In April, when this column is printed, Americans will be engaged in the annual ritual of calculating and paying state and federal taxes. Although tax activity is most intense in April, we all pay taxes daily in many forms, such as sales tax. Just as taxes have always been with us, so too have taxonomies. Like dealing with taxes, taxonomy management is an evolving process that never ends. There are many definitions of “taxonomy,” but I view them as merely the various ways we categorize and manage groups of things so we can find them, whether they’re dishes in a cupboard or scrolls in the ancient library of Alexandria.
On several recent projects in different businesses sectors, I’ve heard “taxonomy” proposed as part of a hoped-for solution to counter the collective sigh about the cost and difficulty of finding electronic files. I recently asked members of a taxonomy discussion group whether they believe interest in taxonomies is growing, and to a person, they all insisted it was. Information proliferation has triggered this interest, but how do you proceed?
Continuing the tax analogy: Years ago I calculated my own taxes; life and finances were much simpler. As the tax code grew, tax preparation became more complicated. I had to develop a continuous process for collecting and sorting paper receipts. At some point, the pile of receipts grew so big and the tax code became so complicated that I gave up and started paying someone to prepare my taxes. Not only was that expensive but I also couldn’t be certain I was minimizing my tax payments, and I still felt like I was doing most of the work. I began to consider using tax software; maybe that’s what the tax advisor was using anyway, so why not cut out the middleman? My tax problem then grew from a continuous activity of saving receipts to using a spreadsheet to categorize them. From there, I graduated to TurboTax to crank out the taxes and other financial software for long-term planning. I picked TurboTax because in effect it was “integrated” with my broker, being able to import annual brokerage statements. The financial management problem is better, but it still requires continuous effort.