Loraine Lawson just pointed to an interesting analysis of what's next in the drive toward a service-oriented, always-on, connected enterprise. Data is the extremely valuable commodity that the business needs to manage, digest and share, but the challenge of data integration hasn't been fully resolved by XML, Web services or service oriented architecture.
The paper, co-authored by a team led by Philipp Frischmuth and Jakub Klímek and posted on the Semantic Web Journal site, observes that classic SOA implementations to date have focused on transaction processing, but organizations seeking to being together their disparate data silos need to move on to the next step: "linked data." As they explain, the rise of ERP, CRM and an abundance of systems enterprises now rely on call for a new approach:
"Classic SOA architectures may be well-suited for transaction processing, however more efficient technologies are available today that can be employed for enterprise data integration. In particular, the use of the linked data paradigm for integrating enterprise data appears to be a very promising approach."
So what is the "linked data paradigm"? According to Wikipedia, linked data "describes a method of publishing structured data so that it can be interlinked and become more useful. It builds upon standard Web technologies such as HTTP and URIs, but rather than using them to serve web pages for human readers, it extends them to share information in a way that can be read automatically by computers. This enables data from different sources to be connected and queried." Tim Berners-Lee, director of the World Wide Web Consortium, originally coined the term, the entry adds.
Within enterprise, linked data is manifested through what the authors call "enterprise knowledge intranets" or, alternatively, an "enterprise data web" that complements SOA and assorted intranets. This linked data layer on top of databases addresses the data lifecycle and management issues for the enterprise and for all its systems, including extraction, storage, querying and linking. Essentially, the authors are calling for a service-oriented data services layer that can feed any and all applications and users.
Such a strategy is not without challenges. Query and system performance is a top concern. And, as always, there are the organizational challenges, especially when it comes to showing return on investment. "For example, it is relatively easy to determine the return-on-investment for an integration of two information systems, while it is very difficult to precisely assess the cost savings of the Linked Data approach," the authors caution.
"Also, the added value of the Linked Data approach might only become visible after a critical mass of Linked Data interfaces and resources are already established in the enterprise." Sounds identical to the issues involved when starting up SOA-based service repositories, and data warehousing for that matter. The initial projects may cost a lot more up front, but the value is realized as it becomes cheaper and cheaper to set up interfaces to the data services, rather then reinventing the wheel for each application.
The eventual payoffs include development of an enterprise knowledge base that facilitates interlinking and annotating content in enterprise wikis, content management systems and portals; as well as establishing a stable set of reusable concepts and identifiers. Loraine puts it in perspective: "It sounds almost like a some sort of virtual intergalactic Starbase for data, with all the data ships coming in to be updated and integrated with all the other data hubs," she observes, adding that progress reaching this ideal state may be slow. "We may be trying Linked Data integration while on an actual Starbase."