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CIOs Care About the Semantic Web

By Graham_Rong | March 23, 2010, Mar 22, 2010

By Jennifer Zaino

Now we know that CIOs care about the semantic web: The 2010 MIT Sloan CIO Symposium, which takes place in May, will feature a panel on Enterprise 3.0 where experts will discuss emerging approaches to effective knowledge management and new services for better data integration.

Web 2.0 initiatives, social networking, software as a service and the general explosion of data within an enterprise’s four walls is why this matters now to the CIO community. “CIOs have to provide more effective data integration of meteorically increasing information–organizations must link, consume, and make valuable use of that internal and external data,” says Dr. Graham Rong, co-chair of the symposium.

“There are going to be infinite sources of rapidly changing information and business will need that to be captured properly using some kind of emerging technology and business model, which is Enterprise 3.0.”

Rong points to the challenges that already exist today in web-services based enterprise data architectures, where the slightest change to one API’s syntax that is used across services can disrupt the entire ability to exchange data among them. “You have to follow exactly the API that is published, because if anything is different it will trigger an error,” he says. “You have to tell everyone using your API that you’ve made a change. Now you may phrase that as being here’s good news—I’ve updated the API. But the truth is that could be a nightmare for users because their system won’t work as it has been working.”

Semantic web technologies can help with those interoperability issues and extend the efficiency of enterprise information architectures. “You can design a semantic layer on top of your web-based services, and let it do a kind of a searching and negotiation process,” Rong says. “An ontology is the moderator in the middle, to help you through all this. It can moderate between the services providers and the users.”

The enterprise landscape also is being changed with the advent of virtualization and cloud computing, where services and information may exist behind others’ firewalls, in a variety of data types. That will lead to new challenges on the near horizon. “So, how can you manage the knowledge and information in this changed enterprise landscape?” Rong asks. “That’s what people are looking at in the future.” He thinks semantic web technologies and ontologies are going to be required to combine data for analysis in one analytics engine so that companies can make sense of everything coming at them from multiple sources. “The semantic web helps because it brings all this data together,” he says. “You can include in this natural language processing and rules-sets for analysis and triggering alerts or messages.”

When IT can handle these tasks more efficiently, it will help them to cut the high costs of data integration today, and more importantly give the business the knowledge it needs. There may still be some skepticism on the point of whether the semantic web will succeed where other approaches haven’t lived up to their promise, which is why Rong prefers to use the term Enterprise 3.0. “We think the semantic web term has been abused somehow, that expectations were set too high in years back,” he says. Those who tried it out early on may feel they didn’t get out of it what they thought they would, and others don’t see how it has anything to do with the daily operations of their organizations. “But that’s normal for a lot of emerging technologies,” he says.

The difference now is that “we are already seeing applications being used and developed,” including at the government level for publishing RDF data and interacting with the general public. “The government is setting an example for others in that respect,” he says.

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