Is your team working remotely?  See how DX Cloud gives them instant access to the files they need.
Document Management 101

Document Management: Taxonomy is the Difference Between Chaos and Calm

A taxonomy is the difference between a document repository (think Google Drive or Dropbox) and an actual management system that improves your work processes.

A number of stickie notes are arranged in a grid beside a keyboard.

Chances are strong that you’ve already set up a document management taxonomy—you just didn’t know it at the time. Have you ever sat down with a filing cabinet, a set of crisp new folders, a label maker, and an abundance of enthusiasm? Your first step was to decide how to label each file. Let’s say you started with ‘contracts’, ‘invoices’, and ‘receipts’. 

Boom! You created a taxonomy (a system of organization) to manage your documents. And it was perfect—just like any system that hasn’t yet been used in the real world.

Problems come later when your colleague tilts her head and says, “that’s great, but… we need to find the information according to date, and also by client.” In the pre-digital days, that meant filing multiple copies according to multiple categories: type of document, date, client. It was exactly the kind of nightmare that digital filing promised to solve. 

But has it? That depends. Fancy digital management software, just like a physical filing system, is only useful when the taxonomy is set up to reflect how the information is used—in real life. 

Few people know this better than Samantha Zuiverink. As a taxonomist, librarian, and former U.S. federal auditor, she understands the power of taxonomy in document management. We sat down with her to find out how taxonomy makes the difference between clutter and compliance.

What led you to taxonomy?

I was a federal compliance officer for many years. I went into companies to check their systems and ensure they were compliant in several areas of law (like federal title code). Over time, I realized companies don’t understand the value or risks of their data. So, after years of the ‘warm greetings’ I received as an auditor, I started consulting for companies who knew they had large data messes. In my work now, it’s amazing to me how many misconceptions there are about what document management is and isn’t, and about what it does and doesn’t do.

Over time, I realized companies don’t understand the value or risks of their data.

How is taxonomy and document management relevant to businesses?

Proper taxonomy is the difference between surviving and thriving. It’s the difference between a functional team and a well-oiled machine. But—most importantly—it’s what will keep you compliant and keep my federal auditor friends either out, or in-and-out, of your office with no drama.

How does proper taxonomy work with document management?

A proper taxonomy has two main goals:

1 - To create a system for how documents are organized, filed, and indexed on a daily basis

2 - To automate both data collection and the document’s journey from person to person for approvals, revisions, and other business processes

A taxonomy is the difference between a document repository like Google Drive (the digital version of a filing cabinet), and an actual management system that improves your work processes.

Because taxonomy lays the groundwork for automated workflows, it’s the foundation of document management. The right system uses taxonomy to automate all the information that comes in regularly, freeing up humans for more complex tasks. Automated workflows also track tasks to completion, ensuring everything is on time. And an automated retention schedule notifies you when it’s time to dump outdated documents so you never have anything potentially risky hanging around. 

So the right taxonomy for your corporate document library lets you access the right information at the right time. It also automates everything you need to meet state and federal requirements, so you can go through compliance audits without breaking a sweat.

What processes are necessary to meet compliance regulations?

You must have a system that:

  • Receives the documents in one location and sorts them by document type
  • Tracks the most current version of your documents, if there are updates
  • Records information like document type, creation date, creator, and expiration date (which is set according to the relevant state or federal code)

Expiration dates vary—usually three to five years for tax records, three years after termination for employee records, and never for things like articles of incorporation, for example. If your workflows are set up right, expiration triggers notifications to the appropriate departments and people, so records can be destroyed on time.

OK, so taxonomy-based document management is great. How can I do it for my business?

It’s all about who you work with. If you’re researching a Document Management Solution (DMS), ask about their onboarding process:

  • Do they employ experts in taxonomy and document organization?
  • Do they provide one-on-one sessions to help you meet best practices?
  • Do they have experience helping similar clients in your industry? 

For a successful digital transformation, your DMS is more than just software—it’s also a business that partners with you and takes the time to understand how you need to use your data. Their people should be trusted experts that help you simplify and streamline your processes.

For a successful digital transformation, your DMS is more than just software—it’s also a business that partners with you

Can you walk us through a favorite taxonomy or document management project?

My favorite client already had my favorite DMS in use, but due to an over-complicated indexing setup, it was nearly impossible for anyone to find anything with the search engine. They also had all the information squished into one area. I found that each department had abandoned the system about 3 years previous and had started storing data in their own way. 

Here are the steps I took to sort out the mess:

  1. I broke the info up into single entities that made sense, keeping the hierarchy 80% the same so it stayed familiar to their staff
  2. I simplified the indexing sets (the taxonomy) 
  3. I ported the data into the newly restructured Corporate Document Management Library
  4. I made sure their physical filing cabinets matched the digital version so they mirrored each other 100%. This last step helps a team function with full efficiency going forward, knowing what stays in hardcopy, and where, versus electronic-only versions.

Once I gained the trust of each department (which is very important during this process) they willingly released their data to be housed in their section of the DMS.

The right approach and the right people

Samantha’s process outlines the important steps needed to sort out any documentation mess, and her approach mirrors DocuXplorer’s emphasis on customization to meet business needs. We’re the first to admit that document management taxonomy isn’t the most riveting conversation topic at a party. But it is crucial to efficient business operations, and to staying compliant. As the old saying goes, “keep your employees happy and your auditors happier”. 


Are you interested in a document management system that works for your business? The first step is to gather information so your taxonomy expert can understand what documents you have, and how you use them. Our free Document Strategy Workbook guides you through these first steps and prepares you for an effective conversation with our team.

Download the workbook as an MS Word file or click below to fill it out online.

Get started on my document strategy