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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 chapter.
The organization that has the best information, knows where to find it, and can utilize it the quickest wins.
The maxim of this section 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.2 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.
2Fensel, Bussler, Ding, Kartseva, Klein, Korotkiy, Omelayenko, Siebes, "Semantic Web Application Areas," in Proceedings of the 7th International Workshop on Applications of Natural Language to Information Systems, Stockholm, Sweden, June 27 to 28, 2002.
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Corporate Information Sharing
Figure 2.1 Uses of the Semantic Web in your enterprise.
Figure 2.1 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 knowledge base that could be searched and analyzed by software agents, you could have Web-based applications that save you a lot of time and money. The following sections provide some of these examples.
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.