Just Document and Everything Will Fit Together?
The Secret is in the Right Taxonomy!
Simply start documenting your IT. Either start where the need is greatest or at various points at the same time, without the need for coordination. Despite this, everything will fit together in the end and give a coherent overall picture, just like a large puzzle. What’s more, documentation will become faster, the results better and everything more clear.
It sounds impossible, but in fact it isn’t. As with any magic trick, the end result is actually based on technical capabilities. With this article we would like to give you an introduction to how it’s done. We’ll focus on working with a taxonomy as well as the most important prerequisites.
What is a Taxonomy?
A taxonomy is a uniform procedure or model (classification scheme) that classifies objects based on specific criteria; in other words it assigns them into categories or classes. Scientific disciplines often use the term “taxonomy” for hierarchical classification (classes, subclasses etc.). Mathematically speaking, a taxonomy is often a tree structure. There is a clear root node from which all other nodes spread. There is therefore an umbrella/subordinate relationship between the root node, the other nodes and their children.
In addition to hierarchical taxonomies, there are also other forms such as matrix, faceted or ontology, to name just a few. In this article, our focus is on the hierarchical form as a basis for Information Management.
Taxonomies are of considerable importance to the development of science. They make it easier to handle individual cases and also make it possible to make summary statements that can lead to the explanation of connections. They force clarity about the difference between categories, which leads to a better understanding of the area under investigation.
Use the Advantages of a Taxonomy in Documentation
Hierarchical taxonomies are a simple and reliable concept for the organisation of information, for example online. Users find them easy to understand because the hierarchical organisation of data is generally a familiar principle. Everyone knows the basic folder metaphor for data systems in operating systems. Another advantage of taxonomies is the comparatively simple implementation, as it is easy to fall back on simple data structures such as trees.
Hierarchies are also perfectly suited to structuring large quantities of information on the basis of shared characteristics. Well-known examples from the internet or web-based CMS systems are the Open Directory Project and the Drupal Taxonomy Module.
6 things that hierarchical taxonomies change in the documentation of IT:
- Finding information is straight forward.
Since the user starts with a very general topic and then chooses a sub-topic until he reaches the precise information he was looking for, navigating through the structure is easy.
- Maintaining is low effort.
The content purity guaranteed by the structuring scheme not only helps using the information, it also helps maintaining it. Changes will effect only the pages dealing with the subject of the change and the pages afflicted by it can easily be identified.
- The information gaps becomes visible.
You can find out in which areas a lot of information is missing just by looking at it. If there are only few pages, there is probably an information gap. And if an information is not where it should be according to the structuring scheme, it is part of such a gap, since there is no other place where it could be.
- Parallel working is possible and always creates a coherent overall picture.
Work becomes fast and agile. There are no project overheads or unnecessary coordination efforts between teams, projects or organisations. The benefit is immediate and anyone can set their own areas of focus without influencing others.
- Everything is consistently in one place, connected and coordinated.
You do not need to go to multiple pages while working on a single task or issue. All information on the topic is stored in the one place the structuring scheme provides for it, and information on related topics is stored nearby.
- Hierarchies can be used to establish efficient Access Management.
The hierarchy clearly defines what a page deals with, stopping it from combining different topics. Thus, when searching for a specific information it is not hidden between a bunch of subjects not relevant in the given context.
Working With a Taxonomy: The Move From Document Management to Information Management
The aforementioned advantages require a different way of working – a “professionalisation” of documentation. This is largely related to the methods, here called Information Management (IM). IM replaces traditional documentation/document management (management of Single Purpose Documents). Information Management includes the role of Information Manager. They replace the traditional Technical Writer. (See The Path From Technical Writer to Information Manager)
These are the most important differences resulting from the use of an Information Manager:
- Firstly, Information Managers manage the process. They know what to do and how to get it right.
- Secondly, all Information Managers use the same methods and followed the same procedure models and they know how to work fast and well with this.
- Lastly, the most important: These are the taxonomy, the concept of Information Units and the metadata. Every Information Manager knows the model, works according to the same rules and concepts, and uses the same set of metadata.
How do you get from traditional documentation and documentation management to information management? The essential prerequisites and building blocks are:
- Taxonomies and metadata
As detailed above, you need a taxonomy and a concept for metadata. (See: 5 Basic Rules for a Good Meta Data Schema)
- Information Management is an ongoing process
Documentation should be understood as a process – as Information Management. The process is controlled by an Information Manager. (See: See Path from Technical Writer to Information Manager)
- Information Units replace documents
You work with Information Units in a system for Information Management instead of with a classic collection of documents. Unlike documents, Units can be assigned to the hierarchy in a clear and granular manner. They can also be put together flexibly in the system depending on the stakeholder. Each stakeholder thus sees exactly what they need to. (See: Different Stakeholders – Different Views)
The “magic” of IT documentation involves a lot of technical capabilities, is known as IT Information Management and is essentially based on a taxonomy. Taxonomies and metadata are the cement that joins together individual pieces of information (Information Units) into a coherent overall picture.
And the best thing is that if you have the correct taxonomy and the right set of metadata you don’t need extensive project preparations for your documentation project. You simply start wherever the need is greatest. If, for example, you are missing important documentation for an upcoming audit, you can prepare exactly the documentation that is needed. If documentation for the go-live of an important project is missing, simply prepare the documentation that’s needed for this.
No matter where you start, what order tasks are completed in or how much documentation you work on at the same time, in the end it will all fit together into a coherent overall picture.