Taxonomy for Sale

On a swing through Oregon in March, Joel Oleson and I presented to the Portland SharePoint User’s Group on topics surrounding social computing, metadata and taxonomy within SharePoint, and someone asked a great question: why can’t you just purchase a pre-defined taxonomy?

One of the most important aspects of a successful SharePoint deployment is a well-defined taxonomy and metadata library. Taking the time to define your metadata and content types, build out your taxonomy, and set in place a governance model will ensure that your users will be able to find their content (granted they are assigning the metadata!). But defining, building, and governing your system takes a lot of effort – both at startup and as an ongoing activity. So why can’t someone just purchase a canned taxonomy and vast lists of keywords from a consultant to jumpstart their work?

While I’m sure there are consultants who offer this kind of service, providing guidance and expertise on process and best practices, is that really the right thing to do? (I’m not knocking these consultants by any means, just talking about what is right for your business) They cannot offer more than generic taxonomies based on broad industry knowledge, or around competitive product and service verticals. How useful is this information, really? How much time will you spend trying to match this generic taxonomy to the nuances of your business, instead of outlining your own business taxonomy and expanding on what is unique about you?

I go through these questions as part of my presentation on the topic at user groups and SharePoint Saturdays (tomorrow, at #SPSDC). The hard work must be done by those who know your business – you and your team. Of course, there will be plenty of consultants who will be happy to charge you to embed themselves, offering to learn everything about your business and then build out your system. You might get to deployment more quickly this way if you don’t already have the SharePoint expertise within your organization. But what happens when the consultant leaves post-deployment? Where is the expertise to maintain and update what was built to keep your system relevant?

I came across a great quote in the Harvard Business Review by Dan Ariely in ‘Why Businesses Don’t Experiment’ (April 2010, Page 34):

“Companies (and people) are notoriously bad at making trade-offs. There’s the false sense of security that heeding experts provides. When we pay consultants, we get an answer from them and not a list of experiments to conduct. We tend to value answers over questions because answers allow us to take action, while questions mean that we need to keep thinking.”

The net-net: you need to do the hard work of planning out your taxonomy. Get help, sure, but don’t think you can hand it off to someone else. But if you do decide to farm it out, ping me and I’ll send you my consulting rates 😉

Christian Buckley

Christian is a Microsoft Regional Director and Office Servers and Services MVP, the Founder & CEO of CollabTalk LLC, an independent research and technical marketing services firm based in Salt Lake City, Utah, and CMO of revealit.io, a blockchain-based video technology company.