CMS and ECMs Are Like the Dewey Decimal System. Here’s How

We all remember this experience from when we were in elementary school—the class trip to the local library. The librarian greeted us and opened our eyes to the city of knowledge contained within the building’s walls.

AND then, we soon heard those three words that have clung to our brains and have stayed with us ever since we were kids:

Dewey Decimal System

Though it originated in the 19th century, the Dewey Decimal System has continued to be refined and improved up the present. Put simply, it’s a taxonomy for classifying non-fiction books. The Dewey Decimal System uses a numerical arrangement for organizing non-fiction into 10 subject categories. In each category, books are arranged from 000 up to 999. Each numeral represents a topic, and within each topic, author names are organized alphabetically. In other words, the Dewey Decimal System is an inventory management system.


Answer—A LOT. The Dewey Decimal was an early content management system for content providers (AKA authors) and organizers (librarians).

It’s a useful analogy for understanding the challenge of setting up a cohesive content inventory system for retrieving information. All content management systems face the same dilemma—how do you store, label, and retrieve information in a warehouse that is searchable and accessible for the user?

Well, today storing information is extremely challenging since digital platforms have made it easier and cheaper than ever to create content. We now rely on digital warehouses to store and “tag” content.

If you work in an organization that generates massive volumes of content (such as asset management), you’ll need an enterprise content management platform for component and document management. For that, you’ll want to think in terms of taxonomy. Yep, we just used a term that many of you haven’t come across since 9th grade biology. In the context of enterprise content management, “taxonomy” denotes the same concept from your high school biology class.

Taxonomy began with Carl Linnaeus, an 18th century scientist credited as the “father of modern taxonomy,” who realized that a system was needed to organize ALL living organisms in the animal world (plants, animals, bacteria, ect…). Linnaeus invented the classification system of naming organisms by species + genus (for example, homos sapiens and canis lupus). Linnaeus also developed the categorization hierarchy of kingdom, phylum, class, order, family, genus, and species.

Much like the animal kingdom requires a classification hierarchy, large businesses, especially those required by state and federal regulations to produce mountains of documents, need digital hierarchy. Hierarchy here means “the structural framework used to classify terms into parent/child or broad-to-narrow relationships.” Otherwise, how could organizations retrieve content from their ever-growing library of +50,000 documents that they generate?

So how do you structure your content into a meaningful taxonomy within a digital hierarchy? A scalable solution is an ECM that enriches regular content into intelligent content. And the road to intelligent content begins with converting it into granularized components and surrounding it with meaningful tags driven by the taxonomy.

Take this example. Let’s say a large fund complex has amassed thousands of Legal, Marketing and Compliance documents over a two-year period. Their digitized content may contain contracts, fact sheets, shareholder reports, and other legal documents. If their ECM is not equipped to categorize the underlying content, then the team may be generating duplicate content.

AppaSense, an AI driven content analytics platform we created, constantly analyzes the ENTIRE CONTENT LIBRARY allowing users to easily discover valuable information, similarities, use cases and relationships that otherwise would have remained hidden. The compliance division now has a real-time snapshot into the health of its library. How many components are there? How many unique categories or versions? Where is it being used? How many components are saying the same thing but using slightly different language? Instead of tasking 3 or 4 members of a team with the burden of combing through individual components and documents (don’t ask how long that would take), AppaSense provides the analytics instantly. The software is able to do this because it leverages a taxonomy, like a Dewey Decimal System, onto the database.

As one of our ECM software products, AppaSense leverages existing taxonomy metadata and hierarchy of a content database. For example, complexes that produce lots of fact sheets, fund reports, and prospectuses need an enterprise content management system that atomizes and categorizes their content into components allowing it to be shared across the enterprise. Think of AppaSense as a personalized Dewey Decimal System for a digital library.

And AppaSense is just one solution. Our content management and document automation software DocuBuilder enables customers to enrich content with metadata which can then be assembled and repurposed at scale.

So the next time you’re wondering how an ECM functions, just think back to that time you first visited your elementary school library.

Want to learn more about how you can improve your own taxonomy system for enterprise content? Let’s have a chat.