The Solo Taxonomist

I don’t know about you, but in the early days of taxonomy efforts at organizations I’ve worked at, the role of the taxonomist often stood alone. Of course, there wouldn’t be a taxonomy role at all if it weren’t for the foresight of knowledge or content managers, information architects, and similar people who see the overall value of enterprise taxonomies. However, once a taxonomist gets hired he or she is tasked with proselytizing taxonomy use across the organization, attempting to win the hearts and minds of project managers and end users who have requirements and needs which can be addressed by centralized taxonomy management.

Starting with the solo taxonomist, let’s talk about roles and permissions. In the case of the solo taxonomist, the role and its associated permissions are pretty clear. The taxonomist needs total access and permissions to the taxonomy management software with the ability to create and perform all tasks necessary to create and maintain vocabularies. These functions include importing and exporting vocabularies; creating, editing, and deleting concepts and their relationships; reporting; and administrative tasks such as creating projects, assigning user permissions, and maintaining all stages of the vocabulary lifecycle.

Even as the solo taxonomist, roles and permissions eventually grow.

The Solo Taxonomist and a Bit More

The solo taxonomist‘s role is often extended, working closely with IT, to include permissions and access to consuming systems as well. For example, a taxonomist may need to see search logs and settings when using taxonomies for tagging, navigation, and search facets. A taxonomist may need to be able to configure areas of a content management system to help with the setup of tagging content using concepts from the taxonomy. If there is an auto-categorization component which is not built into the taxonomy management system itself, the taxonomist will likely require access to that system to run auto-categorization testing against the vocabularies, and, if they have the skill set, make changes to auto-categorization rules to improve classification.

From my personal experience, as a taxonomist you may not know what systems you need access to until you require it (or find out about its existence!). Then, depending on your organization size and internal processes, there may be some work in getting access to those systems. Often, it can be about trust. I remember when I gained Central Administration privileges in SharePoint to see search logs and settings, I felt like I had been given a very personal gift from a trusted friend. One does not simply get access to SharePoint’s Central Administration!

The Solo Taxonomist Makes Friends

Eventually, the solo taxonomist makes friends and influences people in the organization. These friends may include knowledge management specialists, content creators and managers, search and text analytics experts, subject matter experts, information technologists, and newly hired junior taxonomists. The taxonomy social circle is expanding, and the roles and permissions follow.

The taxonomist and at least one technical role should have system administration privileges in the taxonomy management system. These administrative functions are not simply about the creation and management of vocabularies, but also include the ability to add users and assign them permissions to vocabularies and, if available, to projects and granular properties and relationships.

Other roles, such as junior taxonomists, may have permissions to one or more vocabularies within the system, but may not need the permissions to create projects or even necessarily to import vocabularies. However, they might require project administration privileges as well as administrative abilities over one or more vocabularies in their purview.

Knowledge management specialists, content creators and managers, subject matter experts, and similar roles may need to have a view into vocabularies in the taxonomy management system rather than simply through consuming system user interfaces. For these roles, they can be contributors who suggest or add concepts to a vocabulary or complete concept information such as relationships, definitions, and other properties. They may be taxonomy concept reviewers and approvers who can see all of the information, edit certain property fields, and change the status of a concept without being able to add or delete concepts or their relationships. They have some editorial ability, but do not have the ability to fundamentally change vocabularies.

There may be viewers of the taxonomy who should be able to see concept labels as well as the fields but have no ability to edit concepts or the vocabulary structure. These users can see vocabularies in the taxonomy management system user interface or through a consuming system UI. For viewers, the information can be a one-way push and they are consumers of the information. They may also be able to provide feedback through other channels.

Finally, there will be end users who are consumers of entire vocabularies or subsets of these vocabularies. They probably only interact with the taxonomy as viewers or content taggers applying metadata, but there may be requirements allowing them to suggest concepts directly into the taxonomy management system for review and approval by editorial taxonomists. Taxonomy governance processes may require that vocabularies are more strictly controlled and users can only make requests via the taxonomy management system or a connected ticketing request system.

Some possible taxonomy management roles are summarized the following table.

Table Taxonomy Roles

The Information Ecosystem Gets Complex 

As the information architecture ecosystem in which the taxonomy management system lives grows more complex, so to do the management of roles and permissions within and between systems. Some organizations have complex identity management layers including single sign-on (SSO). Roles managed in tools like Okta, OneLogin, or Active Directory must exist in the taxonomy management system as well so users can move seamlessly between systems while retaining the appropriate permissions. 

Grouping users into common permission sets within a taxonomy management system which are then mapped to user roles in identity management tools ensures people can only see and edit what they are allowed to. Even better, user provisioning and deprovisioning as an employee enters an organization, changes roles, changes status from contractor to full time, or leaves the organization should be managed without needing to add or delete user profiles.

Adherence to vocabulary management standards like the ANSI/NISO Z39.19-2005 and semantic web standards like RDF and OWL should be complemented with authentication standards like OAuth and specifications like SCIM to play well, and securely, within an organizations greater information architecture. Following the standards ensures security and is also a way to ease concerns over integration with other enterprise systems.

As the role of the taxonomist expands, the circle of taxonomy friendlies widens, and the system architecture grows, roles and permissions need to follow.

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