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SpeciesHomo sapiens

History of Classification


The Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus (1707-1778) is given the epithet “the father of taxonomy” and his system of binomial nomenclature is still in use today. Linnaeus built on the foundations of classification set out by many predecessors including the Swiss polymath Gaspard Bauhin (1511-1582) and the Italian physician-philosopher-botanist Andrea Cesalpino (1519-1603) who classified 6,000 and 1,500 different plants respectively. Linnaeus grouped living organisms together in a descending series of specialisation creating an elegant hierarchical system. The concept was embraced and a plethora of subject matter experts emerged to classify, define and name species. To date over 1.5 million species have been identified.




Biological classification uses a structure (taxonomy) and naming convention (nomenclature) to group organisms together and define them. Each level (taxa) is hierarchical starting with domain and continuing down to species. The species is named by combining the genus with an epithet. This is binomial nomenclature. The same theory is used to build descriptions in the material master. Species is analagous to the noun modifier pair

Application of Classification

Binomial nomenclature is a tried and trusted methodology for describing items. The same principles are used to standardise descriptions of products and services. When cleansing a material master the first priority is the correct identification of the material. This involves allocating a noun and modifier to the item. This dictates the information that needs to be captured in order to describe it and the hierarchy to which it belongs.


The most widely used classification system is the United Nations Standard Products and Services Code UNSPSC. This system has a 4 level hierarchy and has been designed to allow everything and anything to be classified. Each segment, family, class and commodity is given a two digit code. (See below)




Whilst there are a number of other classification systems that cover different industry requirements, for example eCl@ss, standardisation is unlikely to be achieved if everyone chooses to use their own schema.

Dictionaries should be mapped to the classification scheme that is being employed. Mapping the noun modifier to the classification gives consistent results and avoids manual errors being introduced.

Some Laws to consider when thinking about the application of a Material Group (A play on the laws of Thermodynamics by Paul Mayer)

1st Law of Material Groups

A material group is used to group together similar items and not used to identify a specific item.
2nd Law of Material Groups
Similar Items will be in the same materials group regardless of where they are used.
3rd Law of Material Groups
Similar items are classified the same way independent of free will and choice.
Zeroth Law of Material Groups
An item can only exist in a single Material Group