Ontologies are the structural frameworks for organizing information on the semantic Web and within semantic enterprises. They provide unique benefits in discovery, flexible access, and information integration due to their inherent connectedness.
Ontologies can be layered on top of existing information assets, which means they are an enhancement and not a displacement for prior investments. And ontologies may be developed and matured incrementally, which means their adoption may be cost-effective as benefits become evident.
Ontology building, maintenance and tooling are essential services provided by Structured Dynamics. Our methodologies are geared to maximum re-use of existing structure and vocabulary assets. Our emerging slate of ontology tools is designed for end users and knowledge workers to manage ontologies themselves.
A good ontology offers a composite suite of benefits not available to taxonomies, relational database schema, or other standard ways to structure information. Among these benefits are:
- Coherent navigation by enabling the movement from concept to concept in the ontology structure
- Flexible entry points because any specific perspective in the ontology can be traced and related to all of its associated concepts; there is no set structure or manner for interacting with the ontology
- Connections that highlight related information and aid and prompt discovery without requiring prior knowledge of the domain or its terminology
- Ability to represent any form of information, including unstructured (say, documents or text), semi-structured (say, XML or Web pages) and structured (say, conventional databases) data
- Inferencing, whereby by specifying one concept (say, mammals) one knows that we are also referring to a related concept (say, that mammals are a kind of animal)
- Concept matching, which means that even though we may describe things somewhat differently, we can still match to the same idea (such as glad or happy both referring to the concept of a pleasant state of mind)
- Thus, this means that we can also integrate external content by proper matching and mapping of these concepts
- As aids to disambiguation by nature of the matching and analysis of concepts and instances in the ontology graph, and
- Reasoning, which is the ability to use the coherence and structure itself to inform questions of relatedness or to answer questions; this latter benefit is more related to machine learning or artificial intelligence, and is not generally expressed in simpler, standard ontologies.
By virtue of the relationship structure underlying an ontology, they are excellent vehicles for discovery and linkages. The most prevalent use of ontologies at present is in semantic search. The relationship structure also is a powerful and more general and more nuanced way to organize information. Concepts can relate to other concepts through a richness of vocabulary. Given the huge heterogeneity of information both within and without organizations, the use of ontologies as integration frameworks is emerging as their most valuable use.
Structured Dynamics has comprehensively reviewed existing ontology build methodologies. We combine the best of those approaches with our own innovations to offer a unique, cost-effective and low-risk method for ontology building. This adaptive approach is:
- Lightweight and domain-oriented
- Re-use structure
- Separates instance data (ABox) and from conceptual schema (TBox), and
- Simpler, with interoperable tools designs.
Here is a basic flowchart for Structured Dynamics' approach, showing the clear separation of concept treatment from instance and entity data (click to enlarge):
Effective ontology development is as much as anything a matter of mindset. This mindset is grounded in leveraging what already exists, "paying as one benefits" through an incremental approach, and starting simple and adding complexity as understanding and experience are gained. The open world approach is a enabling logic that aids incremental learning, development and expansion.
Inherently this approach requires domain users to be the driving force in ongoing development with appropriate tools to support that emphasis. Ontologists and ontology engineering are important backstops, but not in the lead design or development roles. The net result of this mindset is to develop pragmatic ontologies that are understood -- and used by -- actual domain practitioners.
In our methodology we also provide for administrative ontologies whose purpose is to relate structural understandings of the underlying data and data types with applicable end-use and visualization tools ("widgets"). Thus the structural knowledge of the domain gets combined with an understanding of data types and what kinds of visualization or presentation widgets might be invoked. The phrase ontology-driven apps results from this design.
Structured Dynamics has an ontology tooling architecture that is designed around the central aspects of our structWSF Web services framework design and the OWL API. The usefulness of structWSF is that all other extant services become available and all information can be passed and shared in a canonical way. The usefulness of an API means that subsets of information can be extracted and worked on in very clear and simple ways.
This approach allows us to split out simpler, focused tools that domain users and practitioners can use. And, we can do all of this while also enabling the existing professional toolsets and IDEs to also interoperate in the environment.
The API allows all or portions of the ontology specification to be manipulated separately, with a variety of serializations. Changes made to the ontology can also be tested for validity with reasoners. Having the API play the central management role in the system means that any and all tools can be designed to interact effectively with the working ontology(ies) without any loss in information due to roundtripping.
The resulting tools landscape is shown in the diagram below. This diagram takes the same methodology flow from Figure 1 (blue and yellow boxes) and stretches them out in a more linear fashion. Then, we embed the various tools (brown) and APIs (orange) in relation to that methodology (click to enlarge):
Because ontologies evolve and grow over time, it is important the complete ontology specification itself be managed by some form of version control system (green).
Tooling is one of the current weaknesses for the semantic enterprise. Not all aspects of this integrated vision are yet available. Structured Dynamics is actively seeking clients for whom making ontology development easier and useful to front-line practitioners is important.
Structured Dynamics thus provides services across the spectrum of ontology development and maintenance:
- Conversion of existing vocabulary and structured assets to ontologies
- Ontology development and mapping
- Ontology tooling and tools development
- Evaluation and integration of existing ontologies.
We provide these services for either proprietary or open contexts. Please contact us with your inquiries.