Transforming Information into Knowledge, Part III

Develop consistent terminology

An agile organization needs a taxonomy and enterprise metadata standards to make information more usable and findable. Think about what would happen if different parts of the organization spoke different languages — engineering spoke Spanish, legal spoke French and accounting spoke English. It would take a long time to get information from one department to another. Things would need to be translated, search would not work, and additional organizational friction would slow things to a crawl.

While unrealistic, this scenario is analogous to what happens when different systems and tools use terminology that has been developed independently. Legalese is different from “engineerese.”

Shared concepts and terminology are required to share business concepts. Agile organizations need common terms to describe business documents, services, solutions, offerings, products, markets, processes, procedures, organizational structure and other concepts that form the basis for business transactions, communications and ultimately business value. A taxonomy provides just that –a common vocabulary in the best case; and in others a translation table between terms that stand for the same concept in different systems.

Most organizations do not focus enough energy on this area and instead let projects and applications develop their own vocabularies and organizing principles. Taxonomy is used to facilitate knowledge transfer, customer support, sales processes, marketing communications, product development, financial management and every other aspect of the enterprise. Anywhere information is translated, transferred, managed and communicated can be made more efficient and effective with the improved organizing structures that taxonomies enable. Having common language speeds the information metabolism of the enterprise.

Tune search

Though all processes will improve after harmonization of terminology, this does take time. Depending on where you start, it may take years to get everyone to use the same language, to tag content with controlled vocabulary, and to ensure consistency across departments and tools. In fact, because some organizations change so rapidly either through innovation or acquisition, there will always be some parts of the organization that speak their own language.

In order to deal with this, we can optimize search to account for discrepancies in terms. A thesaurus identifies “equivalent” terms; “statement of work” is the same as “proposal” in one context for example.

Search can also surface content that the user needs but has not requested. This is done through defining “associative relationships” in your enterprise taxonomy or thesaurus. When we know something about our users, we can infer what content they might need. For example, when sales people search for prior proposals for a specific product or service, we can present competitive analysis reports for that product as a related search term when returning proposal examples. This is similar to what Amazon does when presenting selections that the user may also be interested in.

Search enhancement tools should be part of the tool kit in any agile organization. They leverage terminology relationships and overcome some of the challenges presented by inconsistent business vocabularies.

By taking these four strategies to heart, the CIO can support the business as it changes and evolves. It will be necessary to operationalize the strategies, drawing out implications for implementation. Start by ensuring that large new information management projects move you in the right direction. A center of excellence or program management office (PMO) can embed these approaches in project mobilization and management. Next, develop compliance programs that ensure targeted practices in information lifecycle development and management.

You will see the results. Making information useful and findable drives the “information metabolism” of the enterprise. It produces knowledge information integrated into actionable contexts faster. This is what the agile organization needs to thrive.

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, nonprofit 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.”