Developing a Semantic Web Strategy

In the last chapter of his book “Pull: The Power of the Semantic Web to Transform Your Business” David Siegel outlines some steps for developing a successful Semantic Web strategy for your business or organization.

One approach that worked for me recently was to organize a meeting titled “Developing a Semantic Web Strategy”  and invite along developers, architects, analysts and managers. This was in the context of a government organization and the managers were from the applications development area.

Sharing out books like Semantic Web for the Working Ontologist, Semantic Web For Dummies, Programming the Semantic Web and Semantic Web Programming prior to the meeting helped people get familiar with concepts like URIs as names for things, RDF, RDFS, OWL, SPARQL and RDFa.

To highlight how rapidly the Web of Data is evolving and the amount of information now being published as Linked Open Data, I stepped through Mark Greaves excellent presentation The Maturing Semantic Web: Lessons in Web-Scale Knowledge Representation.

During the meeting I took a business strategy first, technology second approach, taking the time to explore how an approach that has worked for someone else might fit with our organization.

Areas explored included:

Enterprise Modeling

I spent some time comparing RDF / OWL modeling with the UML modeling, highlighting how URIs enable modeling across distributed information sources without the need to consolidate everything in a central repository like you do with UML tools.

Also touched on OWL features such as:

Because it is a government department I highlighted the Federal Enterprise Architecture Reference Model Ontology (FEA-RMO) and how such an ontology could be used to map a parliamentary initiative to the software providing its implementation.

Open Government

Given the current trend for governments to make datasets freely available I presented the Linked Data approaches taken by and as examples to follow in this area.

The business case for Linked Data in this scenario is that Linked Data is seen as the best available approach for publishing data in hugely diverse and distributed environments, in a gradual and sustainable way (see Why Linked Data for for details).

RDFa Based Integration

One example that struck a chord was RDFa and Linked Data in UK Government Websites where job vacancy details  from different sites can easily be combined since each web site publishes their web pages using HTML with RDFa added to annotate the job vacancy. Using RDFa allows the same page to be read as either HTML or RDF. The end result is that integration can be achieved with minimal changes to the original sites.

Search Engine Optimisation (SEO)

For anyone advertising products and services online the business strategy to follow is the example set by which describes its stores and products using the Good Relations ontology and embeds these descriptions into its web pages using RDFa, increasing search engine traffic by 30%.

Enterprise Web of Data

Within our software development process, from project inception to production release and subsequent maintenance release, information is being copied and duplicated in a number of different places. Silos abound, in the form of word documents, spread sheets and the sticky notes that are part of the “Agile” process. There is some good information on our wiki pages but it is unstructured and not machine readable.

The information that forms our internal processes fails David Siegel’s Semantic Web Acid Test:

  • It’s not semantic and
  • It’s not on the web.

Introducing a Semantic Wiki such as Semantic MediaWiki, to hold project information and link this information to other datasources was raised as a candidate for a semantic web proof of concept.


Just scheduling the meeting was in itself a successful outcome since it started discussion around the role Semantic Web technologies could play in our organization. For a number of people, including the Applications Development manager, this is new technology and they need time to absorb it but the end result was agreement that it was technology that couldn’t be ignored.

In order to gain some practical experience two internal prototypes were agreed to,  both with practical value for the organization.

The first is a small application that will show the full set of runtime dependencies for a given software component as well as the other components affected when the specified component is changed. The application will be based on a simple ontology that defines dependencies between components using the owl:TransitiveProperty and uses a reasoner (e.g. Pellet) to infer the full set of dependencies for a component.

The second prototype will trial Semantic MediaWiki for project management (potentially using the Teamwork Ontology). The longer term view is customize Semantic MediaWiki to include artifacts created as part of the software development process, addressing some of the silo problems found in our current internal enterprise web of data.

Once practical knowledge has been gained from the internal prototypes a meeting will be scheduled with the Enterprise Architecture team to canvas the establishment of a wider vision for the use of Linked Data and Semantic Web technologies, potentially leading to its use on the public web sites, actively publishing to the Web of Data.

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