Is a File Plan and a Taxonomy the Same Thing?

by Julie Lintner

Of course a File Plan and a Taxonomy are not the same thing, but I bet that title got your attention!  Although, I would bet that many folks from the document imaging industry do not really understand what a File Plan is, because most of the time Records Management is outside the bounds of what they are implementing.

I came from the Enterprise Content Management (ECM) industry and lived, ate, slept, breathed "Taxonomies" for many years.  It was the cornerstone of what we did from a Consulting and Implementation standpoint.  If you got the Taxonomy wrong, you were likely to pay the price of that for many years to come.

My goal of this article is not to define what they are, that has been done 100s of time in the last decade.

So if they are not the same thing, what do a File Plan and Taxonomy have in common?

They are both the cornerstone of their respective disciplines: Records Management - File Plan; Document Imaging - Taxonomy.

If you get them wrong, they can cost your organisation a lot of pain and lost productivity.

They both define important aspects of the content they control.  The File Plan defines what to do with the content and when (e.g. Lifecycle) and the Taxonomy is about ensuring you can find the data quickly using the information you know about the content.

Are File Plans and Taxonomies both equally important to an organisation?  I think they are both important, but I would contend that the Taxonomy is more important because is the cornerstone of how the data is structured and stored.  The File Plan can be incorporated in Phase II, and it can also be changed much easier than a Taxonomy, assuming your Records Management solution supports dynamic policy changes.

Can you have a successful ECM solution without a File Plan?  The answer to that is "yes" as well.  But if you don't have a File Plan, you are putting your organization at risk because you aren't applying retention schedules, documenting policies and properly disposing of your obsolete or expired information, records and files. 

If you have implemented a ECM solution, the next logical step is to ensure you also have a Records Management solution for that same content.  And part of a Records Management solution will be to create and implement a File Plan.

From a Records Management standpoint, if your content is being stored in a repository (and not a Shared Drive) you probably already have some sort of Taxonomy.  The question is "is it a properly structured Taxonomy?"

In summary, a File Plan and Taxonomy are very different things, but you should have both of them, and they should work in tandem with each other.  Since my background is in the ECM industry, as I learn more about Records Management and Information Governance, it is shocking to me that Records Management isn't the next logical step for organizations that have already implemented a ECM solution.

Julie Lintner is a consultant with information governance and records management specialists RecordLion and an Adjunct Faculty member at St. Louis University. This article was originally published online at