Technology seen limiting data interoperability

Pentagon study cites clashing standards

Technology is 'the critical limiting factor" to achieving the Pentagon's goal of enterprise-wide data interoperability, according to a recently-released interagency study.

The Cross-Domain Semantic Interoperability Working Group study added that the Defense Department's data strategy has been crippled by the proliferation of 'communities of interest' and divergent data standards.

Independently developed data models are inherently not interoperable, the report said. 'Mapping works between domains, and can provide value in high-impact areas, but can't scale enterprisewide,' the working group said.

The report cited Pentagon investments in hundreds of related data technologies.

The study stated that achieving data sharing across the department's enterprises will require the Pentagon to directly address the interoperability goal. 'Current technologies provide no viable solutions for sharing data across the many domains of large enterprises,' the report said

The working group cited three promising emerging technologies for data interoperability:

Ontology mapping and linking uses a standard knowledge representation language to allow the sharing of data about relationships between concepts across various data models.

The technologies use three different approaches to ontology. An ontology is a data model definition that represents concepts and their relationships within a domain.

A single upper ontology creates definitions for simple, rather than complex, concepts. 'A large enterprise such as DOD could, in theory, standardize on a given upper ontology,'' the report said, 'and then develop compliant domain ontologies for areas such as logistics, human resources, acquisition, medical [and similar topics].'

A set of mapped upper ontologies represents an alternative to the single upper ontology, the report said.

Based on the theory that no single upper ontology can meet the needs of all systems, the working group recommended that defense technologists adopt three to five standardized ontologies that share strong mappings. Some semantics would be lost in the mappings, however, 'but the added flexibility could make this approach more feasible,' according to the report.

The paper emphasized that none of the three technologies has yet reached a sufficient level of maturity. On a scale of one to nine, the paper rated ontology mapping and linking at 5; a single upper ontology at 4; and mapped upper ontologies at 1.

About the Author

Peter Buxbaum is a special contributor to Defense Systems.

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