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

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If you go into an issue tracking application just to update the status of an issue, you don't really need any context for it. But on the other hand, if you want to know who worked on it, what else they are assigned, any related design documents, and why the issue existed in the first place, then that context can be available appropriately within that app. So the applications actually don't care at all. It's really the mapping between whatever the application represents and whatever your cohesive metamodel is, if you will.

Knorr: So the semantics become the middleware?

Nath: Exactly.

Knorr: It seems to me you had three choices when you were trying to solve this problem. The first one, the relational model, just wasn't going to work. And I suppose you would have had the possibility of just going off and developing something on your own. But specifically you turned to semantic Web technology. Did you feel that was your only option? Did you think it was hand in glove? Was it something you knew about before Trigo and considered seriously? Or was there an "aha" moment?

Nath: I think it was "aha" moment. The biggest reason for going to the Semantic Web -- which, even though it began around 2000 and has taken a while to mature -- was because we see a broad impact. The applicability of the platform and technology crosses a lot of boundaries and domains and industries. And so it was really important to use open standards that would not only make people comfortable, but more importantly address the larger communities around it. Semantic technology obviously has quite a lot of support.

Knorr: Yet in the past there has been a lot of eye-rolling and resistance to the Semantic Web. Why is that and why is it wrong?

Nath: One reason is that the technology is nascent, so the main focus has been in academia and at the level of the Web -- in the latter case, such use cases as figuring out how to make Wikipedia smart. Few have really focused on what to do with it in the enterprise. My big objection to the semantic community has been that they needed to move from basic science to an applied science paradigm.

Knorr: Why did that take so long?

Nath: It's kind of chicken and egg. Until we came along, no one had mapped the application of technology to a critical business problem. That always affects adoption.

You have a lot of new technologies that are coming out right now -- various flavors of big data and NoSQL stuff -- all of it is very new to people. But they're converging on it, because they realize it can help them with something that's been hurting the longest. Our application of semantic technologies for information integration or application integration is a solution that people are just starting to jump on. No new technology goes anywhere until someone comes up with a solution that gives people the "aha" moment.

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