Does Anyone Do Taxonomy Anymore?

27 Sep

taxonomyBy Andrea Alliston, Partner, Knowledge Management, Stikeman Elliott

In an environment of increasing enterprise complexity, integration of technology systems, desire for better data and analytics, and pressure to become more efficient in our delivery of services to clients, it is time to dust-off that old taxonomy and put it to better use. Let’s start by defining taxonomy.

Taxonomy is not the browse trees that once were the backbone of our old intranets and KM repositories. Today’s environment requires a modern approach to taxonomy, covering the full range of controlled vocabularies, thesauri, taxonomies, ontologies, and knowledge graphs. Think about your taxonomy as a holistic system of terms and concepts used to classify, manage and identify content in the law firm, enterprise-wide.

Facets in Search

Many firms have chosen search as the tool of choice for surfacing content and information. As a result, the taxonomy is primarily used as facets or filters rather than for browsing or boosting search results. It is a subtle, but critical change that affects how the taxonomy is developed and managed. Unfortunately, it is not simply a matter of turning a browse tree into facets. The purpose of the taxonomy is different and that needs to be taken into account.

Linking Information Across Systems

A uniform enterprise taxonomy is valuable for linking data between disparate technology systems. If we want to ensure that lawyers are as efficient as possible by having access to the content and information they need, our taxonomies should support that objective. By using consistent tagging in your KM, DM, HR, financial, experience and CRM systems, you can gather information from them around your taxonomy tags. Without consistent tags, you may have related data and information, but no easy way to extract it and present it to lawyers when they need it.

New Challenges

Newer activities, such as pricing and process mapping, also require support from an enterprise-wide taxonomy and should inform its development. Linking financial information to experience databases is not new; however, pricing activities may force us to rethink the taxonomy we use for that information. Pricing may also require new ways to tag data to extract the information needed to develop effective budgets and fee arrangements. The increased focus, use and expansion of the UTBMS phase and task code taxonomy is an example.

Similarly, process mapping will affect our taxonomies and the way we categorise content. Common outputs of process mapping exercises are checklists and precedents. To surface those resources at the right stage of the process, they must be aligned with that stage and one way to do so is through taxonomy tags that map to the stages of the process.

User Experience

An underlying theme to enterprise taxonomy is a desire for a consistent user experience.   Lawyers, other timekeepers, and assistants should not need to figure out how information is categorised and tagged within each system they use. The taxonomy in a closing book database should match that in an experience database and the file opening process.

Lessons Learned

All of this is top of my mind as my firm recently acquired a new taxonomy management tool. Here are a few tips I have learned from the journey so far.

  • Collaboration is essential. Working with your colleagues in other business departments is critical to any firm-wide taxonomy initiative; their perspectives and needs will differ from yours.
  • Understand your requirements. For my firm, taxonomy management is made more complex by the Canadian dual legal system and bilingual (English and French) requirements. Make sure you understand your firm’s particular needs.
  • Be prepared for fresh thinking. As observed, today’s taxonomies extend far beyond simple browse trees and are used very differently. So, you need to think about the taxonomy differently; making the shift is not always easy.
  • Take it one step at a time. Making changes to taxonomy lists and integrating them into systems can be complex. Now that a centralized tool holds our master taxonomy, we are integrating it into each technology one system at a time.
  • Get help. We had one chance to get our taxonomy tool set up properly in a way that would accommodate our requirements. We also needed help shifting from a browse tree to a facet approach and simplifying the taxonomy where possible. We have been fortunate to work with Joseph Busch and Vivian Bliss of Taxonomy Strategies who, together with Jim Sweeney of Synaptica, have set us on the right path. Goodness knows what mistakes we would have made without their help.

Organizations dealing with enterprise data, information and content management should be highly motivated to re-examine their current taxonomies, where they are used, how they are managed, and how they can support the firm’s objectives. It may not be the coolest thing a legal KM practitioner does, but it is a fundamental part of legal KM and if you get it right, your firm will thank you in the long run!

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One Response to “Does Anyone Do Taxonomy Anymore?”

  1. Jie October 6, 2015 at 8:17 pm #

    I would like to learn your experience with your new tool for taxonomy management.

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