The increasing volume of information within enterprises and on the Internet requires businesses to be smarter and more efficient in how they use it. One large challenge is navigating through information and access to the data underlying key business documents in a way that people actually think and operate. The traditional technology approach is defining a data model with a database and then mapping the data to it and is not capable of dealing with data from diverse unstructured information sources and do not provide navigation or discovery on the information. Fortunately, information technology has advanced to provide ways to build a semantic information framework over a company’s unstructured information assets in the enterprise and on the Internet.
Technology vendor Cambridge Semantics takes a semantic approach to accessing information sources and linking associated data for business use. The founding members of the company realized the business potential of commercializing semantic technology based on work some of them did with IBM’s semantic layered research platform. Cambridge Semantics uses virtualized access and navigation across information assets that have a common reference to helps organizations tackle these data dilemmas. Virtualized access navigates through the semantics of the actual information, rather than relying on manual definitions by someone trying to describe the information. What makes this approach unique is its orderly workflow, the ability to tap into a large number of information sources in a unified manner, and the ability to make use of information that to date has been locked up and unavailable.
Semantic technology was advanced by Tim Berners-Lee’s creation of the World Wide Web. Today a semantic web interconnects data using an ontology framework and underlying standards such as Resource Description Framework (RDF) for data interchange and RDFS for taxonomy. This foundation, which makes data accessible across the Internet, can also be applied to enterprise sources. Instead of just moving data from point to point and transforming it into specific data formats, the semantic web enables access of data dynamically, making it simpler to give it a common view for business needs. This semantic approach allows information-centered applications to be assembled and published, which is very important to 58 percent of organizations according our information applications benchmark research, even though business is challenged to find the ability and time to assemble information into a useful view, according to 47 percent of organizations.
Cambridge Semantics’ Anzo Enterprise provides a platform and tools to help manage access and linkage of information, along with the workflow, policies and rules required to make information more relevant and meaningful. It has analytics capabilities that can help quickly assemble dashboards for analysis on the virtualized information. Being able to navigate across data was the top-ranked business capability in our business analytics benchmark research, but is not well-established in business systems today. Instead, organizations spend more than two-thirds of their time in analytic processes on data related activities and tasks which Cambridge Semantics helps address.
The Anzo Enterprise platform can be accessed through a Web-based interface that business and data analysts can use without being trained in either database administration or application development. The current version 2.2, released in 2011, will be superseded in the second quarter of 2012 with improvements to its processing of unstructured information. I expect that over time the software will gain improvements to navigation through use of advanced search and the use of voice and natural-language processing.
Anzo Express, a product that can operate stand-alone or as part of Anzo Enterprise, runs from within Microsoft Excel and provides the ability to access and link data in spreadsheets for a common view for analysis and discovery. By virtualizing access to data within spreadsheets, users have no need to copy and paste, instead linking the semantics of the spreadsheets for analysis. The spreadsheets can be housed and managed in a cloud-based environment and then used by others in the enterprise more simply than by emailing spreadsheets from person to person. Considering that spreadsheets are the top technology used for business analytics in 60 percent of organizations, this approach by Cambridge Semantics can help organizations gain more value from their existing spreadsheets; the result could be an advance from merely personal use of spreadsheets to an enterprise spreadsheet approach, which has long been a recommendation of our firm.
Whether you see Cambridge Semantics’ approach as similar to existing technology conversations in data virtualization, information discovery or both, the critical take-away is its ability to establish a faster and more cost-effective path to the navigation and use of data through the use of semantic information technology. Our benchmark research into information applications finds that this approach of assembly, publishing and use of information is lacking in most businesses today, as current approaches are most often too slow (57%) or not adaptable or flexible to change (55%).
This Cambridge Semantics approach can be applied to business processes that provide dynamic access to data as it is created and published, or it can help users assemble information from spreadsheets, enterprise service bus, reports and Web sources for analytics and decision support. Our information applications research shows that business needs to tap into information from a variety of sources, such as content management systems (important to 44%), unstructured data in documents (30%) and Web-based content from outside the enterprise (25%). A top reason for investment into information-centric applications is increasing operational efficiency (63%), as companies’ existing technology methods take too long and do not leverage existing investments.
Cambridge Semantics also announced an application for compliance management which provides information discovery and review of compliance policies. It can access information sources across the enterprise and analyze them through charts and dashboards. Cambridge Semantics also has been advancing the use of information in the life sciences and pharmaceutical industries by becoming part of the informatics that are required for R&D and trials; it can streamline virtualized access to existing and new information that is essential those business processes. For market and competitive intelligence, the software can link internal and external information sources by defining a semantic framework of data and sources that teams can then use. These are just a few of the examples of how you can use their products.
Cambridge Semantics’ challenge is to get potential customers to understand the power and usefulness of this approach. The company needs to offer more use case examples for business and IT and demonstrate why its approach is faster, better and more cost- and business-effective than others. Cambridge Semantics has developed some innovative educational materials to explain the company’s approach in what it calls Semantic University. This is not information about its products but about the value of semantic technology. Our benchmark research across business analytics and information applications have found a demand for establishing an approach like Cambridge Semantics. As the volumes of unstructured information continue to grow and be classified as big data and are largely be untapped for business, our latest research on the topic found that the methods to tap into unstructured information are increasing in priority in more than half (53%) of organizations’ efforts in the next year.
If you are looking for a way to provide virtualized access and navigation to data from a multitude of information sources across the enterprise and Internet, including spreadsheets, look at Cambridge Semantics. Instead of just moving information around and trying to find ways to change it to meet the constraints of existing technology, examine how you can establish a semantic approach that won’t disrupt your existing information systems and technology. The simplicity of navigating across the information formats already in use in what is a natural information discovery approach will help you uncover opportunities for improvement in using your information for your business processes and decision support needs.
Mark Smith – CEO & Chief Research Officer