In the middle of a downturn, the nature of industry change becomes more apparent. Take newspapers, for example. After 146 years, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer stopped its presses in March to publish solely on the Web. In Denver, the Rocky Mountain News closed entirely, just weeks short of its 150th anniversary. The Detroit Free Press has come up with an alternative strategy of offering home delivery only three days a week.
Newspapers certainly haven’t been immune to change since the advent of the Web, but the current economic downturn clearly has accelerated the pace of that change. In an April 2009 article, The Wall Street Journal even revived the phrase “creative destruction” to describe the latest series of large-city newspaper closures.
The Journal’s main point? Newspapers must reinvent themselves the way they did when radio and television ushered in the era of real-time reporting. The Journal’s own strategy, developed and executed by Managing Editor Barney Kilgore beginning in 1941, has been to “explain what the news meant,” rather than just report the news.
Large enterprises in many different industries face a similar challenge. The new reality is not only the necessity to do more with less—it’s the need to respond to permanent changes in the economy in a more meaningful way because of the downturn. To be able to respond, businesses must come to terms with deeply rooted problems they may have ignored while the economy was growing and the future seemed more predictable.
Among the most critical of these problems are information gaps. The 1,100 CEOs that PwC surveyed in 2008 said the most acute information gaps were in the areas of customer needs and business risk. The natural instinct of most CIOs is to respond to information gaps by loading their data warehouses with more data to generate new reports using expensive, centralized resources. But most enterprises are already flooded with hundreds of reports that are rarely used. Adding more will simply create more information clutter.
What CIOs may be missing is that CEOs want more context about the reports they already have—context that “explains what the data mean,” in The Wall Street Journal parlance. But the creation of meaning is an active, not a passive, process. It is created by exploring context-specific linkages inherent in enterprise data. Today’s business intelligence (BI) and reporting systems are not designed for this on-the-fly creation of meaning. These systems lack the capability to capture and manage the semantics of the business in a more dynamic, scalable way.
In this issue of the Technology Forecast, we examine the emerging technologies and methods being used to directly engage with the meaning and context of a business—its semantics. During the next three to five years, we forecast a transformation of the enterprise data management function driven by explicit engagement with data semantics.
The lead article, “Spinning a data Web,” takes a detailed look at the semantic techniques that enable a Web where documents as well as individual data elements are linked. The result is an ability to filter data sets more effectively and pull more relevant information out of the aggregate.
“Making Semantic Web connections” makes clear that better information context, rather than pure accuracy, empowers better decision making. To provide that context, more “mapmakers” are needed in business units to link information domains. Linked Data technologies will take advantage of the network effect and gain the interest and involvement of people who have never been directly involved before.
The article “A CIO’s strategy for rethinking ‘messy BI’” asserts that BI and related systems aren’t bad, but were designed for only a small part of the information needs businesses have today. To address the remaining needs, CIOs must lead the effort inside business units to build and map information domains.
In addition to these feature articles, this issue of the Technology Forecast includes interviews with four executives and technologists from companies at the center of Linked Data research, development, and deployment:
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And as always, we welcome your feedback on this issue of the Technology Forecast and your ideas for where we should focus our research and analysis in