74 Operating and Maintaining an Organizing System

After the organizing system has been designed and implemented it can be put into its operation and maintenance phases. We will look at these from two perspectives, first from the point of view of individual resources, and then from the point of view of the organizing system’s design and implementation. These two perspectives are not always clearly distinguished. Curation, for example, is often used to describe actions taken to maintain individual resources as well as those that result in new arrangements of them.

Resource Perspective

Sometimes an organizing system is implemented with its organizing structures and relationships waiting to be populated by resources as they are acquired and described. The scope and scale of the organizing system shapes how the descriptions are created and how the descriptions are then used to assign resources to the logical or physical containers of the organizing system. The most important decisions to be made at this point involve determining an appropriate mix of methods for creating the resource descriptions, because their cost, quality, consistency, completeness, and semantic richness depends on which human or computational agents do the work (“Creating Resource Descriptions”).

For web-based and consumer-focused organizing systems, it is tempting to rely on users to assign descriptions, tags, or ratings to resources (“Tagging of Web-based Resources”). Some of these systems attempt to improve the quality and precision of these descriptions by providing forms, controlled vocabularies, or suggestions. Finding a balance is tricky; too much direction and control is demotivating to uncompensated volunteer describers, and too little of it results in the proverbial “tag soup.

An essential operational and maintenance activity is evaluation of resource descriptions, first with respect to the time and process by which they are created, and second with respect to how and when they support the designed interactions (“Evaluating Resource Descriptions”).

Some organizing systems are initiated with a fixed set of resources that will not change in any way. For example, in an archive as most narrowly defined, neither the individual resources nor the organization of the collection as a whole will change. If an archive of Abraham Lincoln letters is established, we know that Lincoln will never revise any letters or write any new ones, and any new classifications or descriptions devised by people studying the archive will not be used to rearrange the letters.

Most organizing systems, however, need to support ongoing interactions with a collection that changes over time as new resources enter the collection and old ones leave. These selection and collection management processes are explicit in libraries, museums and similar institutions that maintain collections to satisfy the changing needs and preferences of their user communities (“Looking “Upstream” and “Downstream” to Select Resources”).

Properties, Principles and Technology Perspective

It is useful to consider how an organizing system as a whole is operated and maintained over time. We can analyze how the system’s organizing properties, principles and technology might change, and we can roughly order different types of change according to their overall impact.

The most predictable maintenance activities for an organizing system with an expected long lifetime (“Expected Lifetime”) are incremental changes in description vocabularies and classification schemes (“Principles for Maintaining the Classification over Time”). These need to evolve when new instances or contexts require additional properties to maintain the distinctions between types of resources, but the basic principles embodied in the organizing systems are not affected.

Incremental category maintenance takes place even in personal organizing systems where the categories are not always explicit. The collection of clothes in a college student’s closet and the categories and properties for arranging them will change somewhat when he graduates and takes a job in a downtown office building where he needs to dress more formally than he did as a student. He will learn that despite the common term in the category name, “student casual” and “business casual” do not contain the same sets of resources.

Category maintenance is an ongoing activity in institutional organizing systems. The most commonly used bibliographic classification systems all have numbering and naming schemes that allow for subdivision and extension to create new subcategories to accommodate resources about new fields of knowledge and technology.

As another example, the Association for Computing Machinery(ACM) professional society created a keyword classification in 1964 to organize articles in its many publications, but relentless change in the computing field driven by Moore’s Law has required the ACM to significantly revise the system almost every decade.[1]

In contrast, changes in business organizing systems are more likely to be driven by economic factors. Resource properties for managing collections of resource and the information that describes them often change over time as a result of new products and services, mergers and acquisitions, or refined customer segmentation. More substantial changes in business organizing systems reflect the need to comply with laws and regulations that impose new requirements for tracing money flows or transactions. These mandated classifications and processes might require new organizing principles, not just incremental properties (“Mandated Classifications”).

The choice of implementation technology influences how easy it is to handle these types of changes in organizing systems. In databases this problem is known as “schema migration.” With XML implementations, schemas can be designed with “extension” or “codelist” elements to enable changes that will not invalidate existing information. Business processes that are driven by “executable specifications” like the Business Process Execution Language(BPEL) can be easily modified because the BPEL XML instance is used to configure the software that carries out the process it describes.[2]

Another very predictable type of activity over time with organizing systems is a technology upgrade that improves its quality or capabilities without affecting the organizing principles. A student might replace his handwritten lecture notes with typed notes on a laptop or tablet computer but not significantly change the way the notes are organized.

Institutional organizing systems are adopting tiered storage systems that automatically move resources between different types of storage media to meet performance, availability and recovery requirements. For example, firms with high financial impact of downtime like banks run critical organizing systems with copies in “failsafe” or “hot” modes that are synchronized with the production environments to prevent any interruptions in information access if the latter are disrupted. On the other hand, resources needed for regulatory compliance can be kept on lower cost disk storage.

The most challenging kinds of maintenance activities for organizing systems involve changes to the principles for arranging resources along with changes in the implementing technology. An example is the ambitious effort to introduce semantic web and linked data concepts in bibliographic organizing systems (“Bibliographic Organizing Systems”, “The Semantic Web World”). And change comes faster to businesses than to libraries and museums. New technologies can have a disruptive impact on business organizing system, forcing major changes to enable strategy changes that involve faster finding, retrieval, or delivery of informational or physical goods.[3]

Sometimes major changes to organizing principles and technologies can be introduced incrementally, with changes “rolled out” to different sets of resources or user groups during a transition period. However, sometimes the changes are inherently ”all or none” because it is impossible to have two conflicting organizing systems operating in the same context. An easy to understand example of an organizing system that changed radically is the system governing which side of the road you drive on, which was changed in Samoa in 2009. (See the sidebar, Driving in Samoa).

  1. No classification scheme ever devised is as unstable as the ACM’s because new computing concepts, technologies, and application areas are constantly emerging. Even the society’s name seems outdated.

  2. For a formal computer science treatment of BPEL see (Fu, Bultan, and Su 2004); for a commercial perspective see http://www.oracle.com/technetwork/middleware/bpel/overview/index.html.

  3. This means that the organizing systems used by business applications more often employ configuration management, version control, model-based code generation, and other computing techniques that robustly support the need for qualitative changes in the organizing systems.

  4. (Barta 2009).


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The Discipline of Organizing: 4th Professional Edition Copyright © 2020 by Robert J. Glushko is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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