Tagging for Business Applications

The next wave driving business value via tagging is here and it is being done through creative design and deployment. At this point the value proposition of tagging enterprise artifacts by and for knowledge workers is generally understood. Given this, it begs the question as to what additional value an organization can gain if they have invested in or plan to invest in an enterprise tagging platform. With the recent release of enterprise tagging technologies our options have become even more expansive as to how we can interact with our data by way of an extensive REST / JSON based, platform independent API . This new flexibility offers the possibility to leverage tagging as more than just an add-on or nice to have feature, but as the core component for dealing with data within a business application.

Traditional Challenge

Just as a folksonomy provides users a way to impose structure on unstructured data like a flat document collection, with some creative design decisions tagging can be extended to components of a business application that to date have historically not been able to benefit from the dynamic nature of community wisdom – only because of the way in which they were traditionally designed and developed. With a creative approach to application design we can now explore the use of tagging as the foundation of an application, rather than just a tool to augment existing data. Seem crazy? Let me explain.

For this discussion let’s focus on the application needs of the fictional technology analyst company, Socrates Research Institute (SRI). SRI is getting ready to provide a new release of a major research application that they are developing for their business users and reflecting on the challenges presented by their prior version.

The research application was designed on the basis that SRI had a set idea of things that they would like to capture around various research topics. Over time SRI found it very challenging to maintain the system given the quick market changes that can occur within research that SRI conducts. Emerging market trends and new technologies often forced SRI into a position where their prior application left them incapable of tracking and filtering on new data since they were bound by the static design of the system. SRI now knows that they will want to filter and collect data over time in categories that could rapidly change and they will need to adapt to situations that they cannot currently anticipate. SRI is hoping that beyond initial development they can do this without intimate involvement from IT.

New Approach

Driving the SRI research system by way of tagging will make it open ended and able to meet the rapid pace of emerging business needs. Data will now be applied by way of user defined attributes at runtime, enabling a limitless amount of sorting, filtering and consumption of the research without involving IT. How is this done you may ask?

1. The actual research itself will be collected on specific products that they are providing analysis on by way of a reference. In this case it will be a hyperlink to a product page on a vendor’s web site submitted through browser toolbar that interacts with the tagging engine API.

2. For each one of these products, tags will be applied that supply the type, price range, vendor and other information for that product. These tags will be made mandatory and selection will be enforced through the application interface, calling back to tagging REST APIs.

3. Beyond these tags all other information will be applied at the discretion of the research teams. Any additional data from the vendor around their product (PDFs, web pages, etc) can be pulled into the system and auto-tagged, saving time and effort.

Now it really starts to get interesting… once the data is applied to the object of research there are an expansive set of views that can be created on top of this data based on the filtering capabilities for searching tagging data. This means that IT can develop a single component that will allow users to define set views around products, research events and any other criteria that may be collected based on the context that the component is used in.

Ultimately the data can be presented based on filtered queries to give the end users very traditional application views, even though the data is stored within the tagging engine. This can include filtering different views of the data to provide context sensitive interface, drilling down into the data to provide more refined views and reporting on data that may be relevant to a certain, product, event, market condition, etc.

Final Word

There are many possibilities for application design and development using a framework as I have outlined above. Leveraging a tagging system as an application platform allows for a highly dynamic, user driven, application experience – while cutting down on development and maintenance costs. If you are curious about seeing how this approach might work for your next project, drop me a line and I would be more than happy to brainstorm around it.

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