Ontologies are the Esperanto for the Babel Fish of the 21st Century (part 02)

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What is an Ontology?


An ontology is a structured series of terms. Ontologies may be more or less formally defined and more less strictly adherent to constraints between terms, hierarchy and interdependencies between terms. Ontologies may also contain associations, value restrictions, and arbitrary logical statements. An ontological term may contain properties. The diagram below shows the varying levels of formalism that an ontology may be adherent to, the diagram is taken from the paper Ontologies Come of Age by Deborah McGinness [2].  An Ontology Spectrum[2]

‘Pragmatically, a common ontology defines a vocabulary with which queries and assertions are exchanged among agents. Ontological commitments are agreements to use the shared vocabulary in a coherent and consistent manner. The agents sharing a vocabulary need not share a knowledge base; each knows things the other does not, and an agent that commits to an ontology is not required to answer all queries that can be formulated in the shared vocabulary.””In short, a commitment to a common ontology is a guarantee of consistency, but not of completeness, with respect to queries and assertions using the vocabulary defined in the ontology.”[1]

Ontologies may be used to map and describe things at many different levels within the technology stack. At all levels within the ISO Open Systems Interconnect (OSI) [25] (7 layer model) architectural layers, across all rows and columns of the Zachman Enterprise Framework, and at many different levels of abstraction within the Governance, Security, Business Information, Information, Information Systems(IS) and Technology Infrastructure (TI) of Capgemini’s enterprise architecture (EA) Integrated Architecture Framework (IAF) aspect views.

Using a more concrete example. Ontologies are to the data management world a normalization of the data terms (entities) employed in an enterprise. Where the data model and business rules that constrain the data terms form a significant part of the ontology of the enterprise business. The working taxonomy of the business that can be mapped and transformed throughout the business and throughout and between the layers of its system dependencies. Ontologies also provide the interface, a common language, between enterprises. But ontologies are applicable to all of the enterprise and not just simply restricted to, although admittedly important, aspects of business taxonomy and it’s representation in the business data. More on this later.

For a more detailed overview of the ontological topology, than that contained here please, see An Intrepid Guide to Ontologies from the folks at umbel.org .


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