Prokaryotic systematics is a fundamentally important discipline that provides a framework for the activities of all microbiologists. Here we propose that the field has become mired in a sea of perceived rules and regulations, many of which stipulate what is considered ‘sufficient’ for the phenotypic characterisation of novel prokaryotic taxa. Importantly, we argue also that the principles and practise of prokaryotic systematics have not yet fully embraced the revolution in biological understanding that has occurred through the availability of huge numbers of whole genome sequences. We therefore propose that a significant reappraisal of the procedures used to describe novel prokaryotic taxa is needed, including the likely introduction of new publication formats. Urgent action is needed to revitalise the practise of prokaryotic systematics in order to maintain this discipline as an attractive career choice for twenty first century life scientists.