Sunday, November 27, 2022

Taxonomies to Bridge Silos

There is increasing interest in organizations to “break down silos” of content and data. Silos may be different software applications, distinct web or intranet content, or merely different computer drives and folders. The goal is to enable search and retrieval across content that is stored in different content/document management systems and shared folders and the analysis and comparison of data stored in different kinds of database management systems, records management systems, and spreadsheets. This results in better, more complete information to enable more informed decisions and knowledge discovery, along with improved user satisfaction, while also saving time. Breaking down or bridging such silos was a theme of my two most recent conferences.


LavaCon: Connecting Content Silos

The 20th annual LavaCon conference on content strategy, held October 23-26 in New Orleans, had the theme this year of “Connecting content silos across the Enterprise.” The conference had a number of presentations tied to the theme, 10 of which had “silos” in their titles. Two presentations I especially enjoyed were by leading content strategy consultants about how to connect silos.

Sarah O’Keefe of Scriptorium, in her presentation “From Silo Busting to CaaStle Building,” with a fairy tale castle metaphor, explained that completely unified content cannot be achieved, because CMSs are tuned to specific content domains, corporate websites accommodate different goals of different groups, content silos have their own delivery pipelines, and silos often match the organizational structure. Her solution was to provide Content as a Service (CaaS), or a “CaaStle in the cloud(s).” Silos are kept, allowing for unique requirements, and perhaps reduced in number, but are connected were needed.

Val Swisher of Content Rules, in her presentation “Creating a Unified (Siloed) Content Experience: The Importance of Terminology and Taxonomy,” explained that siloed content results in different user experiences for each silo. But silos are not going away, because there is no single toolset, particular content has its owners, and certain content may be considered special. Therefore, the user experience should be improved to “ensure that all content looks like it comes from the same company” and to “eliminate the confusion that users experience when they consume content created by various silos.” This is done by standardizing the content, the search, page layout, navigation, content types, terminology, and taxonomy.

At LavaCon, I presented a pre-conference workshop with the title “Using Taxonomies and Tagging to Connect Content Across the Enterprise.” While most of my workshop addressed the general principles and best practice for taxonomy creation, along with the basics of tagging, I did discuss a how centrally managed taxonomy, external from but linked to various content management systems and other applications or repositories of content, can bridge silos. Taxonomy management software positioned as “middleware” such as PoolParty, connects to these different content applications and repositories, and then the taxonomy is presented to the user in a single user interface.

Taxonomy Boot Camp: Taxonomy Breaking Down Silos

At the annual Taxonomy Boot Camp conference, held November 7-8 in Washington, DC, and co-located with the KM World conference, I spoke in a two-presentation session titled “Taxonomy Breaking Down Silos.” The idea is that taxonomies provide the connections to break down barriers between different systems and teams. I presented on taxonomy linking jointly with Donna Popky, Senior Taxonomy & Information Architecture Specialist, Harvard Business School. I explained the principles of taxonomy project linking, and Donna presented a case study of taxonomy linking using a hub and spoke method to link separate taxonomies managed by different business units with separate content repositories for different purposes at Harvard Business School. So, this was a case of creating a hub taxonomy linked to the various business unit spoke taxonomies.

The other speaker in the session, Rachael Maddison, Content Infrastructure Architect & Taxonomy Product Manager for Adobe Digital Media Experience and Engagement, presented on taxonomy adoption across corporate silos and not merely content silos. Collaboration plays a role in wider taxonomy adoption, and as Rachael stated: “Mapping or merging can’t happen until there is stakeholder buy-in.

Over the years, my list of the benefits of taxonomies has grown. Linking data, content, and corporate silos are additional benefits. This can be done with a single, enterprise taxonomy or with multiple linked taxonomies. In either case, the taxonomy needs to be managed externally from any individual siloed application in a dedicated taxonomy management system. Taxonomies can then break down corporate silos and connect content and data silos.

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