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

Foundations for Evidence Based Enterprise Architecture


I believe that the foundations for evidence based enterprise architecture are the following:

  • An enterprise architecture framework e.g. TOGAF, Zachman supported by necessary extensions such as ITIL, BPML
  • Enterprise Content Management strategy supported by an enterprise content management system and search engine.
  • Master Data Management and Metadata Management policies supported by strategies and systems.
  • A content authoring standard and methodology such as DITA – the Darwin Information Typing Architecture which is an XML-based architecture for authoring, producing, and delivering information.
  • Authoring methods for narrative production through users stories, use cases, scenarios, storyboards, case-controlled studies, case reports, surveys and expert opinion.
  • Controls such as metamodels, taxonomies and ontologies for catagorisation and classification
  • and finally a team of architects able to provide a consultation and validation process to review all architectural content and data through systematic reviews and apply an authority to the evidence.

The final point is probably the hardest to perform as this team has to be able to provide the assurances that the evidence they have identified is necessary and sufficient to be applied to future content and will add value to the user.

Building up evidence


The likelihood of delivering value through enterprise architecture, in my mind, is based on the evidence behind the arguments supporting the decisions made in any architectural change. So what are the ways in which evidence based methods and practices can be developed to work with the task of managing Enterprise Architecture as a function within an organisation.

I will use this blog to explore the various ways to build up appropriate tools and techniques to support evidence based enterprise architecture but first i want to describe a view of the future. A future where an organisation is is using this approach to shape the design and development of their enterprise architecture.

This future organisation already has very mature enterprise content management, metadata management and master data management policies and practices in place. With these foundations in operation the Enterprise Achitecture team are now exploring the potential of semantic technologies to make more use of their knowledge, information and data repositories. By this i mean they are going to use an inferencing engine to drive answers from an EA knowledge base. The asserted model will then be used to create evidence to support multiple decisions in a architectural strategy.

To be able to create specific data or content assertions the inference engine would have to be supported by a detailed federated ontological environment and secondary knowledge bases. An arrangement for this type of environment could include upper ontologies such as Cyc or WolfrumAlpha then specific ontologies such as an enterprise ontology (covering organisation domains) working with an enterprise architecture ontology which would be supported by extension ontologies including an ITIL ontology, SOA ontology, OMG BPMN ontology and OMG Business Motivation Model ontology.

I accept that the above suggestion would be quite a piece of work to do and i am not aware of any organisations attempting such a thing. Leading academic institutions have over the years put out papers covering projects that built an enterprise ontology and i have only come across a few organisations that have attempted it but i am sure this will change over the next few years. The biggest challenge to this is the cost and effort required to build and maintain the knowledge and evidence through knowledge bases and ontologies. Yet, this cost would be nothing compared to the cost of failed strategies.