HIPAA Survival Guide March, 2019 Newsletter

The Importance of Taxonomies


What is a Taxonomy? 

The importance of taxonomies in any knowledge-based work cannot be underestimated. This of course includes all documents/artifacts that must be created/manage/maintained/disposed when launching/evolving a HIPAA compliance initiative ("HCI"), or for doing same with respect to any other regulatory regime. A taxonomy, for our purposes, is nothing more than a structured way of naming folders and sub-folders and the files contained within them. For example, "taxonomy aware litigators" almost always create the same folder/sub-folder for every piece of litigation that they handle. 

The benefits of having a taxonomy should be obvious. It helps you, and those that come after you, find documents faster. However, for many knowledge workers this is not the case because: (1) they are too  young to know any better; and (2) more surprisingly, they have embarked on learning a new subject matter domain ("SMD") and do not apply lessoned learned from the past.

What do Knowledge Workers do?
In general, knowledge workers perform three tasks recursively all day every day:
 (1) search; (2) assimilate; and (3) communicate. Any organization tool(s)/process(es) that improves (e.g. speeds up) this loop contributes significantly to the productivity of the individual, the group, and the organization. All else being equal (infamous weasel words of all economists) having a rigorous compliance taxonomy will dramatically improve the productivity of your HCI.

A taxonomy not only helps you find "stuff" faster, it helps define what kind of "stuff" an HCI should be tracking in order to capture visible, demonstrable evidence of compliance. 
The video from last month's webinar on this topic 
Expresso 2.0 now ships with a compliance repository/taxonomy defined for you. Obviously, no taxonomy can remain immutable for long. It's like the best military plans "none survive the first contact with the enemy." Expresso 2.0 allows admins to change the taxonomy to fit your organization's specific needs.

If you are now just launching your HCI in a serious way, then you should use Expresso's taxonomy out-of-the-box until it becomes clear how you need to enhance it for your organization. For those of you that already have a mature taxonomy in place, then you should compare yours with Expresso's to see if there is "stuff" you should be tracking but aren't.

Break your Taxonomy Early & Often

Huh? That sounds counterintuitive vis-à-vis the discussion above. As soon as you start using a taxonomy you will discover that there are certain "artifacts" that do not fit neatly into any of the pre-defined buckets. The temptation is to force fit these artifacts into existing buckets. Resist the urge to do so. Instead, evolve the taxonomy, even for one-offs, to better fit these artifacts. Why? Well, it will help you find these artifacts faster, so from that perspective, it's a question of first principles. Second, you may, through this process, discover an entirely new category of artifacts that requiring tracking, in which case you can now rigorously evolve your taxonomy in a manner that formally includes them.