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Why IT is so important to small- and medium-sized businesses

Part 5 of a 5-part series of articles to help small and medium-sized businesses understand the business of information technology.


October 1, 2019
By Regina Gadacz

Let’s face it. You don’t want to be buried under a staggering haystack of information. Because then, you would be looking for the proverbial needle. You don’t want information to be that elusive. Information should be easy to find, see, understand, and consume. However, it often seems like the greater a company’s volume of information, the lesser is its ability to organize and control that information. This means less effective and less productive companies.

In this series of articles, our goal is to provide a deeper understanding of how information management systems (IMS) can help your business. We can offer time-tested approaches for business leaders to make decisions about their technology products and providers, while also engaging employees in the tech change journey. This article will deep dive into one of the key tools for effective, accurate, and timely information management (IM).

Information management need not be taxing

So how do we escape the needle and haystack trap? With taxonomies. A process-based system for classifying and organizing information that brings the company together to agree on rules and roles (“governance”) and for controlling important information assets.

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You may be wondering, “Why haven’t I heard about taxonomy before?” It’s not a software product. It’s not flashy or cool. It’s a little known, low-tech, low-cost solution used to make information reliable, secure, and findable.

What every piece of information needs: Some TLC

There’s almost no relationship that some tender loving care can’t fix. This applies to your relationship with information, as well. With some care and effective IM, you can transform your attitude to information into a productive and positive one.

IM has existed in one form or the other for as long as business has existed. Companies managed their information long before computers. IM was on paper and filed away for when it was needed. IT and IM are the infrastructure and related systems that now support it.

Information management: Going from pain to gain

Since information is the most valuable asset in a business, good IM is critical for success. This means arriving at a point where the common pain points of backlogging of work orders and poor inventory management disappear. This also means defining the purpose that a business’ information is supposed to serve, its key business areas and processes, how information is shared, and which critical information supports their processes. Once leaders answer these, they can decide which IT tools are needed to manage those operations.

Studies show that professionals spend up to 50% of their time just looking for information. For an average salary, that’s about $25,000 of productivity lost per worker per year. Even worse, the cost of misplaced or misused information could be reputation and the very survival of the business. Effective management of information is the only way to go from pain to gain.

Taxonomy as a foundation for new tech

If a new employee can understand the information structure and can access it effortlessly, that’s taxonomy in action. It’s a structured classification scheme with rules used to order and arrange the information. It is one part of the overall IM ecosystem, along with technology, processes, and usage patterns.

Taxonomy lays the foundation for automation and more advanced information systems, such as Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) software, Customer Relationship Management (CRM) systems, and Advanced Analytics.

Taxonomy is one of the primary ways to address an ineffective organization

When iCinfo works onsite with clients, we spot dysfunctional teams by these symptoms:

  • Use different ways to describe and name things.
  • Use incompatible systems.
  • Do not have routine ways to exchange information.
  • Do not consider information needs and use beyond their area.
  • Do not build a common language or trust.

Taxonomy is one of the primary ways to address these problems because this enables a common language and understanding that facilitates smooth knowledge flows.

The taxonomy framework: Simple. Smooth. Scalable

There needs to be a framework for investigating and negotiating categories to build a standard classification scheme and language. This includes:

  • Information governance: Policies, best practices, and processes by which a business is directed and controlled.
  • Information mapping: High-level walk-through of key business processes, i.e., a knowledge inventory.
  • Roles and responsibilities: Definition of information ownership and expectations.
  • Controlled vocabulary: Agreeing on standard terms so that information can be easily located.
  • Classification scheme: From simple lists to familiar tree structures, using the standard terms in the controlled vocabulary to label groups and sub-groups of information, e.g., chronological, alphabetical, and subject area.
“I can’t find my sales orders.”

Here’s an example of how one of iCinfo’s clients, an international electronics engineering firm, turned things around with taxonomy. At the time, they had lots of findability, document control, and privacy issues. There were hundreds of parts to track and multiple versions of each customer quote. Information was spread across incompatible systems, a mix of spreadsheets, PDFs, and email. Finance couldn’t find sales orders, and account managers had no idea which customer quote was the right one. IT had to work hard to maintain the network, manage storage space, and set up user access. Also, their ERP system was about to undergo a significant upgrade. After conducting a gap analysis, we developed a plan for taxonomy via a series of six workshops, where ten department leaders formed a working group to decide and monitor business rules and set up a standard classification scheme.

After 12 weeks of planning and design in the working group, each department took about two days to complete the actual cleanup and migration. One department’s folders went from 68 main folders to six. More importantly, the effort served to ensure the culture was ready for future IM plans.

 

Benefits of taxonomy: Happy customers, happy bottom line, happy you

Taxonomy helps companies save costs and make accurate decisions based on timely information while assisting employees to locate relevant information in a stress-free manner. Here are just a few ways in which taxonomy can transform your business:

  • Reduced server storage space. Our engineering client gained 30% of their server space back.
  • IT maintenance work is reduced because of less noise and more structured access rules.
  • Backup takes less time than before.
  • Search time is reduced. One client notes regaining two days of productivity per week.
  • Risk is reduced because the information is compartmentalized, easier to find, and with fewer access points.
  • Fewer errors and less file corruption.
  • Easier training and orientation process, and faster onboarding.

Taxonomy tips for transforming your organization

Here are iCinfo’s top tips for implementing a successful taxonomy:

  1. Get the right people together. The working group should be balanced and representative.
  2. Define and document processes, information workflows, policies, business rules, roles, and responsibilities. Take time to plan carefully.
  3. Do a full system backup.
  4. Do a pilot test using a small, low risk, less complicated subject area.
  5. Check information sets before and after migration to ensure everything has appropriately transferred. Corrupt files that do not migrate will need the help of IT support.
  6. No empty folders.
  7. Invest in proper training.
  8. Celebrate successes.
  9. Communicate, communicate, communicate.
  10. Mirror the taxonomy structure in other systems (i.e. email and hard copies).
  11. Monitor for continuous improvement.

The right information at the right time

Excessive paper-based information and disorganized structures can be overwhelming. It’s time to regain control. Businesses are moving away from paper documents stored in cabinets and boxes to a future where digital documents are created, accessed, and managed in real time through computer networks. It’s a significant change. Begin with a goal, a team, a plan, and awareness of what you need from your information. At iCinfo, we are happy to help you get your ducks in a row to give you access to the right information at the right time.

Claudia Mamros, Founder & CEO, iCinfo