As I reported about a year ago after my first attendance, I think the Semantic Technology Conference is the best venue going for pragmatic discussion of semantic approaches in the enterprise. I’m really pleased that I will be attending again this year. The conference (#SemTech) will be held at the Hilton Union Square in downtown San Francisco on June 21-25, 2010. Now in its sixth year and the largest of its kind, it is again projected to attract 1500 attendees or so.
A really exciting presentation for us is, Sizzle for the Steak: Rich, Visual Interfaces for Ontology-driven Apps, on Wed, June 23 in the 2:00 PM – 3:00 PM session.
A nagging gap in the semantic technology stack is acceptable — better still, compelling — user experiences. After our exile for a couple of years doing essential infrastructure work, we have been unshackled over the past year or so to innovate on user interfaces for semantic technologies.
Our unique approach uses adaptive ontologies to drive rich Internet applications (RIAs) through what we call “semantic components.” This framework is unbelievably flexible and powerful and can seamlessly interact with our structWSF Web services framework and its conStruct Drupal implementations.
We will be showing these rich user interfaces for the first time in this session. We will show concept explorers, “slicer-and-dicers”, dashboards, information extraction and annotation, mapping, data visualization and ontology management. Get your visualization anyway you’d like, and for any slice you’d like!
While we will focus on the sizzle and demos, we will also explain a bit of the technology that is working behind Oz’s curtain.
A more informal, interactive F2F discussion will be, MIKE2.0 for the Semantic Enterprise, on Thurs, June 24 in the 4:45 PM – 5:45 PM slot.
MIKE2.0 (Method for an Integrated Knowledge Environment) is an open source methodology for enterprise information management that is coupled with a collaborative framework for information development. It is oriented around a variety of solution “offerings”, ranging from the comprehensive and the composite to specific practices and technologies. A couple of months back, I gave an overview of MIKE2.0 that was pretty popular.
We have been instrumental in adding a semantic enterprise component to MIKE2.0, with our specific version of it called Open SEAS. In this Face-to-Face session, experts and desirous practitioners will join together to discuss how to effectively leverage this framework. While I will intro and facilitate, expect many other MIKE2.0 aficionados to participate.
This is perhaps a new concept to many, but what is exciting about MIKE2.0 is that it provides a methodology and documentation complement to technology alone. When combined with that technology, all pieces comprise what might be called a total open solution. I personally think it is the next logical step beyond open source.
So, if you have not already made plans, consider adjusting your schedule today. And, contact me in advance (mike at structureddynamics dot com) if you’ll be there. We’d love to chat!
Ten years ago the message was the end of obscene rents from proprietary enterprise software licenses. Five years ago the message was the arrival and fast maturing of open source. Today, the message is the open world and semantics.
These forces are conspiring to change much within enterprise IT. And, this change will undoubtedly be for the good — for the enterprise. But these forces are not necessarily good news within conventional IT departments and definitely not for traditional vendors unwilling to transform their business models.
I have been beating the tom-tom on this topic for a few months, specifically in regards to the semantic enterprise. But I have by no means been alone nor unique. The last two weeks have seen an interesting confluence of reports and commentaries by others that richen the story of the changing information technology landscape. I’ll be drawing on the observations of Thomas Wailgum (CIO magazine) , John Blossom  and Andy Mulholland, CTO of Capgemini .
Wailgum describes the “New Normal” and how it might kill IT . He picks up on the viewpoint that ties the recent meltdowns in the financial sector as a seismic force for changes in information technology. While he acknowledges many past challenges to IT from PCs and servers and Y2K and software becoming a commodity, he puts the global recession’s impact on business — the “New Normal”– into an entirely different category.
His basic thesis is that these financial shocks are forcing companies to scrutinize IT as never before, in particular “unfavorable licensing agreements and much-too-much shelfware; ill-conceived purchasing and integration strategies; and questionable software married to entrenched business processes.”
Yet, he also argues that IT and its systems are too ingrained into the core business processes of the enterprise to be allowed to fail. IT systems are now thoroughly intertwined with:
But top management is disappointed and disaffected. IT systems gobble up too many limited resources. They are inflexible. They are old and require still more limited resources to modernize. They are complex. They create and impose delays. And all of these negatives lead to huge losses in opportunity costs. Wailgum notes Gartner, for instance, as saying that by 2012 perhaps 20 percent of businesses will own no IT assets at all in their desire to outsource this headache.
I think this devastating diagnosis is largely correct, though perhaps incomplete in that no mention is made of the flipside: what IT has failed to deliver. I think this flipside is equally damning.
Despite decades of trying, IT still has not broken down the data stovepipes in the enterprise. Rather, they have proliferated like rabbits. And, IT has failed to unlock the data in the 80% of enterprise information contained within documents (unstructured data).
Unfortunately, after largely zeroing in and mostly diagnosing the situation, Wailgum’s remedy comes off sounding like a tired 12-step program. He argues for new mindsets, better communications, getting in touch with customers, being willing to take risks, and being nimble. Well, duh.
So, over the decades of IT failures there has been accompanying decades of criticism, hand-wringing, and hackneyed solutions. Without some more insightful thinking, this analysis can make our understanding of the New Normal look pretty old.
John Blossom  picks up on these arguments and looks at the issues from the vendor’s perspective. Blossom characterizes Wailgum’s piece as “outlining the enormous value gap that’s been arising in enterprise information technologies.” And, while clearly new approaches are needed and farming them out may become more prevalent, Blossom cautions this is not necessarily good news for vendors.
As Blossom puts it, “what seems to be happening is that many of the business processes through which these enterprises survived and thrived over the past several decades are shooting blanks. . . . many of the fundamental concepts of IT that have been promoted for the past few decades no longer give businesses operational advantages but they have to keep spending on them anyway.”
As he has been arguing for quite some time, one fundamental change agent has been the Web itself. “The Web has accelerated the flow of information and services that can lead to effective decision-making far more rapidly than enterprise IT managers have been able to accommodate.”
Web search engines and social media tools can begin to replace some of the dedicated expenditures and systems within the enterprise. Moreover, the extent, growth and value of external data and content is readily apparent. Without outreach and accommodation of external data — even if it can solve its own internal data federation challenges — the individual enterprise is at risk of itself becoming a stovepipe.
Prior focuses on strategy and capturing workflows are perhaps being supplanted by the need for operational flexibility and on-the-fly aggregation and rapid service development tools. In an increasingly interconnected and rapidly changing world with massive information growth, being able to control workflows and to depend on central IT platforms may become last decade’s “Old Normal.” Floating on top of these massive forces and riding with their tides is a better survival tactic than digging fixed emplacements in the face of the tsunami.
These factors of Web, open source, agnosticism as to platform or software applications, and the need to mash up innovations from anywhere are not the traditional vendor game. Just as businesses and their IT departments must get leaner, so must the expectation of vendors to extort exorbitant rents from their clients. “Fasten your seatbelts, it’s going to be a bumpy night!” 
So, Blossom agrees with the Wailgum diagnosis, but also helps us begin to understand parts of the cure. Blossom argues the importance of:
Much, if not all of this, can be provided by open source. But open source is not a sine qua non: commercial products that embrace these approaches can also be compatible components across the stack.
But — even with these components — a full cure still lacks a couple of crucial factors.
These remaining gaps are emphasized in Andy Mulholland’s recent blog post . His post was occasioned by the press announcement that Structured Dynamics (my firm) had donated its Semantic Enterprise Adoption and Solutions, or SEAS, methodology to MIKE2.0 . Mulholland was suggesting his audience needed to know about this Method for an Integrated Knowledge Environment because some of the major audit partnerships have decided to get behind MIKE2.0 with its explicit and open source purpose of managing knowledge environments and their data and provenance.
As Mulholland notes, “. . . it’s not just more data, it’s the forms of data, and what the data is used for, all of which add to the complications. . . . Sadly the proliferation of data has mostly been in unstructured data in formats suitable for direct human use.”
So, one remaining factor is thus how to extract meaning from unstructured (text) content. It is here that semantics and various natural language processing (NLP) components come in. Implied in the incorporation of data extracted from unstructured sources is a data model expressly designed for such integration.
Yet, without a fulcrum, the semantic lever can still not move the world. Mulholland insightfully nails this fundamental missing piece — the “most crucial issue” — as the use of the open world assumption.
From an enterprise perspective and in relation to the points of this article, an open world assumption is not merely a different way to look at the world. More fundamentally, it is a different way to do business and a very different way to do IT.
I have summarized these points before, but they deserve reiteration. Open world frameworks provide some incredibly important benefits for knowledge management applications in the enterprise:
Archimedes is attributed to the apocryphal quote, “Give me a lever long enough and a fulcrum on which to place it, and I shall move the world.”  I have also had lawyer friends tell me that the essence of many court cases is found in a single pivotal assertion or statement in the arguments. I think it fair to say that the open world approach plays such a central role in unlocking the adaptive way for IT to move forward.
As Mulholland notes, we have donated our Open SEAS methodology  to MIKE2.0 in the hopes of seeing greater adoption and collaboration. This is useful, and all are welcome to review, comment and contribute to the methodology, indeed as is the case for all aspects of MIKE2.0.
But the essential point of this article is that Open SEAS also embraces most — if not all — of the factors necessary to address the New Normal IT function.
Open SEAS is explicitly designed to facilitate becoming an open semantic enterprise. Namely, this means an organization that uses the languages and standards of the semantic Web, including RDF, RDFS, OWL, SPARQL and others to integrate existing information assets, using the best practices of linked data and the open world assumption, and targeting knowledge management applications. It does so based on Web-oriented architectures and approaches and uses ontologies as an “integration layer” across existing assets.
The foundational approaches to the open semantic enterprise do not necessarily mean open data nor open source (though they are suitable for these purposes with many open source tools available). The techniques can equivalently be applied to internal, closed, proprietary data and structures. The techniques can themselves be used as a basis for bringing external information into the enterprise. ‘Open’ is in reference to the critical use of the open world assumption.
These practices do not require replacing current systems and assets; they can be applied equally to public or proprietary information; and they can be tested and deployed incrementally at low risk and cost. The very foundations of the practice encourage a learn-as-you-go approach and active and agile adaptation. While embracing the open semantic enterprise can lead to quite disruptive benefits and changes, it can be accomplished as such with minimal disruption in itself. This is its most compelling aspect.
We believe this offers IT an exciting, incremental and low-risk path for moving forward. All existing assets can be left in place and — in essence — modernized in place. No massive shifts and no massive commitments are required. As benefits and budgets allow, the extent of the semantic interoperability layer may be extended as needed and as affordable.
The open semantic enterprise is not magic nor some panacea. Simply consider it as bringing rationality to what has become a broken IT system. Embracing the open semantic enterprise can help the New Normal be a good and more adaptive normal.
Today, Structured Dynamics is pleased to release Open SEAS, its methodology for Semantic Enterprise Adoption and Solutions. At the same time, we are donating the framework to the open source MIKE2.0 Method for an Integrated Knowledge Environment project.
Open SEAS provides a framework for the enterprise to establish a coherent, consistent and interoperable layer across its information assets. It is compliant with the MIKE2.0 Semantic Enterprise Solution Offering.
Open SEAS has been developed for enterprises desiring to initiate or extend their involvement with semantic technologies. It is inherently incremental, low-cost and low-risk.
Concurrent with this release, Structured Dynamics is also donating the methodology and all of its related intellectual assets to the MIKE2.0 project. Under Creative Commons license and MIKE2.0′s content governance policies, the community’s current 2000+ members are now free to expand and use the Open SEAS methodology in any manner they see fit.
Last week, I began to introduce MIKE2.0 and its methodology to the readers of this blog. MIKE2.0 provides a complete delivery environment and methodology for information management projects in the enterprise. Solutions — from the specific to the composite — are described and packaged with respect to plans, management communications, products (open source and proprietary), activities, benchmarks, and deliverables. Delivery is accomplished over multiple increments, split into five phases from definition and planning to deployment. The assets associated with this framework first are based on templates and guidelines that can be applied to any information management area. The framework allows for multiple projects to be combined and inter-related, all under a common methodology. More information and a good entry point is provided on the What is MIKE2.0? page on the project’s main Web site.
MIKE2.0 presently has some 800 resources across about 40 solution areas. With Structured Dynamics’ donation, there are now about 40 resources related to the semantic enterprise, many of them major, accompanied by many images and figures. This contribution makes the Semantic Enterprise Solution Offering instantly one of the more complete within MIKE2.0. As noted below, this contribution is also just a beginning of our commitment.
The Open SEAS framework is Structured Dynamics’ specific implementation framework for MIKE2.0′s Semantic Enterprise Solution Offering. This section overviews some of Open SEAS‘ key facets.
Many enterprise information systems, particularly relational ones, embody a closed world assumption that holds that any statement that is not known to be true is false. This premise works well where there is complete coverage of specific items, such as the enumeration of all customers or all products.
Yet, in most areas of the real (”open”) world there is no guarantee or likelihood of complete coverage. Under an open world assumption the lack of a given assertion or fact does not imply whether that possible assertion is true or false: it simply is not known. An open world assumption is one of the key factors that defines the open Semantic Enterprise Offering and enables it to be deployed incrementally. It is also the basis for enabling linkage to external (often incomplete) datasets.
Fortunately, there is no requirement for enterprises to make some philosophical commitment to either closed- or open-world systems or reasoning. It is perfectly acceptable to combine traditional closed-world relational systems with open-world reasoning. It is also not necessary to make any choices or trade-offs about using public v. private data or combinations thereof. All combinations are acceptable when the basis for integration is an open-world one.
Open SEAS is grounded in this “open” style. It can be employed in virtually any enterprise circumstance and at any scope, and expanded in a similar way as budget and needs allow.
Open SEAS is based on seven pillars, which themselves inform the basis for the MIKE2.0 Guiding Principles for the Open Semantic Enterprise. These principles cover data model, architecture, deployment practices and approach for how an enterprise can begin and then extend its use of semantics for information interoperability.
Important aspects are linked data or Web-oriented architecture, but it is really the unique combination of open-world approach and the RDF data model and its semantic power that provide the distinctive differences for Open SEAS. An exciting prospect — but still in its early stages of discovery and implementation — is the role of adaptive ontologies to power ontology-driven applications. These prospects, if fully realized, could totally remake how knowledge workers interact and specify the applications that manage their information environment.
Open SEAS also fully embraces the Layered Semantic Enterprise Architecture of MIKE2.0′s Semantic Enterprise Offering. This architecture acts as a subsequent set of functions or middleware with respect to the MIKE2.0′s standard SAFE Architecture. Most of the existing SAFE architecture resides in the Existing Assets layer. The specific aspects of Open SEAS resides in the layers above, namely Access/Conversion, Ontologies and the Applications Layers.
Stitching together this interoperability layer above existing information and infrastructure assets requires many diverse tools and products, and there still are gaps. The layer figure below shows the semantic enterprise architecture overlaid with some representative open source projects and tools that plug some of those gaps.
Open SEAS also maintains a comprehensive roster of open source and proprietary tools in all aspects of semantic technology, ranging from data storage and converters, to Web services and middleware, and then to ultimate user applications. A database of nearly 1,000 tools in all areas is maintained for potential applicability to the methodology.
The inherently incremental nature of the Open SEAS framework encourages experimentation, affordable deployments, and experience gathering. Because the systems and deployments put into place with this framework are based on the open world approach and use the extensible RDF data model, expansions in scope, sophistication or domain can be incorporated at any time without adverse effects on existing assets or systems or prior Open SEAS deployments.
Quick and (virtually) risk-free increments means that adopting semantic approaches in the enterprise can be accelerated (or not) based on empirical benefits and available budgets.
The Open SEAS framework is built on a solid foundation, but it also one that is incomplete. Deployments of semantic technologies and approaches are still quite early in the enterprise, whether measured in numbers, scope or depth. In order for the framework — and the practice of semantic adoption in general — to continue to expand and be relevant in the enterprise, active learning and documentation is essential. One of the reasons for the affiliation of Open SEAS with MIKE2.0 is to leverage these strong roots in methodological learning.
The nature of Open SEAS and its parent Semantic Enterprise Solution Offering touches most offerings within the MIKE2.0 framework. There is much to be done to integrate the semantic enterprise perspective into these other possibilities, plus much that needs to be learned and documented for the offering itself. The concept of the semantic enterprise, after all, is relatively new with few prominent case studies.
As the offering points out, there are some dozens of addition necessary resources that are available and ready to be packaged and moved into the MIKE2.0 framework. These efforts are a priority, and will continue over the coming weeks.
But, more importantly, beyond that, the experience and practitioner base needs to grow. Much is unknown regarding key aspects of the offering:
Despite these questions, emergence is the way complex systems arise out of a multiple of relatively simple interactions, exhibiting new and unforeseen properties in the process. RDF is an emergent model. It begins as simple “fact” statements of triples, that may then be combined and expanded into ever-more complex structures and stories. As an internal, canonical data model, RDF has advantages for information federation and development over any other approach. It can represent, describe, combine, extend and adapt data and their organizational schema flexibly and at will. Applications built upon RDF can explore and analyze in ways not easily available with other models.
Combined with an open-world approach, new information can be brought in and incorporated to the framework step-by-step. Perhaps the greatest promise in an ongoing transition to become a semantic enterprise is how an inherently incremental and building-block approach might alter prior practices and risks across the entire information management spectrum.
We invite you to join us and to contribute to this effort. I encourage you to join MIKE2.0 if you have not already done so, and check out announcements on this blog for ongoing developments.