As a company grows, different parts of the organization will inevitably evolve different ways to describe the same concepts, such as accounts, products, and services or even associated metadata attributes. There are advantages to having separate naming conventions in different departments in order to optimize the meaning of each taxonomy element, but differences across the organization make it extremely difficult to do aggregated reporting or provide executive level visibility across datasets.
For example, if an organization’s sales department enters a value in their client list as “110 Consulting” but their finance department enters the value in their billing system as “110,” it becomes extremely difficult to create a consolidated pipeline and revenue report.
The organization would need a managed account list to standardize the taxonomy in a central repository, with associated child elements in the separate systems in sales and finance. Building a structured and managed taxonomy across the organization will empower individual departments to manage their specific taxonomy while providing cohesiveness across the organization from the central managed dataset.
Establishing a Master Taxonomy
As a Seattle-based IT consulting firm dealing with this type of organization and communication on a daily basis, we have one extremely effective way to establish a master taxonomy that can greatly simplify your life. It involves following a people, process and technology paradigm as outlined in the steps below:
The first step is to socialize the concept of a managed taxonomy initiative with key stakeholders across the organization, establishing a vested interest and base of champions that will ultimately drive compliance across the organization for the processes and tools that will be put in place. This step will also build a baseline of data and system stewards for key systems that will ultimately become data providers and downstream consumers for the managed taxonomy baseline and evolution.
It is critical to have a data governance strategy with defined processes for both additions to and consumption of the master taxonomy for all key systems across the organization. This will include a taxonomy change control and approval workflow, as well as a set of defined rules to enforce data integrity and child taxonomy alignment for both upstream and downstream systems.
There are several technology solutions and tools that can facilitate taxonomy management as well as taxonomy integration across the organization. There are enterprise class solutions such as SQL Server with Master Data Services and SharePoint, which both have excellent out-of-the-box taxonomy management and integration functionality for enterprise organizations with complex master taxonomy data and multiple child taxonomy stakeholders. For small to medium business who might get a huge ROI on basic managed lists, simple yet effective solutions can be implemented using SharePoint lists/libraries and Excel to store single-source-of-truth taxonomy datasets as well as child taxonomy mappings.
Onboarding and Mapping Child Taxonomies
You need to start by either selecting one of the multiple child taxonomy sets as the master or negotiating a custom master taxonomy from a combination of multiple child taxonomies. Once you have officially sanctioned that as the master taxonomy, you are ready to begin the ongoing process of onboarding and mapping new child taxonomies and new taxonomy elements.
The child taxonomy mapping and onboarding process can be facilitated in the following way:
Analysis: The first step to onboarding new taxonomy is to perform an analysis on the proposed child taxonomy hierarchy and elements to determine the gap between corresponding subject areas of the child taxonomy and the master taxonomy.
Mapping: Once the gap is determined between the child and master taxonomy sets, net new elements from the child taxonomy must go through the master taxonomy change control and approval process. Child taxonomy elements that align to existing master data elements must be mapped to master taxonomy elements. Those mappings must be maintained either within the child taxonomy itself or in an integration layer that could be managed centrally or in a distributed fashion. This step often presents challenges when there is not a clear formula or identifiable logic for associating child and master taxonomy elements, so fuzzy matching and manual analysis are often required to complete the baseline.
Synchronization: Once a child taxonomy is onboarded and the initial baseline mapping is established, the synchronization process between the master taxonomy and child taxonomy datasets should be added to the overall data governance model. Then, data/system stewards for the new child taxonomy should be intergrated into the people, process and technology paradigm outlined above. It is important to consider the synchronization frequency and enforcement of the alignment of new child taxonomy elements to the master taxonomy dataset in order to maintain data integrity across the organization.