Tools of the Trade

By Lisa Vaas  |  Posted 2002-04-01 Print this article Print

Taxonomy skills in short supply for all but a handful of companies.

Poor taxonomy wont sink your corporate portal as fast or as noticeably as, say, flawed system integration, but, over time, it will degrade portal usability.

In best-case scenarios, either the new breed of knowledge management/portal platforms can do a passable job of setting up taxonomies, or corporations can employ taxonomists or librarians. However, its only the lucky—or the large—company that has access to such rarefied skills.

At the U.S. Geological Surveys Center for Biological Information, National Biological Information Infrastructure Technology Research and Development Director Mike Frame is fortunate enough to have a library scientist on his team, as well as another IT professional who majored in biology.

Biology has an extant taxonomy—ordering by kingdom, phylum, genus, species and so on—which happens to be the one upon which the USGS extranet already relies. But Frame, in Reston, Va., said the portals taxonomy is still "sort of stuck," with ongoing issues around organizing things such as communities and security levels. Thus, hes investigating whether spider tools would be able to assist, perhaps by pre-filling content managers forms.

In the past year, automatic taxonomy creation tools have sprung up from companies such as ClearForest Corp., Quiver Inc. and Stratify Inc. These tools tend to be used by large companies with massive organizational needs, such as Eastman-Kodak Co.s use of ClearForest to conduct patent research and classification. But companies havent been flocking to use such tools for portal taxonomy creation.

At Hunton & Williams, a law firm based in Richmond, Va., Director of Technology Jamie Booth said that such tools dont justify their cost, at about $100,000 to $200,000. "The amount of content were trying to manage is not at the volume that would be available in something like a DuPont," Booth said. "The need to automate that process isnt there yet."

To apply order to e-Hunt, a portal that caters to the firms 750 enterprisewide attorneys and is powered by Plumtree Software Inc.s Corporate Portal Version 4.5, the firm is using Plumtrees native taxonomy tools, including a crawler that delves into some 3 million documents.

But its not technology thats the big challenge in creating the firms taxonomy. Its making sure Hunton & Williams lead librarian leads the team of business analysts working on the project—rather than the lawyers. "If you set six lawyers down, theyd come up with equally elaborate but vastly different ways of categorizing it," said Booth. "[The best] way for them to organize their documents effectively is for their own use."

Links to other stories in this package
  • Portal/KM Mix Gains Mind Share
  • Knowledge Management: Value Is Relative
  • Standards to Drive Services
    Lisa Vaas is News Editor/Operations for and also serves as editor of the Database topic center. Since 1995, she has also been a Webcast news show anchorperson and a reporter covering the IT industry. She has focused on customer relationship management technology, IT salaries and careers, effects of the H1-B visa on the technology workforce, wireless technology, security, and, most recently, databases and the technologies that touch upon them. Her articles have appeared in eWEEK's print edition, on, and in the startup IT magazine PC Connection. Prior to becoming a journalist, Vaas experienced an array of eye-opening careers, including driving a cab in Boston, photographing cranky babies in shopping malls, selling cameras, typography and computer training. She stopped a hair short of finishing an M.A. in English at the University of Massachusetts in Boston. She earned a B.S. in Communications from Emerson College. She runs two open-mic reading series in Boston and currently keeps bees in her home in Mashpee, Mass.

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