I was asked a question the other day and as I don’t think I reached a satisfactory answer I thought I would seek more learned opinion and post the question to this board. The question I was asked was “what does it mean when the new Zachman framework declares itself as an ontology and specifically the Enterprise Ontology” and to quote the Zachman.com website “the Framework is the ontology for describing the Enterprise”
So what does something have to be to call itself an ontology and perhaps more so in the commercial sector. Don’t get me wrong as I have a lot of respect for the work John Zachman has done and I have used the framework on several occasions as an aid to strategy and architecture. I was unfortunately unable to say to my colleague that I thought it represented a formal ontology in the way I am familiar with. I explained that I worked for three years on an ontology that had undergone over 10 years of research, testing and construction in Protégé and that it was formally accepted by public bodies in the UK and is in active use in the health sector. There are other major ontologies that have undergone similar if not more effort to construct. Yet without that formal approach how are you able to depend upon the model?
So our discussion lead to several conclusions;
1/ Perhaps the Zachman Framework is enough in itself to be called an ontology as why should it have to be developed with an ontology editor and undergo formal construction and reviews and acceptance by a public body (maybe it has and this is not in the public domain). It is not the kind of ontology developed in the science fields and used for example in the health sector. Zachman International is a private company and thus is free to declare what it wants.
2/ The Zachman framework is more of a metamodel and collection of concepts that a company then licences the Framework to build their own enterprise ontology. This of course places all of the hard work on the company unless Zachman International plans to provide an OWL or Frames ontology in the future.
3/ Finally, a more controversial conclusion that this is not enough and is more of a marketing ploy to capitalise on the increasing interest in the commercial sector in ontologies and the semantic web.
Perhaps I am viewing this incorrectly and being too formal in my thinking. I would be grateful for any thoughts that might provide a better conclusion.