The Here & Now of Semantic Integration

I’ve read some articles again this week explaining that the promise or potential of Semantic Integration is still a bit far off from being able to engender significant impact to the enterprise. Perhaps, it is worth examining the subject more as a practice approach rather than a standards or technology dependent facilitation medium.

By that, I’m simply reiterating that “Semantic Integration” is not synonymous with the “Semantic Web.” There is a quite a bit that can be done right now with the techniques being described here (in concert with a limited but growing set of Semantic tools, although they aren’t always required). As our previous post highlights, one of the first places where this can occur is with Enterprise Architecture. Anyone who has ever spent the time reading through DoDAF data models or building meta-models in Metis can testify quite convincingly that the entire field of EA is essentially one giant semantic exercise. I still tend to describe myself as an Enterprise Architect or Integrator; it was specifically because of my roles that I was drawn to Semantics as a way to solve a number of persistent and related challenges.

Take that further, what underlies UML, design patterns and J2EE language syntax ?… more semantics. It’s already here, it’s already pervasive within IT, but what we haven’t done yet is fully appreciate this linguistic tower of babel we’ve created (and unlike the real world where the approximate number of languages is more or less stable with several universal translation modes, IT adds new semantics EVERY DAY).

Semantic Integration begins with this realization – that all enterprises represent ecosystems or cultures with unique semantic perspectives. Furthermore these virtual ecosystems are unlimited in regard to how many relationships may develop (we not only have individual entities within communities and communities within communities, we also have dynamic re-alignment both externally and internally). So step one is simple, define our enterprise perspective – this is the foundation for all other IT efforts and can be done using any number of tools starting with pencil and paper. How many data standardization or MDM efforts skipped this step and focused on defining core data elements that were already biased toward DBMS paradigm or another?

Semantic Integration is IT’s first, future and favorite natural language activity. Eventually all discovery and all IT-related capabilities will be managed using natural language rather than XML, SQL , J2EE or some other technical proxy language or syntax. The sooner that occurs, the sooner that we will recognize the benefits both of IT and Semantic Integration. So how does one get started – it seems daunting, well maybe it is if you are too tied to one architectural perspective or language but if you can view this situation with an open mind there are several ways to get started.

(Next Post – Getting started with Semantic Integration…)

This view illustrates a real-world example of how Semantic Integration was introduced into a large enterprise without requiring a radical influx of Semantic Technology…


copyright 2008,  Stephen Lahanas

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