The Semantic Web, Part II: The Business Case and Customer Service Implications

In part one of this series, I broached the semantic web and semantic technologies. I described how they differ from Web 1.0 and 2.0. In this second part, I’ll cover:

  • The business case for implementing the semantic web:
  • How to start
  • How the semantic web is affecting customer service

Let’s go.

The Business Case

For any organization to adopt and embrace semantic technologies and the semantic web, a great deal of work is required.  Mitigating against its immediate adoption is the fact that the benefits of the semantic web are long-term in nature. In other words, an organization won’t adopt begin to these technologies and see benefits tomorrow. What’s more, the semantic web is also subject to Metcalfe’s Law which states that networks are exponentially more powerful as more people use them. Naysayers will argue that, until more people embrace the semantic web, its utility will be limited. While not necessarily wrong, this mode of thinking tends to be myopic; just because something isn’t here yet certainly doesn’t mean that it isn’t coming.

With that disclaimer out of the way, there are significant benefits to embracing the semantic web. They include:

  • Increased knowledge
  • Business development
  • Better decisions
  • Access to better information sharing and discovery
  • Superior administration and automation

For more on the specific benefits of the semantic web, click the DevX article here or the article here. Because these types of projects can be admittedly a bit daunting, it’s easy for some to dismiss their importance, especially in the short-term. Fortunately, there are many tools for enabling the semantic web within any given enterprise, including those within the MIKE2.0 framework.


How to Start

There are so many semantic technologies and so many applications that it’s hard to succinctly write a pithy section on exactly what to do and how to do it. A health care organization trying to enable semantic technologies will face different challenges than a company like technology company such as Twitter. The latter has recently introduced Annotations in an effort to give its tweets more context.

I can say, however, that it’s important to keep the following in mind:

  • Start small – This is a marathon, not a sprint. Think Agile, not Waterfall.
  • Get familiar with terms – If you haven’t heard of RDFs, metadata, ontologies, and so on, do some research.
  • Clean up your data – In order to data to have meaningful context, it must be accurate. This does not magically disappear with the semantic web.
  • Focus on your ultimate objective – Short-term sacrifices and poor decisions plagued many Enterprise 1.0 projects. I should know. I wrote a book about them. As Stephen Covey says, begin with the end in mind.

What’s more, Twitter’s adoption of semantic technologies will eventually allow tweets to convey a great deal of information, as Matthew Ingram recently wrote on GigaOM. If 140 characters with “going for coffee” can have meaning, then what does that say about health records, customer preferences, and geolocation information?

The Semantic Web and Customer Service

I asked  David Siegel, author of the fascinating book Pull: The Power of the Semantic Web to Transform Your Business, about the impact of the semantic web on customer service. Siegel says:


Over the next ten years, all industries will switch from the vendors making the rules to the customers making the rules. This sounds like marketing-speak, but when your customers hand you a data format and tell you if you don’t switch you’ll lose their account, you may need a neck brace just to keep up with their demands.

Your customers are about to require you to let them move their entire account to another company, or to their own personal data lockers. This is great for companies offering superior value – it will be easy for customers to switch to them. It will be a nightmare for companies with a ‘roach motel’ marketing strategy – your customers will be able to leave in a second. It’s happened to IRAs and some areas of insurance – it’s coming to every service in every business sector. While this sounds disruptive to vendors, it’s really business-continuity for consumers.

Look, adopting semantic technologies is no small endeavor. Know this from the get-go. Rather than just jumping right in, ensure that the internal business case can be effectively made, people understand what’s ahead (from timing, resource, and budgeting standpoints), and sufficient funds are available. What’s more, take advantage of the case studies, examples, and resources already out there.


In the next part of the series, we’ll focus on the semantic web and complementary technologies.