The Semantic Web vision of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) is comprised of four primary components: (1) expressing meaning, (2) knowledge representation, (3) ontology, and (4) agents. Expression of meaning is fundamental to the construction of the new “intelligent” Web. The current Web lacks mechanisms for expressing meaning and is therefore static. Knowledge representation provides the mechanism that allows meaning to be expressed in structured format allowing inference mechanism to be applied to arrive at useful conclusions. To make knowledge representation both meaningful and practical, the “meaning” behind the “data” has to be “shared.” This can be accomplished using ontologies. Ontology refers to a shared vocabulary of some concept. The premise is that if the vocabulary is shared regarding a concept then the meaning behind the concept becomes apparent among those sharing the vocabulary. Once the ontology has been agreed upon by a community and if the ontology can then be captured in machine-readable form using resource description framework (RDF), RDF schema (RDFS), or Web ontology language (OWL) then software agents can be used to “reason” with the knowledge represented and captured using that ontology. There may be many such ontologies in use but by using a global standard such as OWL from the W3C, it is possible to create many ontologies which are interoperable—therefore amenable—to machine reasoning by software agents.
In this knowledge-based economy, businesses succeed or fail based on how well they are able to share knowledge and information to effectively respond to the changing demands in the marketplace. Semantic Web technology brings to the business world a set of tools that will help in the development of meaningful shared vocabulary or ontologies leading to standardization of terms and concepts related to the descriptions of products, processes, and coordination mechanisms both within and across enterprises. This will lead to the development of effective knowledge management systems that are tightly integrated to the business processes that they are designed to support. The primary purpose of this book is to highlight business, managerial, technological, and implementation issues surrounding the application of Semantic Web technologies to business process automation eventually leading to the new integrated knowledge-based virtual organizations.