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The Business Case for the Semantic Web : Page 2

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.

Decision Support
Having knowledge—not just data—at your fingertips allows you to make better decisions. Consider for a moment the information management dilemma that our intelligence agencies have had in the past decade. Discussing this problem related to September 11 was FBI Director Robert Mueller. "It would be nice," he said in a June 2002 interview on Meet the Press, "if we had the computers in the FBI that were tied into the CIA that you could go in and do flight schools, and any report relating to flight schools that had been generated any place in the FBI field offices would spit out—over the last 10 years. What would be even better is if you had the artificial intelligence so that you don't even have to make the query, but to look at patterns like that in reports." What Director Mueller was describing is a semantic web, which allows not only users but software agents to find hidden relationships between data in databases that our government already has. The FBI director's statement also touches on interoperability and data sharing. Because different organizations usually have different databases and servers, we have been bound to proprietary solutions. System integrators have struggled to make different proprietary systems "talk to each other." The advent of Web services is allowing us to eliminate this barrier.

The Virtual Knowledge Base (VKB) program in the Department of Defense aims to provide a solution to this dilemma. For the government, the VKB provides an interoperability framework for horizontally integrating producers and consumers of information using a standards-based architecture. By exposing all information sources as Web services, abstracting the details into knowledge objects, providing an ontology for mining associations between data elements, and providing a registry for the discovery of information sources, the VKB is utilizing key semantic web concepts and technologies to solve the information management quandary that every organization today faces.

Maxim –
If you have a lot of information, there are implied and hidden relationships in your data. Using semantic web technologies will help you find them.

Businesses have much the same information management dilemma as the federal government. They have suborganizations, divisions, groups, and projects that have sources of information. To tap the power of these groups, you need to combine the information of groups and understand the relationships between them. The simplest example that we are accustomed to is the status report process. Each employee writes a status report. A manager takes all the status reports and combines them into a project status report. The project manager's division director takes the project status report and creates a division status report. Finally, his or her boss compiles the division status reports into an executive summary and gives it to the president of the company. During this process, information is filtered so that the end product is an understandable report used to make decisions. Unfortunately, important information is almost always left out—especially with respect to the relationships between the work that is being accomplished in individual projects.

Work is being done in creating semantic-enabled decision support systems (DSSs) that focus on software agent analysis and interaction between the end user and computer system for decision making, in order to empower the end user to make informed decisions. Even without decision-support systems, software agents can monitor your knowledgebase and provide alerts. In a 2002 article in Information Week, Duncan Johnson-Watt, CTO of Enigmatic Corp., provided another example, suggesting that if SEC filings contain semantic tags, regulators or investors could create programs to automatically alert them to red flags such as insider stock selling. To make superior decisions, you need to have superior knowledge. The semantic web allows you to get there.

Business Development
It is important for members of your organization to have up-to-the-minute information that could help you win business. In most cases, your organization can't afford to fly all the members of your corporate brain trust out with your sales staff. Imagine a scenario where your salesperson is in a meeting with a potential customer. During the discussion, your salesperson discovers that the customer is very interested in a certain topic. The potential customer says, "We're thinking about hiring a company to build an online e-commerce system that uses biometric identification." If your salesperson is able to reach into your corporate knowledgebase quickly, he or she may be able to find important information that takes advantage of the opportunity. By quickly using your corporate knowledgebase, your salesperson could quickly respond by saying, "We just wrote a white paper on that topic yesterday, and engineers prototyped an internal biometric solution last month. Would you like me to arrange a demonstration?" Because of the semantic web working in your organization, you are able to open the doors to new business.

Competitive proposals could be another important use of your company's semantic web. If you have more knowledge about potential customers, the proposed task to bid on, and what skill sets they are looking for, you have a better chance of winning. If you had a growing knowledgebase where old status reports, old proposals, lessons learned, and competitive intelligence were all interconnected, there is a possibility that you may have a nugget of information that will be valuable for this proposal. If your proposal team was able to enter information in your knowledgebase, and you had a software agent to analyze that information, your agents may be able to "connect the dots" on information that you had but didn't realize it.

Customer relationship management (CRM) enables collaboration between partners, customers, and employees by providing relevant, personalized information from a variety of data sources within your organization. These solutions have become key in helping to retain customer loyalty, but a barrier to creating such a solution has been the speed in integrating legacy data sources, as well as the ability to compare information across domains in your enterprise. Using the technologies discussed in this book will allow companies to create a smarter CRM solution.

E-commerce industry experts believe that the semantic web can be used in matchmaking for ebusiness. Matchmaking is a process in which businesses are put in contact with potential business partners or customers. Traditionally, this process is handled by hired brokers, and many have suggested creating a matchmaking service that handles advertising services and querying for advertised services. Experts argue that only semantic web technologies can sufficiently meet these requirements, and they believe that the semantic web can automate matchmaking and negotiation.

The opportunities for maximizing your business opportunities with semantic web technologies are limitless.

Information Sharing and Knowledge Discovery
Information sharing and communication are paramount in any organization, but as most organizations grow and collect more information, this is a major struggle. We all understand the importance of not reinventing the wheel, but how many times have we unintentionally duplicated efforts? When organizations get larger, communication gaps are inevitable. With a little bit of effort, a corporate knowledgebase could at least include a registry of descriptions of projects and what each team is building. Imagine how easy it would be for your employees to be able to find relevant information. Using semantic web-enabled web services can allow us to create such a registry.

Administration and Automation
Up to this point, we've discussed the somewhat obvious examples based on sharing knowledge within an organization. A side effect of having such a knowledgebase is the ability of software programs to automate administrative tasks. Booking travel, for example, is an example where the semantic web and Web services could aid in making a painful task easy. Making travel arrangements can be an administrative nightmare. Everyone has personal travel preferences and must take items such as the following into consideration:

  • Transportation preference (car, train, bus, plane)
  • Hotel preference and rewards associated with hotel
  • Airline preference and frequent-flyer miles
  • Hotel proximity to meeting places
  • Hotel room preferences (nonsmoking, king, bar, wireless network in lobby)
  • Rental car options and associated rewards
  • Price (lodging and transportation per diem rates for your company)

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