After having attended this year’s Taxonomy Bootcamp, I’ve come away with 2 conclusions about my fellow taxonomy professionals: First, professionally, we are in a great position, and secondly, we need to make some changes to take advantage of it.

1. We are better poised than ever to branch out into new areas of content structuring.

The semantic web and data management are just two of the exciting frontiers for which our skill set is tailor-made. Many of us are already information architects, metadata managers and more…

2. We often get too caught up in professional existentialism to fully grab onto these trends as they happen.

Whenever something new comes on the scene, especially if it involves technology, we sometimes spend more energy worrying more about how it affects our place in the information management ecosystem than we do mastering it.

On the Ground at Bootcamp

These themes played out during sessions dealing with folksonomy and tagging, ontology and semantic web standards, and taxonomy tools (e.g. auto-categorization). Instead of worrying about how we can remain relevant in the face of such new approaches, why aren’t we focusing more on figuring out how we can add them to our toolbox and become the go-to people for these topics?

Leslie Owens, analyst at Forrester and keynote presenter for day 2 of the conference, advocates just this. In her presentation on the future of taxonomies (and taxonomists) in the enterprise, Owens focused on how we information/content/knowledge managers can make the taxonomy message more compelling for key audiences.

She had 3 key messages:

1. Think of Information in a 360-degree View

Consider how information works in a multitude of processes within the enterprise: document-centric processes (forms, document-ouput management), people-centric processes (e.g. call centers), and decision-centric processes (business intelligence). Choose key processes where you can weave in taxonomy support to provide more structure and insight. For example, think of a call center knowledge support database: identifying the categories of high-volume calls can lead to better customer support documentation creation, business intelligence about products, etc.

Owens wants us to “go where the power is”, thinking outside of the limited knowledge-worker-centric paradigm we've been stuck in since the late 90s (i.e. taxonomy is about saving Joe the knowledge-worker 2 hours a week in searching for documents.) It’s about much more than that, and it can impact your critical business processes.

Also, consider information as it lives in an infinite lifecycle. Information is constantly moving and changing, which is why rigid taxonomy frameworks don’t work. We are growing in terms of what content we need to keep track of, such as product reviews and customer ratings. As this content grows and evolves, tools such as text analytics will become more important – as will people with our skills to help organize, understand and present the resulting data.

2. Elevate the Message to IT and Execs

Not only should you go where the power is in terms of process alignment, but also with your message. If you can speak to benefits at the right level and use language that is meaningful, there's no reason you can't address the CIO. Some tips:

  • talk about metadata and turning unstructured content into actionable insight, not taxonomy
  • talk about alignment with objectives, integration with tools and initiatives, and metadata-as-a-service (implementing small vocabularies across multiple tools), not monolithic enterprise taxonomy
  • talk about a holistic framework for organizing content and processes, not an enterprise taxonomy "platform" (which makes it sound too much like IT)

Be mindful of using good “trigger language” that is meaningful to execs, such as:

  • add value (“understand, inform customers”)
  • reduce costs (“maximize productivity of resources, minimize waste & redundancy”)
  • create new reality (“differentiate from competition, reinforce brand”)
  • minimize risks (“monitor warning signs, categorize by origin, severity”)

 3. Play with the Big Dogs

Don't be shy of working with huge technology vendors or being part of big, multi-million dollar investments. There's a massive technology convergence going on -- the number of vendors and the number of tools required is getting smaller.

Just look at SharePoint: document management, web content management, office productivity or collaboration suite? Content structure plays an important part in technology implementations, so we should be involved in these conversations right from the selection process.

Additionally, enterprise architects are the gatekeepers of technology acquisitions, so it’s important to engage with them on standards and become experts in enterprise data and metadata management and quality.

Some of the top 15 technology areas Owens believes we taxonomists should be getting involved with include:

  • Real-time business intelligence
  • Customer community platforms integrated with business applications
  • Master data management (MDM)

Long story short: Upgrade your technical skills and be the go-to person who can engage with IT and explain taxonomy and metadata best practices.

This is music to my ears -- I've been preaching about the relationship between structured data, MDM and taxonomy for almost 2 years to whomever would listen. So I'm glad someone's doing it publicly.

And on the technology front, it should probably be said that many tools have serious limitations in their applications of taxonomy (e.g., SharePoint and many other content management systems). But there are also a lot of really great tools out there that make a showcase out of taxonomy (e.g., Endeca, Nstein, etc.), and we need to embrace them.

[Editor's Note: See our article Overview: SharePoint 2010 Metadata and Taxonomy Management for more details on the future of SharePoint metadata.]

So, to all taxonomy professionals out there trying to figure out where we our future lies, I say this:

  1. Embrace the emerging stuff coming out, especially around the semantic web. We are the right people for that job.
  2. Technology is cool. Hug an auto-categorizer today, because it’s not about whether machines can do your job, it’s about how you can use machines to take the profession to new levels.
  3. Structured data and business intelligence is the next big deal for us -- it’s the seat of a lot of the power and value in organizations. So google MDM and take your enterprise architect out to lunch.