technology questions center on defining technical solutions based on business objectives. Some of the questions technical stakeholders help to answer include:
- Adapting existing processes and technology versus building or buying new ones
- In-house development of taxonomy management tools versus purchase of third-party tools
- Organizational software acquisition and implementation policies
- Integration requirements for taxonomy management with consuming systems
As a taxonomy implementation matures, the technical emphasis shifts from implementation to ongoing maintenance and support, as is typical in the software lifecycle.
Technology stakeholders are typically in-house staff, although it is not unusual for contractors to be part of the team, especially during tool development and implementation stages when the workload may be significantly higher.
Taxonomy Governance: Taxonomy Development and Administration
Taxonomy management consists of the initial creation of taxonomies and related vocabularies and their maintenance over time. The responsibility of taxonomy management personnel is to execute policies created by the governance team, report to the governance team on taxonomy status and performance, and provide expert advice on taxonomy capabilities to inform decisions on future taxonomy development.
The tasks that are part of initial taxonomy development are quite different from those that are required during ongoing maintenance and administration. Those differences may require changes in emphasis on the part of the governance team, including team make-up and activities, depending the stage of the taxonomy lifecycle.
Taxonomy development will be driven by business requirements, working within organizational and technical constraints. Both requirements and constraints will be defined by the governance team, thus the taxonomy management representatives on the team must be sufficiently conversant in both business and technical issues to productively collaborate with team members from other disciplines. Next, execution of taxonomy development will require collaboration between taxonomists and subject matter experts to create vocabularies that represent relevant concepts using terminology that is accurate and meaningful to users.
Some of the questions that taxonomy management staff will answer for the governance team include:
- What specific taxonomies are required to meet business needs?
- Will these taxonomies need to be developed from whole cloth or can existing taxonomies be reused?
- Are there vocabularies, organizing principles or other classification methods currently in use within the organization that can be harvested and reused?
- Are there standard domain-specific taxonomies, thesauri, or ontologies that will satisfy the requirements, either as-is or with modification?
- Are implemented taxonomies meeting user and business needs?
- What changes are needed to improve taxonomy performance?
Staff for both taxonomy development and administration can be either in-house or provided by a specialized vendor in a consulting relationship. Staffing needs vary greatly between organizations and details of the taxonomy implementation should be considered carefully when staffing decisions are made. The initial development and implementation of specialized taxonomies can be a substantial amount of work and it is common to make use of consultants for this phase of the project. However, the costs for long-term administration should not be underestimated. Costs rise when organizations do not anticipate staff and resources needed for taxonomy maintenance. More importantly, without maintenance, taxonomies will atrophy and the value they provide to the organization is greatly diminished. Taxonomy management representatives provide the governance team with accurate assessments of taxonomy status as well as short and long-term resource needs.
The role of a taxonomy governance team is to ensure that taxonomy management occurs in a systematic, measurable, and reproducible way. It provides a mechanism for managing the needs and concerns of all taxonomy stakeholders and helps maximize the value of taxonomy resources by establishing organization-wide policies for taxonomy development, maintenance and use.