Spinning a data Web

Image: How to hit a moving targetSemantic Web technologies could revolutionize enterprise decision making and information sharing. Here’s why.

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Linked Data is all about supply and demand. On the demand side, you gain access to the comprehensive data you need to make decisions. On the supply side, you share more of your internal data with partners, suppliers, and—yes—even the public in ways they can take the best advantage of. The Linked Data approach is about confronting your data silos and turning your information management efforts in a different direction for the sake of scalability. It is a component of the information mediation layer enterprises must create to bridge the gap between strategy and operations. (See the Winter 2008 issue of the Technology Forecast for more specifics on the role of and necessity for the information mediation layer in enterprises.)

When you hear about the Semantic Web, don’t just think about what’s on the other end of a Google search. The issues that the World Wide Web has with data semantics and data silos are simply Web-scale versions of what enterprises have been struggling with for years.

The term “Semantic Web” says more about how the technology works than what it is. The goal is a data Web, a Web where not only documents but also individual data elements are linked. That’s why the effort to encourage adoption of Semantic Web techniques is called the Linked Data Initiative. (See http://linkeddata.org/ for more information.)

PwC believes a Web of data will develop that fully augments the document Web of today. You’ll be able to find and take pieces of data sets from different places, aggregate them without warehousing, and analyze them in a more straightforward, powerful way than you can now. And don’t let the term “Web” fool you into thinking this approach applies only to Web-based information; the underlying technology also applies to internal information and non-Web-based external information. In fact, it can bridge data from anywhere—including your data warehouse and your business partners.

This article provides some background on the technology behind Linked Data, a first semantic step to the data Web. It focuses on how to build on the metadata and ontology technologies that already exist for data analytics purposes. To achieve the data Web, organizations will have to make their own contributions to it—not just by providing access to data, but by exposing and making explicit the context that’s now only implicit in column and row headers, in cubes, in inscrutable metadata, or on Web pages. To share this context across domains, organizations will need the context to have a breadth and universality that it doesn’t have in its current closed environment.

Optimizing the use of data—not just internally, but throughout the digital ecosystem—is increasingly important. Enterprises continue to be consumed with a subset of what they could be analyzing. To break that mold, they will need to collaborate in a more disciplined way. Their future business agility will depend on their ability to focus on techniques that optimize sharing rather than maintaining silos. That’s why a standards-based approach makes sense. In a digital ecosystem, the assets of others can benefit you directly, and vice versa. It’s about supply and demand.