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This article is based on interviews with Society members and the consultants they have worked with. It describes what taxonomy consultants do, what their deliverables look like, how to match their skills with your requirements, and where to find them.
Be sure to read the 2006 update at the end of this article.
What do taxonomy consultants do?
Since taxonomy plays a supporting role in content management, we didn't find many "pure" taxonomy consulting firms. Instead, we found taxonomy specialists in larger firms as well as solo practitioners.
1. High level content management system designs and project plans. Typical time frame: 4 - 14 months. Cost: $150,000+ Example. Subtasks may include:
2. Taxonomy structures (e.g. outline of subject categories, controlled vocabulary, thesaurus). Typical time frame: 1 week - 3 months. Cost: $5,000+ Examples.
3. Tagged or indexed content. Taxonomy structures (i.e. vocabularies and thesauri) are most useful when the terms are linked to the items you're trying to organize -- books, articles, reports, images, statues, or even document segments. Linking (or "tagging") can be done in a variety of ways, but all methods require input from humans, such as:
Since the linking process is dependent on the software tool, you'll need a contractor familiar with the system.
4. Business applications (e.g. functioning system for e-commerce, competitive intelligence, drug development, etc.).
Before you start looking
1. Information professionals -- librarians, indexers, editors, webmasters, help desk staff, and even authors that know your company, its customers, and its products. Librarians know about taxonomy building blocks like controlled vocabularies and cross references. Even more important, they know what kinds of questions people ask when seeking information, and they may have already developed a taxonomy to organize books, newspaper clippings, and internal reports. Indexers, editors, and authors are familiar with the subject matter. They can contribute abstracts, glossaries, and index terms. Webmasters have a different take on user behavior that comes from web server logs.
2. Vocabularies, preferably in electronic format. Often you can leverage lists of terms and categories developed for a print publication, corporate library, or commercial information service.
3. Taxonomy budget. For commercial publishers, investments in taxonomies can easily be justified on the basis of cost savings or competitive advantage. For many corporations, though, the connection between taxonomies and the bottom line isn't so clear. Preparing a budget, getting sustained funding, reaching consensus on terminologies, developing standards, and training content owners is harder.
Three things to look for
Types of taxonomy contractors
1. Freelance indexers, librarians, and thesaurus specialists. These people usually work solo, although they sometimes call on colleagues for help when the need arises. Typically, they create vocabularies and thesauri as well as evaluate the output of vendor pilot projects. Formats delivered include MS Word documents, Excel spreadsheets or Access databases, printed lists, or proprietary formats (e.g. MultiTes). Deliverables: controlled vocabularies, outlines of subject categories, thesauri.
2. Indexers plus software. We found three companies that combine human indexing skills with their own taxonomy software tool. These firms will perform human indexing services as well as license the software to enable you to maintain the taxonomy. Deliverables: controlled vocabularies, thesauri, computer-assisted taxonomy maintenance.
3. Vendors. These companies offer optional consulting services when you buy their content management software, license their content, or use their information services.
Deliverables: taxonomy-aware search function, automatically updated browsable categories, graphic representation of categories, tagged documents.
In most cases, taxonomy consulting services are available only to customers.
4. Web site designers. Individuals and companies that will create a hierarchical list of categories as part of a Web site design or revamp. These contractors typically offer plans and specifications, not fully functioning systems. In other words, they do the "big picture" conceptual and intellectual work, leaving the technical work for others.
Deliverables: project plans, site designs.
5. Systems integrators. IT firms that do the whole job, from concept to implementation.
Deliverables: functioning applications.
Hands-on courses have the following benefits:
Architectures vs. taxonomies
Creating and implementing a new enterprise architecture isn't easy. First, you have to sell a very abstract concept to senior executives. Second, you have to get stakeholders to sign off on the proposed design. Third, you need a cost-effective transition process that safeguards existing data and causes minimum disruption to existing operations. We have found that the best way to meet these three objectives is to select two disparate but related business processes (e.g. product development and product marketing) and design a working prototype for a metadata repository — the skeleton that expresses the architecture.
The prototype contains real data about people, organizations, documents, business records, categories, and the relationships among them. It includes some application interfaces (e.g. adding thesaurus terms to a search engine), so people can see how metadata can flow from one business function to another.
An alternative to taxonomy consultants
As an alternative, consider creating a prototype metadata repository that will help get the resources for metadata management, engage stakeholders in productive discussions about how metadata is used in business functions, and provide practical guidance on architecture design. As an expert on your business data and processes, you already know more than you think about taxonomies. Instead of a consultant, consider engaging a coach, teacher, and editor.Created on 6/30/2001 l Updated on September 8, 2012