June 5, 2017

Introduction to Classification, Taxonomy and File Plans – Foundational Elements of Information Governance: Part 1

By: Charmaine Brooks, Certified Records Manager, Partner

We have been accumulating electronic documents in shared drives since the innovation of networked computers and file servers in the early 1980’s.  Folders and sub-folders defined in shared or network drives were developed to identify the subject (or topic) of the document types stored. Most of these documents are unstructured (e.g. text, spreadsheets, presentations, PDF, etc.) and the vast majority are unclassified (that is, lacking explicit tie to formal classification scheme). The structures were based on how an individual thought they should be stored for their personal use. These subject oriented folder and naming conventions are typically very subjective; it is difficult to remember or deduce the thought process when the folder and file names were created.

Over time, different people had different ideas about how the shared drives and folders should be organized and, therefore, they have been reorganized and/or renamed multiple times. Unfortunately, new structures are often created and the old structures become orphaned – rarely if ever accessed -- and create a nightmare for records and information management professionals. Employees don’t always follow established “rules” resulting in misfiles, duplicates and orphan files everywhere. Most organizations have retained all documents “just in case.” We are at a crossroad where organizations recognize the cost of retaining vast quantities of valueless documents and the daunting task of applying information governance rules to it. The question – where to begin?

The answer is to develop a classification or taxonomy that all content filing systems follow consistently including shared drives, enterprise content management systems, SharePoint sites, etc.  Taxonomy is “the practice and science of classification of things or concepts, including the principles that underlie such classification.”[1] Taxonomy is derived from (Ancient Greek: τάξις taxi -- "arrangement," and -νομία –nomia --"method”) – a method of arranging.  Classifications are a fundamental component of effective information governance including records and information management.

Classification is a general process related to categorization, the process in which ideas and objects are recognized, differentiated, and understood. A classification scheme is an approach to accomplishing classification.[2]

A taxonomy or classification scheme is the basis for organizing content to facilitate the lifecycle management of recorded information. It is all about organizing and classifying.  The following figure represents the classification scheme for all life on Earth.

all life on earthFigure 1: Six Kingdoms of Life on Earth - Cavalier-Smith 1998[3]

If all life can be categories into six (6) top level terms, certainly we can simplify our organizations classification structures!

When conducting a shared drive cleanup, it’s necessary to analyze content and determine its meaning and purpose, that is, classify it.  Through analysis, like documents are grouped together, it’s necessary to match that grouping to a common, enterprise-wide list of terms – that is, an enterprise functional, classification scheme.  That scheme is, in turn, linked to the retention schedule.  Now, defensible actions can be taken against content.

Next post we’ll discuss Functional Classification Schemes.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Taxonomy

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Classification

[3] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kingdom_biology (cite_note-42)

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