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Knowledge management in practice: Building a vocabulary for classifying BI related tacit information August 6, 2006

Posted by Cyril Brookes in General, Tacit (soft) information for BI, Taxonomies, Tags, Corporate Vocabularies.

In my July 27 post I outlined the reasons why an enterprise vocabulary of business terminology is a vital part of any BI environment that seeks to manage the knowledge available in the tacit (soft) information known to its professionals.

This post takes this topic a step further, looking at the form and function of such a vocabulary.

What does a BI oriented vocabulary look like?

Ideally, the BI oriented vocabulary has a basic hierarchical structure, allowing for broad, narrow, and narrower, (etc.) concepts to be nested.

BI vocabularies often have similar terms, even for different organizations – e.g. customer (or client), competitor, product, technology, sales operations, (etc.) branches of the hierarchy are commonly used, though with very different topics at the narrower levels.

Vocabularies have a similar structure for different organizations in the same industry, and this is a basis for expediting their construction, using industry templates.

Some narrow topics naturally exist in multiple branches of the hierarchy (i.e. they have more than one parent), because they belong to more than one part of the business structure. For example, a corporation may be both a customer and a member of a strategic alliance, be temporarily a problem customer account, but permanently be a finance industry customer.

The KPIs, measures and metrics used in Business Intelligence reporting will be a subset of the vocabulary. For more detail, review my BI Pathfinder project at www.bipathfinder.com.

Knowledge management, the sharing and reporting of tacit information, is encouraged through the introduction of “soft” concepts, for example; problem customers, projects at risk, employment issues, customer comments, whistle blower issues, etc. The quality of a vocabulary has particular bearing on the level of user satisfaction for browsing, searching and personalization. What distinguishes a high quality vocabulary? Essentially, vocabulary quality depends on:

Structure paralleling business processes,

Selection of concise and familiar terminology

Lack of synonyms that confuse usage

Avoidance of orphan topics (those not part of the structure), and

Routine updates to cater for new issues and entities.

The stability of vocabulary structure is important, so users get to “find their way around”, especially broader level terms should remain constant, with all evolution at the narrowest level, except for major business structure changes.

The breadth and depth of the vocabulary determine the practical “balance” of BI reporting, as in the Balanced Scorecard concept.

Here is an example customer branch of a vocabulary, with both hard and soft concepts included.


finance industry customers

abc enterprises

abc enterprises east region

abc enterprises west region

def corporation

xyz inc

transport industry customers

national bus lines

fast rail corporation

slow boat to china shipping

problem customer accounts

xyz inc

difficult business inc

strategic alliances

acme products

def corporation

mno industries

In the next post on this thread I will discuss issues of scalability and automatic categorization of documents.



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