Semantic Integration – The SI of Tomorrow

Currently when people use the acronym “SI” they tend to refer to something known as ‘Systems Integration’ or specifically to ‘Systems Integrators.’ However, the nature of what a ‘system’ is and how that concept is evolving are going to change the way that we look at this particular term in the relatively near future. I predict that within the next ten years, ‘SI’ in the context of information systems technology will primarily refer ‘Semantic Integration.’

The Evolution of Systems Integration

What I mean when I say that Systems Integration and the notion of Systems are evolving is that new design concepts and technologies are having a radical and disruptive influence on current integration practices, processes and design approaches. What was a ‘system’ under distributed computing environments is now undergoing a transformation – taking on aspects of both the distributed model used today and centralized models from yester-year. This is largely coming about due to the advent of Services Oriented Architecture (SOA) technology and design principles. It is important to note here that SOA, like Semantics, is a practice area based upon design philosophies and technical standards – the tools being developed in relation to those philosophies standards or applied to it are not the drivers for these trends. Folks who focus on the software tools only and not the underlying principles tend to run into many difficulties in implementing these types of new capability.

Our previous or current experience with System of Systems architectures is what led to the need for System Integration and Integrators largely as an afterthought or mitigating action in response to the need for rapid deployment of multiple, new distributed technologies. Most enterprises have spent the last twenty years playing catch-up in this environment and few are truly architected in any comprehensive sense of the term. System Integration is often a tactical activity – ensuring data passes between systems silos, connecting various applications point-to-point or through limited middleware capabilities, deploying portals and unified sign-on and security management and so forth. Piece by piece, an enterprise becomes more unified under this type of scenario, but at a cost – that cost is increased complexity and expense for maintaining non-standard integration.

The future is upon us; that future is just now promising something new – the ability to coordinate architectures across tiers, across federated domains and across all related lifecycles. The new enterprise can be viewed as a single organic system, consisting of dozens or hundreds of services that operate as a single unified yet dynamic entity that is often federated across geographic and logical domain or boundaries and orchestrated at runtime. This is SOA but it is more than SOA, because SOA doesn’t yet have the necessary philosophical framework for exploitation of Semantics to help achieve this enterprise unification. That’s where Semantic Integration comes into the picture.

What is Semantic Integration ?

Semantic integration is not is not confined to or restricted to the ability to operate or configure or utilize specific semantic technology or software packages. Semantic Integration represents a specialized field of practice dedicated to using Semantic Design Principles, Methodologies and technology as a facilitating mechanism (often alongside SOA) to help solve enterprise-level problems for IT. SI as a practice area is relatively new (it is only now being defined), it is much more than the “Semantic Web” yet is obviously built upon the capabilities inherent within the emerging set of Semantic standards that can be used to express and ultimately visualize semantic entities, RDF, OWL and so forth). Over the next several months, I will introduce the specifics of this emerging practice discipline in this Blog.

Copyright 2008,  Stephen Lahanas


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