Semantic Integration and IT

In many ways the practice of information technology has changed little over the past 30 years or so. It may not seem so on first appearance – but the premises upon which our current technologies are still operating are largely based on philosophical constructs that date back 30 years or more.

Those constructs include:

  • The Relational Database.
  • The Data Warehouse.
  • System Management (system as self-contained entity).
  • “Static” Business Rules Management (more or less permanent view of the nature of rules within the enterprise) – exemplified by maturity models.
  • The notion of IT service provision as separate and distinct from the elements of the business which they serve.

Of course, there are exceptions to this but in many ways these basic foundational elements still represent the core of most IT activity within the typical enterprise. Each of these areas and others has arisen to meet certain needs; there has been an ever-increasing level of specialization within IT that has more or less extended the basic model without really changing it. This has made some areas of IT management more effective but has hindered the ability to truly unify IT capability. Some people refer to these phenomena as ‘sub-optimization’ or ‘compartmentalization.’ In the government arena it is sometimes referred to as ‘stovepiping.’

The dilemma is the same though, how does one make progress and get work done while solving near-term specific problems and simultaneously leverage the full potential of all enterprise assets? This can be done and can occur in the near-term using existing technologies – the problem we face now though is one of perception and philosophy. IT is used to working in its current sub-optimized mode, its relative detachment from the primary functions of the organizations it serves tends to provide a disincentive to view the big picture requirements they always receive yet never truly fulfill.

The paradigm shift that needs to occur and that will occur within the next five years is this

– The realization that the enterprise is a dynamic entity. In other words, it is not something that can ever be fully coded or captured in advance. A ‘pre-determined’ enterprise family of systems is obsolete before it ever deploys. The other element of the realization is that the key to all integration within the enterprise is already embedded within it. The enterprise as a holistic capability will be achieved once we understand that regardless of the specializations involved, all aspects of the mission are related and that the unifying code embedded throughout it can be managed, mediated and coordinated as a single semantic exercise.

I truly believe that this represents more of a philosophical change than a technical one. It requires new methodologies and IT practices that view problems from this updated perspective. Eventually it will lead to modifications in many commercial software products and networking technologies, but those changes are not necessary to begin experiencing the benefits of the Semantic Enterprise. “

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