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Re: [ontolog-forum] EIDX Conference Paper

To: ontolog-forum@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx
From: Peter Denno <peter.denno@xxxxxxxx>
Date: Sun, 14 Nov 2004 19:49:07 -0500
Message-id: <200411141949.07572.peter.denno@xxxxxxxx>
On Saturday 13 November 2004 17:09, Kurt Conrad wrote:
> Finally, today's brain teaser for all who care to respond is:
>     What is Semantic Harmonization?    (01)

Some definitions:    (02)

SYSTEMS INTEGRATION = Enabling the communications that allow systems to work 
jointly toward a goal.     (03)

[That is roughly how we defined systems integration in a recent project at 
NIST. This definition only applies to software systems and only concerns a 
part of systems engineering.]    (04)

SEMANTIC INTEGRATION = That part of systems integration that concerns whether 
or not messages, correctly received and decomposed, serve to direct the 
recipient to perform the desired behavior.    (05)

SEMANTIC HARMONIZATION = misplaced emphasis  ;^)    (06)

* * *     (07)

I suppose that needs some explanation. First, I think the goal for most of us 
is to get information systems to serve business goals as effectively as 
possible. Because thing change (new business partners, new business 
processes, new products etc.) an important part of this goal is getting the 
components (parts of a system, or new partners) to integrate as effectively 
as possible. (Here "effectively" = some balance of cheaply, quickly, and 
reliably). So the principle goal includes doing systems integration as 
effectively as possible.     (08)

Two more points for background:    (09)

(1) The path of progress in systems integration has squeezed a good deal of 
waste out of the job of integrating systems. That 'waste' was in the form of 
reiterating the engineering details that needed to be resolved. Far less 
progress has been made in resolving the issues surrounding semantic 
integration.     (010)

(2) The emphasis in the terms "semantic integration" and "semantic 
harmonization" ought to center around "desired behavior." This is because, as 
far as we are concerned as the engineers of systems, communicating meaning 
comes down to getting the right behavior out of the recipient of the 
communication. For the engineers of systems, semantics is about behavior.    (011)

With that said, I'll try to put a little more work into a definition of 
semantic harmonization: Semantic harmonization, I suppose, is the task of 
eliminating unnecessary differences in the content of messages. I suppose 
further that the "content" is "semantic content" -- it concerns distinctions 
that reflect differing intended behaviors on the part of the recipient. But 
then, if distinct behaviors were intended, why would we want to eliminate 
them? Weren't those distinct behaviors a business necessity?    (012)

I'll try again:    (013)

Semantic harmonization is the alignment of terms so as to share a common 
understanding of the universe of discourse.     (014)

But what do I mean by "*the* universe of discourse?" The more I say about a 
subject, the more I define its boundary, and the more likely it is that you 
will see things from a different perspective. And sooner or later, something 
I say about the chemical industry won't apply to the petrol-chemical 
industry, much less banking.     (015)

To address this problem, we have invented a notion of "contexts," the purpose 
of which is to partition the universe of discourse into "smaller universes of 
discourse," wherever inconsistencies in the use of terms arises. It would be 
nice if contexts decomposed in hierarchical fashion, but I don't think this 
is the case. Nor do I think that we can enforce some order on the 
proliferation of concepts by applying a classification scheme. (e.g. the 8 
dimensions of context described in the CCTS). That might work for a while, 
but as the number of entries increase, the distinctions become more nuanced. 
As a systems integrator, I'll need to know exactly what those distinctions 
are. An informal natural language description of the distinction might not 
tell me, because it may assume that I have understood something about your 
domain that isn't explicit in the definition of the isolated terms of the 
message.     (016)

Notice then, that as a systems integrator, I have to do some of the same work 
of understanding your domain by means of the registry as I'd do by the old 
way -- that is, by studying a conceptualization of your information systems. 
And in both methods I still have to be very familiar with the business 
processes of both communicating parties.    (017)

We have moved the system integrator's task of understanding the meaning of 
terms from one of understanding the conceptualization of the information 
system, to one of understanding the distinctions intended in the various 
registry entries. Nonetheless, that might be progress, since now I am at 
least assured that there is *some* documentation.     (018)

In a registry-base approach, semantic harmonization involves a software tool 
(the registry). Thinking more generally about tools for semantic 
harmonization, what might they provide? What if the tool allowed us to 
explicitly define the distinction intended in a formal language, rather than 
just classify it and explain it in natural language?  The 'formal 
language' (e.g. KIF, OWL) would include a standardize vocabulary in the form 
of an upper ontology that is common to the largest universe of discourse. In 
that arrangement the systems integrator might be able to use the tool to 
identify the relevant business distinctions itself, and help validate the 
message types constructed.    (019)

* * *     (020)

I still like the first definition, "misplaced emphasis." But, if you find none 
of my definitions of semantic harmonization above satisfying, I wouldn't 
blame you.    (021)

I'll take this parting shot: maybe while we *think* we are "harmonizing the 
semantics" of our business communications, what we are actually doing is 
harmonizing the business processes themselves; that is, eliminating 
unnecessary differences in the way we do business so as to share common 
practices. When we do that, we are relieved of the need to communicate 
peculiar circumstances of practice.     (022)

How far can the harmonization of business processes go? In this community, the 
opening statement of many presentations is something like "Does the 
pharmaceutical industry really need a different purchase order than the 
medical community?" The speaker always assumes the answer is "no" but I am 
not so sure. After all, business processes vary because we are doing various 
thing! And I'd bet that most of us are not sufficiently well-versed in 
multiple industries to confidently answer the question.     (023)

Best Regards, 
- Peter     (024)

Peter Denno 
National Institute of Standards and Technology, 
Manufacturing System Integration Division, 
100 Bureau Drive, Mail Stop 8260             Tel: +1 301-975-3595 
Gaithersburg, MD, USA 20899-8260             FAX: +1 301-975-4694
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