Transforming Information Into Knowledge, Part II

by Seth Earley of Earley & Associates

In part one of this series, I explored how effective access to and, integration of, information enables businesses to receive more value from IT investments. This second installment addresses the role played by enterprise taxonomy in turning information into actionable knowledge.

Information is actionable when it is understood in context. This means that it is critical to understand how any one piece of information relates to other pieces. Seeing relationships requires a framework for integrating concepts.

Consequently, to make information actionable, organization must develop a common language for concepts, business terms, and information objects. You do this with a taxonomy.

At its most fundamental level, a taxonomy provides a common reference source for unifying concepts, yet most people think of taxonomy as a hierarchy of terms. For instance a geographical taxonomy might list geo-political regions (e.g. states or provinces) under countries, cities under regions, and postal codes under cities. However, in order to ensure that all relevant information is linked to the correct concept, taxonomies are enriched in many ways. Enriched taxonomies may be referred to as thesauri or ontologies, depending on their characteristics and use.

Viewed as a thesaurus, for example, a taxonomy will typically include synonyms or near synonyms. For instance, the concept of “sport coat” might include “blazer” as a near synonym, even though there are formal differences in definition. This allows concepts to be mapped to the specific vocabulary used by different individuals (in Web search) or departments and systems (in enterprise search or data integration) for the same or overlapping concepts.

Enriched taxonomies also show meaningful relations between concepts. These relations enable the high-value business analysis that drives action. Taxonomies enriched with meaningful relations are often referred to as ontologies. A relation of “has accessory” might be used to represent the types of products that are cross-sold with major items of clothing. For instance, the category of shirts with link cuffs might have a “has accessory” link to cufflinks and ties.

Go to our July webinar for more discussion of taxonomy and examples of business taxonomies.

Organizations that leverage enterprise taxonomies find many ways to increase the actionable value of information. The following table illustrates the drivers, role and benefit of taxonomy in a variety of information management project types.

Information Project Type


Role of Taxonomy

Structured Data Projects


Need for appropriate analytics and elimination of unnecessary translation processes, improved findability of reports

Provides consistent naming conventions in all applications across structured and unstructured information required by analytics processes; allows for consistent roll ups and consolidation; maps location of reports and analysis to categories of business interest

Reporting and Performance Management

Elimination of redundant reporting and analysis, easier rollups, consistent reporting

Establishes foundation for reporting; allows comparison across business areas; helps unify reports; improves agility; and speeds reporting processes

Enterprise Data Warehouse

Need for unified reference data and correct levels of granularity, single source of truth , elimination of redundancy

Augments master data management to improve data quality and eliminate content ambiguity

Data Integration and Migration

Consistent terminology and correct granularity required for integration and migration

Allows for conversion of data and formats; and enables elimination of inconsistencies prior to migration for improved data quality

Unstructured Data Projects

Enterprise Content Management

Essential for consistency in content processes, integration, access, effective search, content lifecycles, records processes

Provides organizing principles behind content models, controlled vocabularies, metadata schemas; and enables overall findability

Social Media

Determine effectiveness of marketing and value of participation in social media through search metrics, blog mentions, conversations on social networks

Provides a framework for mapping social media entries to specific terminology of enterprise; and to analytic categories, including those required for sentiment analysis

Knowledge Management

Need to capture lessons learned and organizational memory and sharable high-value

Provides terminology for tagging content and mapping to repositories and knowledge bases; provides framework for cataloguing/identifying human expertise as a mechanism for capturing tacit knowledge


Consistent access across structured and unstructured systems, unified workplace, simplified integration and application access

Provides organizing principles behind knowledge directories, content models, metadata, web parts, communities, applications, and pages

Enterprise Search

Need for improved precision and recall for search, location of structured and unstructured info, reduction in “noise”, enablement of related concept search

Enables faceted search structure, allowing for tagging of content, best bet management, search disambiguation, role-based filtering, and display of conceptually related items (see also).

User Experience

Need for consistent user experience, increased usability, improved learnability of applications

Provides framework for user roles and for classifying context from user perspective, thus enabling a unified role-based information experience

Using a consistent conceptual model across all the above will appear daunting for a complex organization. However, if that outcome is part of the CIO’s long term vision, it will possible to move forward incrementally. This requires three key elements:

1. A long-term content management strategy with a road map that identifies high value business areas to address near term;

2. An set of common tools for managing taxonomy and metadata on an enterprise basis; and

3. A governance framework for ensuring that common standards acceptable to the business are defined, implemented and maintained

In part three of this series, I will discusses each of these elements in more detail. Part three also provides a perspective on how these elements can contribute to rather than hinder organizational agility.

Seth Earley is president and CEO of Earley & Associates, the nation’s foremost information management and taxonomy consulting firm, helping institutional and Fortune 500 companies to improve the way that people, technology and content connect. Earley & Associates serves a broad range of industries including retail, manufacturing, pharmaceuticals, life sciences, media and entertainment, non-profit and government.

Click here for case studies that demonstrate approaches and value of applying taxonomies across the enterprise and to learn how to take the first steps in mobilizing a taxonomy project, request a copy of Mobilizing a Taxonomy Project.