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The Business Case for the Semantic Web

As semantic technology building blocks fall into place, "The Semantic Web" shows you how semantic web technologies can be a part of decision support, business development, information sharing, and automated administration.

"The business market for this integration of data and programs is huge.... The companies who choose to start exploiting semantic web technologies will be the first to reap the rewards." – James Hendler, Tim Berners-Lee, and Eric Miller, "Integrating Applications on the Semantic Web"

n May 2001, Tim Berners-Lee, James Hendler, and Ora Lassila unveiled a vision of the future in an article in Scientific American. This vision included the promise of the semantic web to build knowledge and understanding from raw data. Many readers were confused by the vision because the nuts and bolts of the semantic web are used by machines, agents, and programs—and are not tangible to end users. Because we usually consider "the web" to be what we can navigate with our browsers, many have difficulty understanding the practical use of a semantic web that lies beneath the covers of our traditional web. In the previous chapter, we discussed the "what" of the semantic web. This article examines the "why," to allow you to understand the promise and the need to focus on these technologies to gain a competitive edge; a fast-moving, flexible organization; and to make the most of untapped knowledge.

If your organization hasn't started thinking about the semantic web yet, it's time to start. Decision makers in your organization will want to know, "What can we do with the semantic web? Why should we invest time and money in these technologies? Is there indeed this future?" This discussion answers these questions, and gives you practical ideas for using semantic web technologies.

What Is the Semantic Web Good For?
Many managers have said to us, "The vision sounds great, but how can I use it, and why should I invest in it?" Because this is the billion-dollar question, this section is the focus of this article.

Maxim –
The organization that has the best information, knows where to find it, and can utilize it the quickest wins.

The maxim you see here is fairly obvious. Knowledge is power. It used to be conventional wisdom that the organization with the most information wins. Now that we are drowning in an information glut, we realize that we need to be able to find the right information quickly to enable us to make well-informed decisions. We have also realized that knowledge (the application of data), not just raw data, is the most important. The organization that can do this will make the most of the resources that it has—and will have a competitive advantage. Knowledge management is the key.

This seems like common sense. Who doesn't want the best knowledge? Who doesn't want good information? Traditional knowledge management techniques have faced new challenges by today's Internet: information overload, the inefficiency of keyword searching, the lack of authoritative (trusted) information, and the lack of natural language-processing computer systems. The semantic web can bring structure to information chaos. For us to get our knowledge, we need to do more than dump information into files and databases. To adapt, we must begin to take advantage of the technologies discussed in this book. We must be able to tag our information with machine-understandable markup, and we must be able to know what information is authoritative. When we discover new information, we need to have proof that we can indeed trust the information, and then we need to be able to correlate it with the other information that we have. Finally, we need the tools to take advantage of this new knowledge. These are some of the key concepts of the semantic web—and this book.

Figure 1. Using Semantics: There are several uses of the semantic web in your enterprise.

Figure 1 provides a view of how your organization can revolve around your corporate semantic web, impacting virtually every piece of your organization. If you can gather all of it together, organize it, and know where to find it, you can capitalize on it. Only when you bring the information together with semantics will this information lead to knowledge that enables your staff to make well-informed decisions.

Chances are, your organization has a lot of information that is not utilized. If your organization is large, you may unknowingly have projects within your company that duplicate efforts. You may have projects that could share lessons learned, provide competitive intelligence information, and save you a lot of time and work. If you had a corporate knowledgebase that could be searched and analyzed by software agents, you could have web-based applications that save you a lot of time and money. This discussion provides some of these examples.

Editor's Note: This article is an excerpt of Chapter 2, "The Business Case for the Semantic Web," in The Semantic Web: A Guide to the Future of XML, Web Services, and Knowledge Management (Wiley Publishing 2003).

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