The more time I spend with clients working on taxonomies within a CMS, the more I realize that the real challenge isn’t technical per se (even though CMS platforms out there aren’t really “taxonomy friendly” just yet). It isn’t even designing and building the taxonomy itself, although that does present a lot of challenges and issues. Really, what matters the most in the long run for totally integrating a taxonomy into a CMS is governance.

I know, boring, right? You hear about governance all the time with regard to backend systems or even portal management, for example, but it’s not that exciting a topic. It’s certainly not a big hit in the taxonomy world (yet). Do a search for “taxonomy governance” on this very site and only one hit is returned (well, maybe two once this post is indexed…).

The point is that like records governance or content governance, taxonomy governance can have a huge impact on how well your users can find and use information on your site. Good taxonomy equals great findability, but the taxonomies have to be maintained to be useful and provide relevant search results.

How to do it?

4 Core Components

The core components of governance are:

  1. Organizational structure: Who is responsible and has the power to make changes? Who is in charge of the CMS and who can approve how a taxonomy is used within a CMS? This person or these people need to be involved.
  2. Processes and procedures: Are there any current CMS processes and procedures that need to be taken into account? What are the processes and procedures and how would they be applied to a taxonomy?
  3. Standards, measures & practices: What is considered best practices for maintaining the taxonomy within the CMS, and how should it be done? Who’s in charge of keeping the practices up to date?
  4. Tools and solutions: How does the CMS manage and maintain the taxonomy? Manually or automatically? Are there steps and processes to consider for using the CMS to maintain the taxonomy?

A Model

When we are working a project with a client, here’s a model that we start with as we explain the value of using a taxonomy within a CMS:


Note that most of this is outside of the CMS system. It’s about people and processes and how your company wants to govern its data and information.

Although this diagram looks complicated, considering taxonomy is really a small part of an overall CMS implementation. Once you make the commitment to use a taxonomy to govern terms, you’ll need to set up something like this to keep it controlled. Or, as is the case in SharePoint 2010 with enterprise keywords, your users will start to create their own folksonomies of unofficial terms and use those instead.

I’ve seen this use of “unofficial” terms sidetrack a company more than once, since there is little control of the (mis)use of enterprise keywords. Most companies have a vague idea about this kind of information governance. Some companies have their information governance locked down and do a great job of managing how their information is created, managed and published in a CMS. You’re probably somewhere in between, right?

Time to Start Thinking

If so, and you’re planning to integrate a taxonomy into your CMS, be it SharePoint, OpenText, Drupal, whatever, it’s time to start thinking about how your taxonomies are going to be governed. The diagram above is a simple start, but there needs to be more formalized governance processes and procedures implemented. It doesn’t take too long to do it, maybe 3-4 weeks, but it can make a huge difference when your users are able to perform a search and find a document or piece of information that is relevant and timely for them.

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