In an ideal world, enterprise information management (EIM) systems provide every employee with a comprehensive view of all available information resources.

But we don't live in an ideal world.

An EIM system's success depends in large part on how well organized and accessible that information is — and this is where the challenges begin. Designing EIM systems requires hard work, time and care in order to provide employees the information they need to get work done. 

One challenge is that information is often contained in numerous repositories scattered across the organization — your enterprise resource planning (ERP) system, document management system, product information management (PIM) system, customer relationship management (CRM) system, digital asset management (DAM) system and more. A taxonomy that encompasses all the systems that support an organization's operation goes far in overcoming that challenge.

And then there's the challenge of data found outside of formal systems, on fileshares or on individual's hard drives .... 

Where's the Data?

Many companies have no idea what information resources they actually have. 

For example, one manufacturer of industrial safety equipment had product data that was spread across many different systems and personal computers. The data was in a variety of different formats, including spreadsheets, PDFs and databases. Finding information was like looking for a needle in a haystack. Users had to go down many avenues to search for the target information in order to put together a white paper, catalog page, or customer-specific proposal or quote. 

When starting to manage enterprise information, contact everyone who is responsible for data. A company might start with particular information — for example, information relating to a certain product or product line — so that it can be included in the information system being developed. This labor-intensive process involves contacting numerous individuals, and relies on cooperation in order to achieve the final goal. 

Who Uses the Data?

The next step is to find out who uses the data. The process is similar to identifying owners — it requires a great deal of outreach to identify and discover the information requirements of these stakeholders. This group typically is larger than the group that owns the data, because multiple people are generally accessing each repository. 

For example, customer support staff may need to access the information but they will not be the data stewards. 

A set of use cases should be developed that identifies the information resources each group needs. Sales people might access marketing content to provide to a customer, and C-level employees might use the resources as backup for contract negotiations. The nature of each use case will help define what information the group needs to access and how it should be presented.

Taxonomy and Navigation

Now it’s time to get down to the nitty gritty of setting up a taxonomy. 

Having a common organizing system allows findability during the search process, navigation and filtering. Information can be organized in an infinite number of ways, but the best approach is to start with categories at the most basic level: product information, contract and sales information, HR. Often these categories are listed on the left side of the user’s screen with options for searching through content type, department or other dimension.

Give people multiple techniques of accessing the information. For example, the option to go through a taxonomy tree or use a search bar. Another option is to use dashboards that display data differently, depending on the group. The dashboard can incorporate different permissions, allowing some groups to edit information and other groups to read only. 

Tagging and Filtering

Tagging information allows users to filter it according to their needs. Tagging provides users a better search experience when not using the navigation pathway. 

As with the work involved in finding all of the information resources, setting up a taxonomy is very labor-intensive, but pays off in the long run when users can quickly find what they need. Most EIMs provide out-of-the-box labels to get started. As organizations discover their unique needs, they can customize these labels. Tailoring the metadata to the needs of the users will provide a better search experience and promote adoption.

Typically, a relatively small number of leading information systems are out there for any application, with a plethora of lesser-known products that may provide an equally good match, depending on the organization’s requirements. 

Using a taxonomy management system allows you to govern the different hierarchies. Consistency is key to ensuring a clean navigation experience for users, so make sure the formatting and general principles of the system's taxonomies adhere to this principle.

All the Data Organization Means Nothing Without Buy-In

All of the above means nothing if you don't have the initial buy-in from stakeholders. 

A variety of approaches will accomplish this, including hosting an initial kick-off meeting followed by additional socialization. Tap into project managers in various departments to spread the word at a local level. 

Don’t expect full cooperation from the get go. When you try to launch a major review and reorganization of your company’s information assets, some people will get the point immediately while others will need time to absorb and feel comfortable with the change. 

One engineer in the safety equipment firm enthusiastically provided information because he knew it would allow him to add new information more efficiently. Others saw it as more work on their plate and were reluctant to take on another task. 

Structure the project to include a few quick wins — this will allow people to quickly realize the benefits that the new system provides. And some who are initially enthusiastic may grow weary of locating or classifying their information assets, and lose momentum. 

Locating, gathering and normalization of data is a huge task and can test the staunchest advocate. The best way to sustain interest is regular reminders of the efficiencies to come once the system is in place, the primary incentive being the improvement in their personal experience. 

Remember: all of the features in the world mean nothing unless you invest sufficient planning time and energy into the organizing constructs that will make the EIM truly useful for employees. Improving the information's organization and gaining the commitment of data owners to the organizing principles of EIM will set you on the path to efficient information findability, requiring fewer clicks to get there. The result? Time savings and the end of search-induced headaches for workers.