Some Thoughts on Effective Enterprise Taxonomies for Content

While discussions of content management are usually referred to in the context of the needs of enterprises (i.e. Enterprise Content Management, ECM) in reality most ECM deployments start at the departmental level. This is not bad – on the contrary departmental deployments typically address specific business needs thereby sharpening their focus to improve their chances of success. However, over time as an enterprise begins to deploy ECM technologies in many departments, the benefits of an enterprise strategy to support cross-enterprise deployment become apparent.

At Open Text we have recognized that there are a number of essential elements without which transitions from departmental to enterprise-wide deployments tend to fall into a 'chasm.' It may seem obvious, but it essential to treat enterprises differently than individual departments, especially since:

  • Enterprise deployments inherently connect departmental deployments rather than replace them
    • If your aim is to facilitate the timely, process-dependent flow of content between departments then you have to accommodate varied work cultures, processes, content types, taxonomies and technologies already in place in order to make the necessary connections as part of a clear enterprise-level content architecture. Wholesale replacement is seldom a realistic option, but supplementing and amending can be effective.

  • Enterprise deployments can also create additional value by enabling new, enterprise-spanning, content-centric processes and perspectives that cannot be achieved solely by connecting departmental deployments
One element to successfully implementing enterprise-level content management is an effective enterprise taxonomy.

  • Enterprise or corporate taxonomies (see Wikipedia definition) are becoming increasingly critical to classify, save, access, reuse and report on growing volumes of information within an enterprise
  • Enterprise taxonomies are particularly important for Content Management and Knowledge Management, but the needs of each of these disciplines are not exactly the same
While the principals of taxonomy development are relatively well understood, there are particular challenges associated with effective enterprise taxonomies. In my discussions with colleagues several recommendations have emerged:

  1. Externally derived and validated taxonomies should be adopted whenever possible – this can be especially critical when you are faced with multiple, overlapping taxonomies that were adopted and typically custom built to suit the needs of specific departments
  2. If you adopt an external taxonomy (#1 above) it is most likely that you should only implement a simplified subset – aim for 'just enough' detail
  3. Natural language taxonomies are preferable to numeric or other code-type taxonomies to support user adoption
  4. The appropriate taxonomy type or structure should be chosen before implementation is started, i.e. flat, hierarchical, network or faceted
  5. Each taxonomy you deploy at the enterprise level should be orthogonal to any other
Typically enterprise taxonomy discussions begin when staff become frustrated because they cannot access the information, and especially content, they need from one location. In such cases an enterprise taxonomy may be seen as an access enabler (e.g. through a portal) where the focus is on information presentation.

Another driver may be the need to manage key records to meet regulatory demands. In this case an enterprise taxonomy is expected to support storage of all relevant content and effective retrieval on demand by a small set of users. Such taxonomies often don't serve the general needs of all staff.

A third scenario is becoming more common: ensuring that appropriate content items are presented in the context of business processes that already rely on structured data (e.g. in ERP or CRM systems). In effect metadata applied to content can be the effective bridge between structured data and unstructured content.

The recent application of social networking technologies within enterprises has brought with it demands to classify unprecedented volumes of small content items where much of the meaning depends on the context of discussions and may not be captured within the content itself. In this case we need to consider deriving social metadata.

These are some initial thoughts on the topic of enterprise content taxonomies. It is a rich topic that I expect to explore in greater detail in future posts, especially looking at reconciling nor only classic, mandated taxonomies, but also the more recent emerged user-managed cloud taxonomies.
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The tale of two coffees – or why altruism doesn’t work in ECM

Our facilities management has been changing how coffee is provided, and judging by the posts on our internal social network, they have been failing miserably.

On the face of it, the new system should be much better – freshly brewed coffee in a range of blends and flavours. It replaced a system using single pouches of reconstituted, dried coffee that most people felt was tolerable at best.

So where's the problem? The new system depends on altruism. The coffee must first be brewed in several large batches that are then saved in thermal carafes to hold the brewed coffee without burning it. There are five or six blends, and therefore an equal number of carafes in every small office kitchen.

In the ideal use case, a 'user' comes to a kitchen, selects the blend they would like and dispenses a steaming mug-full. If they see that a given carafe is almost empty they set it under the coffee machine, select the right blend, push various buttons and then ideally wait ten minutes until it is completely brewed, or at least expect another colleague to finish the process and move the carafe back to its stand.

Of course anyone reading this knows what actually happens. You come to get a coffee, find several carafes empty, take some coffee from one of the only carafes with some left, and then find it is lukewarm. To rectify this situation you would need to brew up at least three or four large carafes, but you're already in a foul mood so you just walk away in disgust. After all, you have an important business meeting in one minute and the company isn't paying you to make coffee for everyone!

There have been attempts to rectify this. I've seen helpful Post-it notes saying, "Brewed at 1:35pm" – which at 4:00pm tells me I don't want to even try the half-empty carafe! Packages of the correct blend are kept next to the carafes to make sure people can find the right one – as if that was the only reason they hadn't re-filled an empty carafe before!

So it's pretty clear un-recognized altruism doesn't work in the workplace. That's as true for coffee-making as it is for managing content.

ECM implementations that depend on users to do more than they need to do to discharge a task don't work. Enforcement efforts only work until people find an alternative, which is becoming increasingly easy to do with the availability of free Cloud resources.

But self-promotion works, which is recognized in successful social networking implementations. So look to social networking as a way to get people to do things that they wouldn't otherwise do in your ECM systems! After all, why else would I be writing this piece on my personal time?!

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Instant Messaging: dating or working?

Instant Messaging (IM) is becoming more common in enterprises, although the latest statistics I have seen suggest not as much yet as some people expect.

Personally I use IM in a work context almost every day. I hadn't given much thought on how I use it, other than realizing:

  1. I am a lousy typist who needs an autocorrect feature in my IM client, and
  2. Often IM is a preamble to a telephone call as I mostly work in a home office. My IM posts often go as follows: "hi > are you free? > can I call?"

So when I saw the results of a survey on the right and the wrong way of using IM in dating, it made me reconsider how I use IM at work.

The OKCupid.com survey results were published in my local newspaper, The Globe and Mail – in case you were thinking I've been using that dating service!

The worst greetings are "hi", "hey" or "hello" – I mostly say "hi"...

Far better are questions such as "how's it going?", "what's up?", or even "hola"!

In a dating context I can see how a question would more likely lead to a follow-up. But in a business context, would it be better to say, "How's it going?", "Are you busy?" or "Can you spare a minute?" than opening with a "hi?" Maybe "hi" is fine if you've established a working relationship already, i.e. got past first contact.

Interestingly in dating use of netspeak (e.g. lol, bfn, imo, etc.) is not a good idea on first contact. The recommendation is to, "ditch the slang" for the proper language and to make sure you proofread, since it suggests that you consider the interaction important.

I think that same care very much speaks to being 'professional' at work as well, although with close colleagues with whom you chat a lot netspeak almost becomes a way to indicate that you are an expert IM user, not just a work-only user.

Mini-IM essays are a turn-off in dating, and I think likewise in work chats.

Your personal picture is critical in dating IM of course. I think it's even true for work IM. I see a larger proportion of people using real pictures of themselves in work IM settings rather than the cartoons, avatars or seemingly random graphics typically used in consumer IM and social networks. At work it's very important for people to recognize you so they can link their online perceptions of you with what they find when you meet face-to-face.

In my experience when you first interact with a colleague through telephone and conference calls with no pictures, you build a mental image of them that often conflicts dramatically with the reality you find when you first meet them in person.

There are a lot of parallels to being an effective IM user in the workplace and when dating, but of course you do have to be careful not to be seen as flirting when you compose a work instant message!! The content of the messages is what makes the difference, but both work and dating are more serious than some other social situations, so share some common rules.


Rethinking the focus of ECM

I find using the term ECM directs discussion and thought along predictable paths having to do with the management of content in the enterprise in a way that misses some key elements.

So yesterday I proposed a thought experiment:

Could you work without using electronic technology at work ("My electron free work diet")?

It really asks, "What is the nature of work in the modern workplace and how is it valued?"

Electronic tools are now essential for most staff. In analysis, if you first focus on the individual, then you have to ask what makes a staff member more effective in getting their job done. That job probably involves the creation of content in its broadest definition, so easier creation of better content is obviously critical. But the business or enterprise value of that content then depends on how effectively it is used within and sometimes outside an enterprise. Promotion of content to create value requires collaboration as we used to refer to it, but is now more commonly referred to as social networking.

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My electron-free work diet

People complain about email at work: "I'm drowning in email! It takes me two hours to clear my email before I can get to work!" they say.

Some people have even declared that they are giving up email for good.

But I think they are cheating – they are not really giving up the activities for which they use email, they are just finding another 'technology drug' – something newer, better and arguably more effective. After all people need to do their jobs. The proportion of knowledge workers is increasing steadily, and you just can't be a knowledge worker without using electronic aids. Whether they admit it or not, email (or some other electronic technology) is now essential to executing their job if they prioritize email activities according to business value.

I would hazard a guess that hardly anyone who has given up email has gone back to writing or typing their business correspondence. They are using instant messaging, social networking, video conferencing, shared blogs or something I've yet to hear of to do what they used to do in email.

But working in business there is a risk in adopting a new technology before your colleagues – no one may listen to you and you will become irrelevant, and in business it is never a good idea to be irrelevant! It's good to be seen a trail blazer as long as you are also seen to be more effective.

I was stuck by this the other day when I needed to contact a colleague who is the most active user an internal social network in our company. I sent him an email, just as I would do for anyone else in our company, but just for good measure I sent him a direct message on the social network, asking him to check his email. He replied to say it was a good thing that I had messaged him, as his email client was turned off!

So if you were really serious you would swear off all electronic technologies to conduct work. Martin's electron free-diet declares that:

"If it plugs in for electricity or to send information, you can't use it!"

I allow for artificial lighting where required, as long as it doesn't plug in for power or to send information. The same goes for heating and elevators.

I have no intention of adopting this diet as long as I want to keep a paying job.

Really this is a thought experiment to define what we consider to be content in the context of enterprise content management (ECM).

I think Content is what knowledge workers create using the electronic tools so vital to the conduct of modern business. Content is the currency of business processes.

The traditional ECM perspectives have document management origins that tend to make most content descriptions document-centric, and even when the scope is expanded to include a much wider range of file types, there is still a focus on lifecycle management from capture to archiving. I was struck by this reviewing the entries in the recent Infonomics Weekly
ECM in Sixty Seconds Video Challenge. There were great entries that said very much what I would have said if I had my act together in time to enter.

Now I'm beginning to feel that the trouble with enterprise content management as a description is that it emphasizes content, the enterprise and management too much!

I'm leaning towards thinking ECM is more about helping workers be more efficient at doing their work and ensuring that their work product has value because it makes a difference.