The upsurge in the scope and performances of artificial brains sometimes brings a new light on human cognition. Semantic layers and knowledge graphs offer a good example of a return to classics, in that case with Greek philosophers’ ontologies.
According to their philosophical origins, ontologies are systematic accounts of existence for whatever can make sense in an universe of discourse. From that starting point four basic observations can be made:
Ontologies are structured set of names denoting symbolic (aka cognitive) representations.
These representations can stand for whatever may be taken into consideration: terms (nothing is represented), ideas (sets of terms), instances of objects or phenomena, categories (sets of instances), documents.
Ontologies are solely dedicated to the validity and internal consistency of the representations.
Ontologies are not contingent on truth (epistemic) status, i.e external consistency. As a corollary, they are not meant to support emprical purposes.
That makes models a refinement of ontologies as they are meant to be externally consistent and serve a purpose.
As championed by a brave writer, should we see the Web as a crib for born again narratives, or as a crypt for redundant texts.
Once Upon A Time
Borrowing from Einstein, “the only reason for time is so that everything doesn’t happen at once.” That befits narratives: whatever the tale or the way it is conveyed, stories take time. Even if nothing happens, a story must be spelt in tempo and can only be listened to or read one step at a time.
In So Many Words
Stories have been told before being written, which is why their fabric is made of words, and their motifs weaved by natural languages. So, even if illustrations may adorn printed narratives, the magic of stories comes from the music of their words.
A Will To Believe
To enjoy a story, listeners or readers are to detach their mind from what they believe about reality, replacing dependable and well-worn representations with new and untested ones, however shaky or preposterous they may be; and that has to be done through an act of will.
Stories are make-beliefs: as with art in general, their magic depends on the suspension of disbelief. But suspension is not abolition; while deeply submerged in stories, listeners and readers maintain some inward track to the beliefs they left before diving; wandering a cognitive fold between surface truths and submarine untruths, they seem to rely on a secure if invisible tether to the reality they know. On that account, the possibility of an alternative reality is to transform a comforting fold into a menacing abyss, dissolving their lifeline to beliefs. That could happen to stories told through the web.
Stories & Medium
Assuming time rendering, stories were not supposed to be affected by medium; that is, until McLuhan’s suggestion of medium taking over messages. Half a century later internet and the Web are bringing that foreboding in earnest by melting texts into multimedia documents.
Tweets and Short Message Services (SMS) offer a perfect illustration of the fading of text-driven communication, evolving from concise (160 characters) text-messaging to video-sharing.
That didn’t happen by chance but reflects the intrinsic visual nature of web contents, with dire consequence for texts: once lording it over entourages of media, they are being overthrown and reduced to simple attachments, just a peg above fac-simile. But then, demoting texts to strings of characters makes natural languages redundant, to be replaced by a web Esperanto.
Web Semantic Silos
With medium taking over messages, and texts downgraded to attachments, natural languages may lose their primacy for stories conveyed through the web, soon to be replaced by the so-called “semantic web”, supposedly a lingua franca encompassing the whole of internet contents.
As epitomized by the Web Ontology Language (OWL), the semantic web is based on a representation scheme made of two kinds of nodes respectively for concepts (squares) and conceptual relations (circles).
Concept nodes are meant to represent categories specific to domains (green, right); that tallies with the lexical level of natural languages.
Connection nodes are used to define two types of associations:
Semantically neutral constructs to be applied uniformly across domains; that tallies with the syntactic level of natural languages (blue, left).
Domain specific relationships between concepts; that tallies with the semantic level of natural languages (green, center).
The mingle of generic (syntactic) and specific (semantic) connectors induces a redundant complexity which grows exponentially when different domains are to be combined, due to overlapping semantics. Natural languages typically use pragmatics to deal with the issue, but since pragmatics scale poorly with exponential complexity, they are of limited use for semantic web; that confines its effectiveness to silos of domain specific knowledge.
But semantic silos are probably not the best nurturing ground for stories.
Stories In Cobwebs
Taking for granted that text, time, and suspension of disbelief are the pillars of stories, their future on the web looks gloomy:
Texts have no status of their own on the web, but only appear as part of documents, a media among others.
Stories can bypass web practice by being retrieved before being read as texts or viewed as movies; but whenever they are “browsed” their intrinsic time-frame and tempo are shattered, and so is their music.
If lying can be seen as an inborn human cognitive ability, it cannot be separated from its role in direct social communication; such interactive background should also account for the transient beliefs in fictional stories. But lies detached from a live context and planted on the web are different beasts, standing on their own and bereft of any truth currency that could separate actual lies from fictional ones.
That depressing perspective is borne out by the tools supposed to give a new edge to text processing:
Hyper-links are part and parcel of internet original text processing. But as far and long as stories go, introducing links (hardwired or generated) is to hand narrative threads over to readers, and by so transforming them into “entertextment” consumers.
Machine learning can do wonders mining explicit and implicit meanings from the whole of past and present written and even spoken discourses. But digging stories out is more about anthropology or literary criticism than about creative writing.
As for the semantic web, it may work as a cobweb: by getting rid of pragmatics, deliberately or otherwise, it disables narratives by disengaging them from their contexts, cutting them out in one stroke from their original meaning, tempo, and social currency.
The Deconstruction of Stories
Curiously, what the web may do to stories seems to reenact a philosophical project which gained some favor in Europe during the second half of the last century. To begin with, the deconstruction philosophy was rooted in literary criticism, and its objective was to break the apparent homogeneity of narratives in order to examine the political, social, or ideological factors at play behind. Soon enough, a core of upholders took aim at broader philosophical ambitions, using deconstruction to deny even the possibility of a truth currency.
With the hindsight on initial and ultimate purposes of the deconstruction project, the web and its semantic cobweb may be seen as the stories nemesis.
Turning thoughts into figures faces the intrinsic constraint of dimension: two dimensional representations cannot cope with complexity.
So, lest they be limited to flat and shallow thinking, mind cartographers have to introduce the cognitive equivalent of geographical layers (nature, demography, communications, economy,…), and archetypes (mountains, rivers, cities, monuments, …)
Nodes: What’s The Map About
Nodes in maps (aka roots, handles, …) are meant to anchor thinking threads. Given that human thinking is based on the processing of symbolic representations, mind mapping is expected to progress wide and deep into the nature of nodes: concepts, topics, actual objects and phenomena, artifacts, partitions, or just terms.
It must be noted that these archetypes are introduced to characterize symbolic representations independently of domain semantics.
Connectors: Cognitive Primitives
Nodes in maps can then be connected as children or siblings, the implicit distinction being some kind of refinement for the former, some kind of equivalence for the latter. While such a semantic latitude is clearly a key factor of creativity, it is also behind the poor scaling of maps with complexity.
A way to frame complexity without thwarting creativity would be to define connectors with regard to cognitive primitives, independently of nodes’ semantics:
References connect nodes as terms.
Associations: connect nodes with regard to their structural, functional, or temporal proximity.
Analogies: connect nodes with regard to their structural or functional similarities.
At first, with shallow nodes defined as terms, connections can remain generic; then, with deeper semantic levels introduced, connectors could be refined accordingly for concepts, documentation, actual objects and phenomena, artifacts,…
Semantics: Extensional vs Intensional
Given mapping primitives defined independently of domains semantics, the next step is to take into account mapping purposes:
Extensional semantics deal with categories of actual instances of objects or phenomena.
Intensional semantics deal with specifications of objects or phenomena.
That distinction can be applied to basic semantic archetypes (people, roles, events, …) and used to distinguish actual contexts, symbolic representations, and specifications, e.g:
Car (object) refers to context, not to be confused with Car (surrogate) which specified the symbolic counterpart: the former is extensional (actual instances), the latter intensional (symbolic representations)
Maintenance Process is extensional (identified phenomena), Operation is intensional (specifications).
Reservation and Driver are symbolic representations (intensional), Person is extensional (identified instances).
It must be reminded that whereas the choice is discretionary and contingent on semantic contexts and modeling purposes (‘as-it-is’ vs ‘as-it-should-be’), consequences are not because the choice is to determine abstraction semantics.
For example, the records for cars, drivers, and reservations are deemed intensional because they are defined by business concerns. Alternatively, instances of persons and companies are defined by contexts and therefore dealt with as extensional descriptions.
Abstractions: Subsets & Sub-types
Thinking can be characterized as a balancing act between making distinctions and managing the ensuing complexity. To that end, human edge over other animal species is the use of symbolic representations for specialization and generalization.
That critical mechanism of human thinking is often overlooked by mind maps due to a confused understanding of inheritance semantics:
Strong inheritance deals with instances: specialization define subsets and generalization is defined by shared structures and identities.
Weak inheritance deals with specifications: specialization define sub-types and generalization is defined by shared features.
The combination of nodes (intension/extension) and inheritance (structures/features) semantics gives cartographers two hands: a free one for creative distinctions, and a safe one for the ensuing complexity. e.g:
Intension and weak inheritance: environments (extension) are partitioned according to regulatory constraints (intension); specialization deals with subtypes and generalization is defined by shared features.
Extension and strong inheritance: cars (extension) are grouped according to motorization; specialization deals with subsets and generalization is defined by shared structures and identities.
Intension and strong inheritance: corporate sub-type inherits the identification features of type Reservation (intension).
Mind maps built on these principles could provide a common thesaurus encompassing the whole of enterprise data, information and knowledge.
Intelligence: Data, Information, Knowledge
Considering that mind maps combine intelligence and cartography, they may have some use for enterprise architects, in particular with regard to economic intelligence, i.e the integration of information processing, from data mining to knowledge management and decision-making:
Data provide the raw input, without clear structures or semantics (terms or aspects).
Categories are used to process data into information on one hand (extensional nodes), design production systems on the other hand (intensional nodes).
Abstractions (concepts) makes knowledge from information by putting it to use.
Along that perspective mind maps could serve as front-ends for enterprise architecture ontologies, offering a layered cartography that could be organized according to concerns:
Enterprise architects would look at physical environments, business processes, and functional and technical systems architectures.
Knowledge managers would take a different perspective and organize the maps according to the nature and source of data, information, and knowledge.intelligence w
As demonstrated by geographic information systems, maps built on clear semantics can be combined to serve a wide range of purposes; furthering the analogy with geolocation assistants, layered mind maps could be annotated with punctuation marks (e.g ?, !, …) in order to support problem-solving and decision-making.
“Clocks slay time… time is dead as long as it is being clicked off by little wheels; only when the clock stops does time come to life.”
The melting of digital fences between enterprises and business environments is putting a new light on the way time has to be taken into account.
The shift can be illustrated by the EU GDPR: by introducing legal constraints on the notifications of changes in personal data, regulators put systems’ internal events on the same standing as external ones and make all time-scales equal whatever their nature.
Ontological Limit of WC3 Time Recommendation
The W3C recommendation for OWL time description is built on the well accepted understanding of temporal entity, duration, and position:
While there isn’t much to argue with what is suggested, the puzzle comes from what is missing, namely the modalities of time: the recommendation makes use of calendars and time-stamps but ignores what is behind, i.e time ontological dimensions.
Out of the Box
As already expounded (Ontologies & Enterprise Architecture) ontologies are at their best when a distinction can be maintained between representation and semantics. That point can be illustrated here by adding an ontological dimension to the W3C description of time:
Ontological modalities are introduced by identifying (#) temporal positions with regard to a time-frame.
Time-frames are open-ended temporal entities identified (#) by events.
It must be noted that initial truth-preserving properties still apply across ontological modalities.
Conclusion: OWL Descriptions Should Not Be Confused With Ontologies
Languages are meant to combine two primary purposes: communication and symbolic representation, some (e.g natural, programming) being focused on the former, other (e.g formal, specific) on the latter.
The distinction is somewhat blurred with languages like OWL (Web Ontology Language) due to the versatility and plasticity of semantic networks.
That apparent proficiency may induce some confusion between languages and ontologies, the former dealing with the encoding of time representations, the latter with time modalities.
European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), to come into effect this month, is a seminal and momentous milestone for data privacy .
Yet, as reported by Reuters correspondents, European enterprises and regulators are not ready; more worryingly, few (except consultants) are confident about GDPR direction.
Misgivings and uncertainties should come as no surprise considering GDPR’s two innate challenges:
Regulating privacy rights represents a very ambitious leap into a digital space now at the core of corporate business strategies.
Compliance will not be put under a single authority but be overseen by an assortment of national and regional authorities across the European Union.
On that account, ontologies appear as the best (if not the only) conceptual approach able to bring contexts (EU nations), concerns (business vs privacy), and enterprises (organization and systems) into a shared framework.
Compared to domain specific regulations, GDPR is a governance-oriented regulation set across business concerns and enterprise organization; but unlike similarly oriented ones like accounting, GDPR is aiming at the nexus of business competition, namely the processing of data into information and knowledge. With such a strategic stake, compliance is bound to become a game-changer cutting across business intelligence, production systems, and decision-making. Hence the need for an integrated, comprehensive, and consistent approach to the different dimensions involved:
Concepts upholding businesses, organizations, and regulations.
Documentation with regard to contexts and statutory basis.
Regulatory options and compliance assessments
Enterprise systems architecture and operations
Moreover, as for most projects affecting enterprise architectures, carrying through GDPR compliance is to involve continuous, deep, and wide ranging changes that will have to be brought off without affecting overall enterprise performances.
Ontologies arguably provide a conclusive solution to the problem, if only because there is no other way to bring code, models, documents, and concepts under a single roof. That could be achieved by using ontologies profiles to frame GDPR categories along enterprise architectures models and components.
Compliance implementation could then be carried out iteratively across four perspectives:
Personal data and managed information
Lawfulness of activities
Time and Events
Actors and organization.
Data & Information
To begin with, GDPR defines ‘personal data’ as “any information relating to an identified or identifiable natural person (‘data subject’)”. Insofar as logic is concerned that definition implies an equivalence between ‘data’ and ‘information’, an assumption clearly challenged by the onslaught of big data: if proofs were needed, the Cambridge Analytica episode demonstrates how easy raw data can become a personal affair. Hence the need to keep an ontological level of indirection between regulatory intents and the actual semantics of data as managed by information systems.
Once lexical ambiguities set apart, the question is not so much about the data bases of well identified records than about the flows of data continuously processed: if identities and ownership are usually set upfront by business processes, attributions may have to be credited to enterprises know-how if and when carried out through data analytics.
Given that the distinctions are neither uniform, exclusive or final, ontologies will be needed to keep tabs on moves and motives. OWL 2 constructs (cf annex) could also help, first to map GDPR categories to relevant information managed by systems, second to sort out natural data from nurtured knowledge.
Activities & Purposes
Given footprints of personal data, the objective is to ensure the transparency and traceability of the processing activities subject to compliance.
Setting apart (see below for events) specific add-ons for notification and personal accesses, charting compliance footprints is to be a complex endeavor: as there is no reason to assume some innate alignment of intended (regulation) and actual (enterprise) definitions, deciding where and when compliance should apply potentially calls for a review of all processing activities.
After taking into account the nature of activities, their lawfulness is to be determined by contexts (‘purpose limitation’ and ‘data minimization’) and time-frames (‘accuracy’ and ‘storage limitation’). And since lawfulness is meant to be transitive, a comprehensive map of the GDPR footprint is to rely on the logical traceability and transparency of the whole information systems, independently of GDPR.
That is arguably a challenging long-term endeavor, all the more so given that some kind of Chinese Wall has to be maintained around enterprise strategies, know-how, and operations. It ensues that an ontological level of indirection is again necessary between regulatory intents and effective processing activities.
Along that reasoning compliance categories, defined on their own, are first mapped to categories of functionalities (e.g authorization) or models (e.g use cases).
Then, actual activities (e.g “rateCustomerCredit”) can be progressively brought into the compliance fold, either with direct associations with regulations or indirectly through associated models (e.g “ucRateCustomerCredit” use case).
The compliance backbone can be fleshed out using OWL 2 mechanisms (see annex) in order to:
Clarify the logical or functional dependencies between processing activities subject to compliance.
Qualify their lawfulness.
Draw equivalence, logical, or functional links between compliance alternatives.
That is to deal with the functional compliance of processing activities; but the most far-reaching impact of the regulation may come from the way time and events are taken into account.
Time & Events
As noted above, time is what makes the difference between data and information, and setting rules for notification makes that difference lawful. Moreover, by adding time constraints to the notifications of changes in personal data, regulators put systems’ internal events on the same standing as external ones. That apparently incidental departure echoes the immersion of systems into digitized business environments, making all time-scales equal whatever their nature. Such flattening is to induce crucial consequences for enterprise architectures.
That shift together with the regulatory intent are best taken into account by modeling events as changes in expectations, physical objects, processes execution, and symbolic objects, with personal data change belonging to the latter.
Putting apart events specific to GDPR (e.g data breaches), compliance with regard to accuracy and storage limitation regulations will require that all events affecting personal data:
Are set in time-frames, possibly overlapping.
Have notification constraints properly documented.
Have likelihood and costs of potential risks assessed.
As with data and activities, OWL 2 constructs are to be used to qualify compliance requirements.
Actors & Organization
GDPR introduces two specific categories of actors (aka roles): one (data subject) for natural persons, and one for actors set by organizations, either specifically for GDPR assignment, or by delegation to already defined actors.
OWL 2 can then be used to detail how regulatory roles can be delegated to existing ones, enabling a smooth transition and a dynamic adjustment of enterprise organization with regulatory compliance.
It must be stressed that the semantic distinction between identified agents (e.g natural persons) and the roles (aka UML actors) they play in processes is of particular importance for GDPR compliance because who (or even what) is behind an actor interacting with a system is to remain unknown to the system until the actor can be authentically identified. If that ontological lapse is overlooked there is no way to define and deal with security, confidentiality or privacy regulations.
The use of ontologies brings clear benefits for regulators, enterprise governance, and systems architects.
Without shared conceptual guidelines chances are for the European regulatory orchestra to get lost in squabbles about minutiae before sliding into cacophony.
With regard to governance, bringing systems and regulations into a common conceptual framework is to enable clear and consistent compliance strategies and policies, as well as smooth learning curves.
With regard to architects, ontology-based compliance is to bring cross benefits and externalities, e.g from improved traceability and transparency of systems and applications.
Annex A: Mapping Regulations to Models (sample)
To begin with, OWL 2 can be used to map GDPR categories to relevant resources as managed by information systems:
Equivalence: GDPR and enterprise definitions coincide.
Logical intersection, union, complement: GDPR categories defined by, respectively, a cross, merge, or difference of enterprise definitions.
Qualified association between GDPR and enterprise categories.
Assuming the categories properly identified, the language can then be employed to define the sets of regulated instances:
Logical property restrictions, using existential and universal quantification.
Functional property restrictions, using joints on attributes values.
Other constructs, e.g cardinality or enumerations, could also be used for specific regulatory constraints.
Finally, some OWL 2 built-in mechanisms can significantly improve the assessment of alternative compliance policies by expounding regulations with regard to:
Equivalence, overlap, or complementarity.
Symmetry or asymmetry.
Annex B: Mapping Regulations to Capabilities
GDPR can be mapped to systems capabilities using well established Zachman’s taxonomy set by crossing architectures functionalities (Who,What,How, Where, When) and layers (business and organization), systems (logical structures and functionalities), and platforms (technologies).
These layers can be extended as to apply uniformly across external ontologies, from well-defined (e.g regulations) to fuzzy (e.g business prospects or new technologies) ones, e.g:
Such mapping is to significantly enhance the transparency of regulatory policies.
Models are meant to characterize categories of given (descriptive models), designed (prescriptive models), or hypothetical (predictive models) individuals.
Insofar as purposes can be kept apart, the discrepancies in targeted individuals can be ironed out, notably by using power-types. Otherwise, e.g if modeling concerns mix business analysis with software engineering, meta-models are introduced as jack-of-all-trades to deal with mixed semantics.
But meta-models generate exponential complexity when used across domains, not to mention the open and fuzzy ones of business intelligence. What is at stake can be better understood through the way individuals are identified and represented.
Partitions & Abstraction
Since models are meant to classify instances with regard to concerns, mixing concerns is to entail mixed classifications, horizontally across domains (e.g business and accounting), or vertically along engineering cycles (e.g business and engineering).
That can be achieved with power-types, meta-classes, or ontologies.
Delegation & Power-types
Given that categories (or classes or types) represent set of instances (given, designed, or simulated), they may by themselves be regarded as symbolic instances used to manage features commonly valued by their own members.
This approach is consistent as well as effective providing the semantics and identities of instances are shared by all agents concerned, e.g business and technical aspects of car rentals. Yet it falls short on both accounts when abstractions levels a set across domains, inducing connectors with different semantics and increased complexity.
Abstraction & Sub-classes
Sub-classes often appear as a way to overcome the difficulty, as illustrated by the Hepp Research’s Vehicle Sales Ontology: despite being set at different abstraction levels, instances for cars and models are defined and identified uniformly.
If, in that case, the model fulfills the substitution principle for external consistency, sub-types will fall short if engineering concerns were to be taken into account because the set of individual car models could then differ depending on perspective.
Meta-classes & Stereotypes
The overuse of meta-classes and stereotypes epitomizes the escapism school of modeling. That may be understandable, if not helpful, for the former which is by nature a free pass to abstraction; less so for the latter which is supposed to go the other way toward the specialization of meta-classes according to specific profiles. It ensues that stereotypes should never be used on their own or be extended by another stereotype.
As it happens, such consistency concerns appear to be easily diluted when stereotypes are jumbled with meta constructs; e.g:
Abstract stereotype (a).
Strong (aka class) inheritance of abstract stereotype from concrete meta-class (b).
Weak inheritance (aka aspect) between stereotypes (c, f).
Meta-constraint used to map Vehicle to methodology stereotype (d).
Domain specific connector to stereotype (e).
Without comprehensive and consistent semantics for instances and abstractions, individuals cannot be solidly mapped to models:
Individual concepts (car, horse, boat, …) have no clear mooring.
Actual vehicles cannot be tied to the meta-class or the abstract stereotype.
There is no strong inheritance tying individuals models and rental cars to an identification mechanism.
Assuming that detachment is not an option, the basis of models must be reset.
Put in simple words, ontologies are meant to examine the nature and categories of existence, in general (metaphysics) or in specific contexts. As for the latter, they can be applied to individuals according to the nature of their existence (aka epistemic identity): concepts, documents, categories and aspects.
As it happens, sorting things out makes the whole paraphernalia of meta-classes and stereotypes no longer needed because the semantics of inheritance and associations is set by the nature of individuals.
With individuals solidly rooted in targeted domains, models can then fully serve their purposes.
What’s the Point
It’s worth to remind that models have to be built on purpose, which cannot be achieved without a clear understanding of context and targets. Here are some examples:
Then, individuals could be used to map models to past and future, the former for refactoring, the latter for business intelligence.
Refactoring looks to the pastbut is frustrated by undocumented legacy code. Combined with machine learning, individuals could help to bridge the gap between code and models.
Business Intelligence looks the other wayas it is meant to map hypothetical business objects and behaviors to the structures and semantics already managed by information systems. As in reversal of legacy benefits, individuals could provide cues to new business meanings.
Given the digitization of enterprises environments, engineering processes have to be entwined with business ones while kept in sync with enterprise architectures. That calls for new threads of collaboration taking into account the integration of business and engineering processes as well as the extension to business environments.
Whereas models are meant to support communication, traditional approaches are already straining when used beyond software generation, that is collaboration between humans and CASE tools. Ontologies, which can be seen as a higher form of models, could enable a qualitative leap for systems collaborative engineering at enterprise level.
Systems Engineering: Contexts & Concerns
To begin with contents, collaborations should be defined along three axes:
Requirements: business objectives, enterprise organization, and processes, with regard to systems functionalities.
Feasibility: business requirements with regard to architectures capabilities.
Architectures: supporting functionalities with regard to architecture capabilities.
Since these axes are usually governed by different organizational structures and set along different time-frames, collaborations must be supported by documentation, especially models.
In order to support collaborations across organizational units and time-frames, models have to bring together perspectives which are by nature orthogonal:
Contexts, concerns, and languages: business vs engineering.
Time-frames and life-cycle: business opportunities vs architecture stability.
That could be achieved if engineering models could be harnessed to enterprise ones for contexts and concerns. That is to be achieved through the integration of processes.
As already noted, the integration of business and engineering processes is becoming a key success factor.
For that purpose collaborations would have to take into account the different time-frames governing changes in business processes (driven by business value) and engineering ones (governed by assets life-cycles):
Business requirements engineering is synchronic: changes must be kept in line with architectures capabilities (full line).
Software engineering is diachronic: developments can be carried out along their own time-frame (dashed line).
Application-driven projects usually focus on users’ value and just-in-time delivery; that can be best achieved with personal collaboration within teams. Architecture-driven projects usually affect assets and non-functional features and therefore collaboration between organizational units.
Collaboration: Direct or Mediated
Collaboration can be achieved directly or through some mediation, the former being a default option for applications, the latter a necessary one for architectures.
Both can be defined according to basic cognitive and organizational mechanisms and supported by a mix of physical and virtual spaces to be dynamically redefined depending on activities, projects, locations, and organisation.
Direct collaborations are carried out between individuals with or without documentation:
Immediate and personal: direct collaboration between 5 to 15 participants with shared objectives and responsibilities. That would correspond to agile project teams (a).
Delayed and personal: direct collaboration across teams with shared knowledge but with different objectives and responsibilities. That would tally with social networks circles (c).
Mediated collaborations are carried out between organizational units through unspecified individual members, hence the need of documentation, models or otherwise:
Direct and Code generation from platform or domain specific models (b).
Model transformation across architecture layers and business domains (d)
Depending on scope and mediation, three basic types of collaboration can be defined for applications, architecture, and business intelligence projects.
As it happens, collaboration archetypes can be associated with these profiles.
Agile development model (under various guises) is the option of choice whenever shared ownership and continuous delivery are possible. Application projects can so be carried out autonomously, with collaborations circumscribed to team members and relying on the backlog mechanism.
Projects set across enterprise architectures cannot be carried out without taking into account phasing constraints. While ill-fated Waterfall methods have demonstrated the pitfalls of procedural solutions, phasing constraints can be dealt with a roundabout mechanism combining iterative and declarative schemes.
Engineering vs Business Driven Collaborations
With collaborative engineering upgraded at enterprise level, the main challenge is to iron out frictions between application and architecture projects and ensure the continuity, consistency and effectiveness of enterprise activities. That can be achieved with roundabouts used as a collaboration mechanism between projects, whatever their nature:
Shared models are managed at roundabout level.
Phasing dependencies are set in terms of assertions on shared models.
Depending on constraints projects are carried out directly (1,3) or enter roundabouts (2), with exits conditioned by the availability of models.
Moreover, with engineering embedded in business processes, collaborations must also bring together operational analytics, decision-making, and business intelligence. Here again, shared models are to play a critical role:
Enterprise descriptive and prescriptive models for information maps and objectives
Environment predictive models for data and business understanding.
Whereas both engineering and business driven collaborations depend on sharing information and knowledge, the latter have to deal with open and heterogeneous semantics. As a consequence, collaborations must be supported by shared representations and proficient communication languages.
Ontologies & Representations
Ontologies are best understood as models’ backbones, to be fleshed out or detailed according to context and objectives, e.g:
Thesaurus, with a focus on terms and documents.
Systems modeling, with a focus on integration, e.g Zachman Framework.
Classifications, with a focus on range, e.g Dewey Decimal System.
Meta-models, with a focus on model based engineering, e.g models transformation.
Conceptual models, with a focus on understanding, e.g legislation.
Knowledge management, with a focus on reasoning, e.g semantic web.
As such they can provide the pillars supporting the representation of the whole range of enterprise concerns:
Taking a leaf from Zachman’s matrix, ontologies can also be used to differentiate concerns with regard to architecture layers: enterprise, systems, platforms.
Last but not least, ontologies can be profiled with regard to the nature of external contexts, e.g:
Institutional: Regulatory authority, steady, changes subject to established procedures.
Professional: Agreed upon between parties, steady, changes subject to established procedures.
Corporate: Defined by enterprises, changes subject to internal decision-making.
Social: Defined by usage, volatile, continuous and informal changes.
Personal: Customary, defined by named individuals (e.g research paper).
Ontologies & Communication
If collaborations have to cover engineering as well as business descriptions, communication channels and interfaces will have to combine the homogeneous and well-defined syntax and semantics of the former with the heterogeneous and ambiguous ones of the latter.
With ontologies represented as RDF (Resource Description Framework) graphs, the first step would be to sort out truth-preserving syntax (applied independently of domains) from domain specific semantics.
On that basis it would be possible to separate representation syntax from contents semantics, and to design communication channels and interfaces accordingly.
That would greatly facilitate collaborations across externally defined ontologies as well as their mapping to enterprise architecture models.
To summarize, the benefits of ontological frames for collaborative engineering can be articulated around four points:
A clear-cut distinction between representation semantics and truth-preserving syntax.
A common functional architecture for all users interfaces, humans or otherwise.
Modular functionalities for specific semantics on one hand, generic truth-preserving and cognitive operations on the other hand.
Profiled ontologies according to concerns and contexts.
A critical fifth benefit could be added with regard to business intelligence: combined with deep learning capabilities, ontologies would extend the scope of collaboration to explicit as well as implicit knowledge, the former already framed by languages, the latter still open to interpretation and discovery.
Knowledge graphs, which have become a key component of knowlege management, are best understood as a reincarnation of ontologies.