Enterprise Ontology – a framework for building and identifying corporate evidence

Role of an enterprise ontology

For an overview of this concept i am going to reference an article written by Dave McComb called The Enterprise Ontology. It offers a good description of an ontology, an Enterprise Ontology as well as some very good reasons as to why an organisation should build one. The article was written in 2006 and i will quote the first paragraph: At the time of this writing almost no enterprises in North America have a formal enterprise ontology.

Yet we believe that within a few years this will become one of the foundational pieces to most information system work within major enterprises.

We are now in 2011 and i am not aware of any publicised stories of any companies in the USA or Europe or the rest of the world for that matter that are able to say they have an enterprise ontology and that it is underpinning the information systems that exist within organisation.

Whilst it is expected that it will take an organisation some time to design, model and build an enterprise ontology the benefits will, if it is managed effectively, bring considerable change to people and value to the information created.

An enterprise ontology provides the enterprise indexing system to define meaning, classification and categorisation for past, current and future information. By providing this it aids evidence and evidence based enterprise architecture by creating a means to “frame” information by specific terms and definitions and thus aid like to like relationships.

If we consider evidence as either proofs or observations derived from a formal or scientific approach as well as opinions and expert statements created from renowned experience and capability; thus that evidence has to be

2 comments

  1. Hi Marc!

    Indeed this is an interesting blog post, though I can’t help feeling that some ideas on how to establish a program for Enterprise Ontology within the approach to Enterprise Architecture would be an improvement of the blog post.

    What ideas do you have on empowering the various stakeholders in the enterprise in order to lay the foundation for a viable and dynamic Enterprise Ontology?

    Keep up the good work.

    Best wishes,
    Peter Flemming Teunissen Sjoelin
    CoherencyArchitect.com

    • Hi Peter, thanks for your comments.

      That is an interesting point and perhaps the request to the board from the Chief Enterprise Architect of an organisation for an enterprise ontology would be a way to start a development programme. I am not sure however, if an enterprise ontology should sit within EA function. I have thought about who the best owner of an enterprise ontology is depending upon the size of the organization. For smaller organisations perhaps the EA function is a good owner and manager of the model, for larger ones however, I think it might fit better if it came under the ownership of the corporate librarians or knowledge management function.

      I will take a note to look at the approach to setting up an enterprise ontology within an organisation and post something in the future. For now, I think that there are two ways this could happen. The first is a mandate from the board setting out the requirements and authority to establish, through necessary funding, buy in from stakeholders and specialist resources, a project to build an enterprise ontology. The second way is the organic route where an innovative department builds a departmental ontology and is able to demonstrate the benefits to other heads of departments to encourage them to build their own. As these departmental ontologies develop relationships are formed between the models creating a federated enterprise ontology.

      Defining just a model of a department is just a part of what an enterprise ontology is and the organic route is not my preferred approach. The undertaking of the development of an enterprise ontology would require a formal methodology using a top down planned approach which would result in a better prepared and designed ontology and as such limit the risk of failure and return on investment.

      Whichever one of these is the way in which an enterprise ontology establishes itself within an organisation the long-term survival will depend upon how ontology is able to demonstrate value to the organisation. Stakeholders will need evidence that developing and maintaining an enterprise ontology is worth the investment. This is where I see small and medium sized organisations gaining an advantage over much larger ones. Firstly, they have less to “define” and the ontology is likely to reach more people within the organisation and demonstrate benefits sooner. Secondly, a smaller organisation will more likely be using web-based and cloud technologies over legacy systems and as such the application of the ontology within technologies would be easier.

      Stakeholders will be looking for returns in areas such as departmental cost savings and efficiencies in productivity, better use and quality of information as well as customer satisfaction. An enterprise ontology will have to prove it can do this before organisations start building them.

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