Integration entrepreneur: Now's the time for semantic technology

Sanjiva Nath, CEO of ALM innovator zAgile, explains why the Semantic Web is finally getting traction in the cloud era -- and the role he hopes his company will play

In an interview with the Wall Street Journal earlier this month, Google Fellow Amit Singhal revealed that Google was infusing its search engine with semantic search technology to dramatically improve the contextual accuracy of Google search results. That same essential technology, based on the Semantic Web model Tim Berners-Lee pioneered over a decade ago, was the inspiration for zAgile, an ALM (application lifecycle management) software company that entrepreneur Sanjiva Nath founded in 2006.

Before launching zAgile, Nath headed software delivery at Trigo Technologies, a product information management software vendor acquired by IBM in 2004. The company's core offering, Trigo Product Center, was developed to enable large retailers and manufacturers to establish a "golden source" of product information to feed all their applications. Along the way, Nath encountered the severe limitations of using conventional relational database technology to reconcile multiple versions of the truth -- and decided that the Semantic Web held the answer.

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Among the first enterprise software companies to use Semantic Web technology, zAgile just updated Wikidsmart, an open source, integrated ALM platform that enables app dev managers to monitor and control projects with multiple development teams. The core technology is the Wikidsmart Context Server, which uses Semantic Web technology to reconcile the varying nomenclature, methodologies, and artifacts development teams employ.

I interviewed Nath on the heels of the new release and shortly after Singhal offered his de facto endorsement of semantic technology. The conversation ranged from the problems with conventional integration technologies to what Nath believes is the "ultimate destiny" for zAgile, which is to be the integration platform of choice for deploying and managing enterprise cloud applications and services.

Eric Knorr: How do you define zAgile's value proposition, and why did you turn to Semantic Web technology for your company's core technology?

Sanjiva Nath: I wanted to offer solutions to problems I first encountered at Trigo, which had very large manufacturers and retailers as customers, including HP, Sony, Philips, and Wal-Mart. The product data integration challenges at those companies were pretty significant. At the time, for example, a single HP printer had over 7,000 attributes. And there are a lot of different elements to this data; integration involves more than simply mapping elements among tables. You must have a mechanism for capturing and representing complex taxonomies, representing attribute-level inheritance, and so on.

To accomplish that, normally people don't get very far using relational models because it's very, very difficult. A lot of people have lost their hair trying to represent that.

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