Modeling Symbolic Representations

March 16, 2010

System modeling is all too often a flight for abstraction, when business analysts should instead look for the proper level of representation, ie the one with the best fit to business concerns.

Modeling is synchronic: contexts must be mapped to representations (Velazquez, “Las Meninas”).

Caminao’s blog (see Topics Guide) will try to set a path to Architecture Driven System Modelling. The guiding principle is to look at systems as sets of symbolic representations and identify the core archetypes defining how they must be coupled to their actual counterparts. That would provide for lean (need-to-know specs) and fit (architecture driven) models, architecture traceability, and built-in consistency checks.

This blog is meant to be a work in progress, with the basic concepts set open to suggestions or even refutation:

All examples are taken from ancient civilizations in order to put the focus on generic problems of symbolic architectures, disregarding technologies.

Symbolic representation: a primer

Original illustrations by Albert ( allow for concrete understanding of requirements, avoiding the biases associated with contrived textual descriptions.


A Brief Ontology Of Time

May 23, 2018


The melting of digital fences between enterprises and business environments is putting a new light on the way time has to be taken into account.


Time is what happens between events (Josef Koudelka)

The shift can be illustrated by the EU GDPR : by introducing legal constraints on the notifications of changes in personal data, regulators put systems’ internal events on the same standing as external ones and make all time-scales equal whatever their nature.

Ontological Limit of WC3 Time Recommendation

The W3C recommendation for OWL time description is built on the well accepted understanding of temporal entity, duration, and position:


While there isn’t much to argue with what is suggested, the puzzle comes from what is missing, namely the modalities of time: the recommendation makes use of calendars and time-stamps but ignores what is behind, i.e time ontological dimensions.

Out of the Box

As already expounded (Ontologies & Enterprise Architecture) ontologies are at their best when a distinction can be maintained between representation and semantics. That point can be illustrated here by adding an ontological dimension to the W3C description of time:

  1. Ontological modalities are introduced by identifying (#) temporal positions with regard to a time-frame.
  2. Time-frames are open-ended temporal entities identified (#) by events.

How to add ontological modalities to time

It must be noted that initial truth-preserving properties still apply across ontological modalities.

Conclusion: OWL Descriptions Should Not Be Confused With Ontologies

Languages are meant to combine two primary purposes: communication and symbolic representation, some (e.g natural, programming) being focused on the former, other (e.g formal, specific) on the latter.

The distinction is somewhat blurred with languages like OWL (Web Ontology Language) due to the versatility and plasticity of semantic networks.


Ontologies and profiles are meant to target domains, profiles and domains are modeled with languages, including OWL.

That apparent proficiency may induce some confusion between languages and ontologies, the former dealing with the encoding of time representations, the latter with time modalities.

Further Readings

External Links

GDPR Ontological Primer

May 10, 2018


European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), to come into effect  this month, is a seminal and momentous milestone for data privacy .

Nothing Personal (Arthur Szyk)

Yet, as reported by Reuters correspondents, European enterprises and regulators are not ready; more worryingly, few (except consultants) are confident about GDPR direction.

Misgivings and uncertainties should come as no surprise considering GDPR’s two innate challenges:

  • Regulating privacy rights represents a very ambitious leap into a digital space now at the core of corporate business strategies.
  • Compliance will not be put under a single authority but be overseen by an assortment of national and regional authorities across the European Union.

On that account, ontologies appear as the best (if not the only) conceptual approach able to bring contexts (EU nations), concerns (business vs privacy), and enterprises (organization and systems) into a shared framework.

A workbench built with the Caminao ontological kernel is meant to explore the scope and benefits of that approach, with a beta version (Protégé/OWL 2) available for comments on the Stanford/Protégé portal using the link: Caminao Ontological Kernel (CaKe_GDPR).

Enterprise Architectures & Regulations

Compared to domain specific regulations, GDPR  is a governance-oriented regulation set across business concerns and enterprise organization; but unlike similarly oriented ones like accounting, GDPR is aiming at the nexus of business competition, namely the processing of data into information and knowledge. With such a strategic stake, compliance is bound to become a game-changer cutting across business intelligence, production systems, and decision-making. Hence the need for an integrated, comprehensive, and consistent approach to the different dimensions involved:

  • Concepts upholding businesses, organizations, and regulations.
  • Documentation with regard to contexts and statutory basis.
  • Regulatory options and compliance assessments
  • Enterprise systems architecture and operations

Moreover, as for most projects affecting enterprise architectures, carrying through GDPR compliance is to involve continuous, deep, and wide ranging changes that will have to be brought off without affecting overall enterprise performances.

Ontologies arguably provide a conclusive solution to the problem, if only because there is no other way to bring code, models, documents, and concepts under a single roof. That could be achieved by using ontologies profiles to frame GDPR categories along enterprise architectures models and components.


Basic GDPR categories and concepts (black color) as framed by the Caminao Kernel

Compliance implementation could then be carried out iteratively across four perspectives:

  • Personal data and managed information
  • Lawfulness of activities
  • Time and Events
  • Actors and organization.

Data & Information

To begin with, GDPR defines ‘personal data’ as “any information relating to an identified or identifiable natural person (‘data subject’)”. Insofar as logic is concerned that definition implies an equivalence between ‘data’ and ‘information’, an assumption clearly challenged by the onslaught of big data: if proofs were needed, the Cambridge Analytica episode demonstrates how easy raw data can become a personal affair. Hence the need to keep an ontological level of indirection between regulatory intents and the actual semantics of data as managed by information systems.


Managing the ontological gap between regulatory understandings and compliance footprints

Once lexical ambiguities set apart, the question is not so much about the data bases of well identified records than about the flows of data continuously processed: if identities and ownership are usually set upfront by business processes, attributions may have to be credited to enterprises know-how if and when carried out through data analytics.

Given that the distinctions are neither uniform, exclusive or final, ontologies will be needed to keep tabs on moves and motives. OWL 2 constructs (cf annex) could also help, first to map GDPR categories to relevant information managed by systems, second to sort out natural data from nurtured knowledge.

Activities & Purposes

Given footprints of personal data, the objective is to ensure the transparency and traceability of the processing activities subject to compliance.

Setting apart (see below for events) specific add-ons for notification and personal accesses,  charting compliance footprints is to be a complex endeavor: as there is no reason to assume some innate alignment of intended (regulation) and actual (enterprise) definitions, deciding where and when compliance should apply potentially calls for a review of all processing activities.

After taking into account the nature of activities, their lawfulness is to be determined by contexts (‘purpose limitation’ and ‘data minimization’) and time-frames (‘accuracy’ and ‘storage limitation’). And since lawfulness is meant to be transitive, a comprehensive map of the GDPR footprint is to rely on the logical traceability and transparency of the whole information systems, independently of GDPR.

That is arguably a challenging long-term endeavor, all the more so given that some kind of Chinese Wall has to be maintained around enterprise strategies, know-how, and operations. It ensues that an ontological level of indirection is again necessary between regulatory intents and effective processing activities.

Along that reasoning compliance categories, defined on their own, are first mapped to categories of functionalities (e.g authorization) or models (e.g use cases).


Compliance categories are associated upfront to categories of functionalities (e.g authorization) or models (e.g use cases).

Then, actual activities (e.g “rateCustomerCredit”) can be progressively brought into the compliance fold, either with direct associations with regulations or indirectly through associated models (e.g “ucRateCustomerCredit” use case).


Compliance as carried out through Use Case

The compliance backbone can be fleshed out using OWL 2 mechanisms (see annex) in order to:

  • Clarify the logical or functional dependencies between processing activities subject to compliance.
  • Qualify their lawfulness.
  • Draw equivalence, logical, or functional links between compliance alternatives.

That is to deal with the functional compliance of processing activities; but the most far-reaching impact of the regulation may come from the way time and events are taken into account.

Time & Events

As noted above, time is what makes the difference between data and information, and setting rules for notification makes that difference lawful. Moreover, by adding time constraints to the notifications of changes in personal data, regulators put systems’ internal events on the same standing as external ones. That apparently incidental departure echoes the immersion of systems into digitized business environments, making all time-scales equal whatever their nature. Such flattening is to induce crucial consequences for enterprise architectures.

That shift together with the regulatory intent are best taken into account by modeling events as changes in expectations, physical objects, processes execution, and symbolic objects, with personal data change belonging to the latter.

Gdpr events

Mapping internal (symbolic) and external (actual) events is a critical element of GDPR compliance

Putting apart events specific to GDPR (e.g data breaches), compliance with regard to accuracy and storage limitation regulations will require that all events affecting personal data:

  • Are set in time-frames, possibly overlapping.
  • Have notification constraints properly documented.
  • Have likelihood and costs of potential risks assessed.

As with data and activities, OWL 2 constructs are to be used to qualify compliance requirements.

Actors & Organization

GDPR introduces two specific categories of actors (aka roles): one (data subject) for natural persons, and one for actors set by organizations, either specifically for GDPR assignment, or by delegation to already defined actors.

Gdpr actors

GDPR roles can be set specifically or delegated

OWL 2 can then be used to detail how regulatory roles can be delegated to existing ones, enabling a smooth transition and a dynamic adjustment of enterprise organization with regulatory compliance.

It must be stressed that the semantic distinction between identified agents (e.g natural persons) and the roles (aka UML actors) they play in processes is of particular importance for GDPR compliance because who (or even what) is behind an actor interacting with a system is to remain unknown to the system until the actor can be authentically identified. If that ontological lapse is overlooked there is no way to define and deal with security, confidentiality or privacy regulations.


The use of ontologies brings clear benefits for regulators, enterprise governance, and systems architects.

Without shared conceptual guidelines chances are for the European regulatory orchestra to get lost in squabbles about minutiae before sliding into cacophony.

With regard to governance, bringing systems and regulations into a common conceptual framework is to enable clear and consistent compliance strategies and policies, as well as smooth learning curves.

With regard to architects, ontology-based compliance is to bring cross benefits and externalities, e.g from improved traceability and transparency of systems and applications.

Annex A: Mapping Regulations to Models (sample)

To begin with, OWL 2 can be used to map GDPR categories to relevant resources as managed by information systems:

  • Equivalence: GDPR and enterprise definitions coincide.
  • Logical intersection, union, complement: GDPR categories defined by, respectively, a cross, merge, or difference of enterprise definitions.
  • Qualified association between GDPR and enterprise categories.

Assuming the categories properly identified, the language can then be employed to define the sets of regulated instances:

  • Logical property restrictions, using existential and universal quantification.
  • Functional property restrictions, using joints on attributes values.

Other constructs, e.g cardinality or enumerations, could also be used for specific regulatory constraints.

Finally, some OWL 2 built-in mechanisms can significantly improve the assessment of alternative compliance policies by expounding regulations with regard to:

  • Equivalence, overlap, or complementarity.
  • Symmetry or asymmetry.
  • Transitivity
  • etc.

Annex B: Mapping Regulations to Capabilities

GDPR can be mapped to systems capabilities using well established Zachman’s taxonomy set by crossing architectures functionalities (Who,What,How, Where, When) and layers (business and organization), systems (logical structures and functionalities), and platforms (technologies).


Regulatory Compliance vs Architectures Capabilities

These layers can be extended as to apply uniformly across external ontologies, from well-defined (e.g regulations) to fuzzy (e.g business prospects or new technologies) ones, e.g:

Ontologies, capabilities (Who,What,How, Where, When), and architectures (enterprise, systems, platforms).

Such mapping is to significantly enhance the transparency of regulatory policies.

Further Reading

External Links

Focus: Individuals in Models

May 2, 2018


Models are meant to characterize categories of given (descriptive models), designed (prescriptive models), or hypothetical (predictive models) individuals.

Xian-Lintong-terracotta-soldiers f6.jpg

Identity Matter (Terracotta Soldiers of Emperor Qin Shi Huang) 

Insofar as purposes can be kept apart, the discrepancies in targeted individuals can be ironed out, notably by using power-types. Otherwise, e.g if modeling concerns mix business analysis with software engineering, meta-models are introduced as jack-of-all-trades to deal with mixed semantics.

But meta-models generate exponential complexity when used across domains, not to mention the open and fuzzy ones of business intelligence. What is at stake can be better understood through the way individuals are identified and represented.

Partitions & Abstraction

Since models are meant to classify instances with regard to concerns, mixing concerns is to entail mixed classifications, horizontally across domains (e.g business and accounting), or vertically along engineering cycles (e.g business and engineering).

That can be achieved with power-types, meta-classes, or ontologies.

Delegation & Power-types

Given that categories (or classes or types) represent set of instances (given, designed, or simulated), they may by themselves be regarded as symbolic instances used to manage features commonly valued by their own members.


Power-types are simultaneously categories and instances.

This approach is consistent as well as effective providing the semantics and identities of instances are shared by all agents concerned, e.g business and technical aspects of car rentals. Yet it falls short on both accounts when abstractions levels a set across  domains, inducing connectors with different semantics and increased complexity.

Abstraction & Sub-classes

Sub-classes often appear as a way to overcome the difficulty, as illustrated by the Hepp Research’s Vehicle Sales Ontology: despite being set at different abstraction levels, instances for cars and models are defined and identified uniformly.


If, in that case, the model fulfills the substitution principle for external consistency, sub-types will fall short if engineering concerns were to be taken into account because the set of individual car models could then differ depending on perspective.

Meta-classes & Stereotypes

The overuse of meta-classes and stereotypes epitomizes the escapism school of modeling. That may be understandable, if not helpful, for the former which is by nature a free pass to abstraction; less so for the latter which is supposed to go the other way toward the specialization of meta-classes according to specific profiles. It ensues that stereotypes should never be used on their own or be extended by another stereotype.

As it happens, such consistency concerns appear to be easily diluted when stereotypes are jumbled with meta constructs; e.g:

  • Abstract stereotype (a).
  • Strong (aka class) inheritance of abstract stereotype from concrete meta-class (b).
  • Weak inheritance (aka aspect) between stereotypes (c, f).
  • Meta-constraint used to map Vehicle to methodology stereotype (d).
  • Domain specific connector to stereotype (e).


Without comprehensive and consistent semantics for instances and abstractions, individuals cannot be solidly mapped to models:

  • Individual concepts (car, horse, boat, …) have no clear mooring.
  • Actual vehicles cannot be tied to the meta-class or the abstract stereotype.
  • There is no strong inheritance tying individuals models and rental cars to an identification mechanism.

Assuming that detachment is not an option, the basis of models must be reset.

Ontological Stereotypes

Put in simple words, ontologies are meant to examine the nature and categories of existence, in general (metaphysics) or in specific contexts. As for the latter, they can be applied to individuals according to the nature of their existence (aka epistemic identity): concepts, documents, categories and aspects.


As it happens, sorting things out makes the whole paraphernalia of meta-classes and stereotypes no longer needed because the semantics of inheritance and associations is set by the nature of individuals.

With individuals solidly rooted in targeted domains, models can then fully serve their purposes.

What’s the Point

It’s worth to remind that models have to be built on purpose, which cannot be achieved without a clear understanding of context and targets. Here are some examples:

Quality arguably come first:

  • External consistency: to be checked by mapping individuals in analysis categories to big data.
  • Internal consistency: to be checked by mapping individuals in design classes to observed or simulated run-time components.
  • Acceptance: automated tests generation.

Then, individuals could be used to map models to past and future, the former for refactoring, the latter for business intelligence.

Refactoring looks to the past but is frustrated by undocumented legacy code. Combined with machine learning, individuals could help to bridge the gap between code and models.

Business Intelligence looks the other way as it is meant to map hypothetical business objects and behaviors to the structures and semantics already managed by information systems. As in reversal of legacy benefits, individuals could provide cues to new business meanings.

Finally, maturity assessment and optimization of enterprise processes fully depend on the reliability of their basis.

Further Reading

Collaborative Systems Engineering: From Models to Ontologies

April 9, 2018

Given the digitization of enterprises environments, engineering processes have to be entwined with business ones while kept in sync with enterprise architectures. That calls for new threads of collaboration taking into account the integration of business and engineering processes as well as the extension to business environments.


Collaboration can be personal and direct, or collective and mediated (Wang Qingsong)

Whereas models are meant to support communication, traditional approaches are already straining when used beyond software generation, that is collaboration between humans and CASE tools. Ontologies, which can be seen as a higher form of models, could enable a qualitative leap for systems collaborative engineering at enterprise level.

Systems Engineering: Contexts & Concerns

To begin with contents, collaborations should be defined along three axes:

  1. Requirements: business objectives, enterprise organization, and processes, with regard to systems functionalities.
  2. Feasibility: business requirements with regard to architectures capabilities.
  3. Architectures: supporting functionalities with regard to architecture capabilities.

Engineering Collaborations at Enterprise Level

Since these axes are usually governed by different organizational structures and set along different time-frames, collaborations must be supported by documentation, especially models.

Shared Models

In order to support collaborations across organizational units and time-frames, models have to bring together perspectives which are by nature orthogonal:

  • Contexts, concerns, and languages: business vs engineering.
  • Time-frames and life-cycle: business opportunities vs architecture stability.

Harnessing MBSE to EA

That could be achieved if engineering models could be harnessed to enterprise ones for contexts and concerns. That is to be achieved through the integration of processes.

 Processes Integration

As already noted, the integration of business and engineering processes is becoming a key success factor.

For that purpose collaborations would have to take into account the different time-frames governing changes in business processes (driven by business value) and engineering ones (governed by assets life-cycles):

  • Business requirements engineering is synchronic: changes must be kept in line with architectures capabilities (full line).
  • Software engineering is diachronic: developments can be carried out along their own time-frame (dashed line).

Synchronic (full) vs diachronic (dashed) processes.

Application-driven projects usually focus on users’ value and just-in-time delivery; that can be best achieved with personal collaboration within teams. Architecture-driven projects usually affect assets and non-functional features and therefore collaboration between organizational units.

Collaboration: Direct or Mediated

Collaboration can be achieved directly or through some mediation, the former being a default option for applications, the latter a necessary one for architectures.


Both can be defined according to basic cognitive and organizational mechanisms and supported by a mix of physical and virtual spaces to be dynamically redefined depending on activities, projects, locations, and organisation.

Direct collaborations are carried out between individuals with or without documentation:

  • Immediate and personal: direct collaboration between 5 to 15 participants with shared objectives and responsibilities. That would correspond to agile project teams (a).
  • Delayed and personal: direct collaboration across teams with shared knowledge but with different objectives and responsibilities. That would tally with social networks circles (c).


Mediated collaborations are carried out between organizational units through unspecified individual members, hence the need of documentation, models or otherwise:

  • Direct and Code generation from platform or domain specific models (b).
  • Model transformation across architecture layers and business domains (d)

Depending on scope and mediation, three basic types of collaboration can be defined for applications, architecture, and business intelligence projects.


Projects & Collaborations

As it happens, collaboration archetypes can be associated with these profiles.

Collaboration Mechanisms

Agile development model (under various guises) is the option of choice whenever shared ownership and continuous delivery are possible. Application projects can so be carried out autonomously, with collaborations circumscribed to team members and relying on the backlog mechanism.

The OODA (Observation, Orientation, Decision, Action) loop (and avatars) can epitomize projects combining operations, data analytics, and decision-making.


Collaboration archetypes

Projects set across enterprise architectures cannot be carried out without taking into account phasing constraints. While ill-fated Waterfall methods have demonstrated the pitfalls of procedural solutions, phasing constraints can be dealt with a roundabout mechanism combining iterative and declarative schemes.

Engineering vs Business Driven Collaborations

With collaborative engineering upgraded at enterprise level, the main challenge is to iron out frictions between application and architecture projects and ensure the continuity, consistency and effectiveness of enterprise activities. That can be achieved with roundabouts used as a collaboration mechanism between projects, whatever their nature:

  • Shared models are managed at roundabout level.
  • Phasing dependencies are set in terms of assertions on shared models.
  • Depending on constraints projects are carried out directly (1,3) or enter roundabouts (2), with exits conditioned by the availability of models.

Engineering driven collaboration: roundabout and backlogs

Moreover, with engineering embedded in business processes, collaborations must also bring together operational analytics, decision-making, and business intelligence. Here again, shared models are to play a critical role:

  • Enterprise descriptive and prescriptive models for information maps and objectives
  • Environment predictive models for data and business understanding.

Business driven collaboration: operations and business intelligence

Whereas both engineering and business driven collaborations depend on sharing information  and knowledge, the latter have to deal with open and heterogeneous semantics. As a consequence, collaborations must be supported by shared representations and proficient communication languages.

Ontologies & Representations

Ontologies are best understood as models’ backbones, to be fleshed out or detailed according to context and objectives, e.g:

  • Thesaurus, with a focus on terms and documents.
  • Systems modeling,  with a focus on integration, e.g Zachman Framework.
  • Classifications, with a focus on range, e.g Dewey Decimal System.
  • Meta-models, with a focus on model based engineering, e.g models transformation.
  • Conceptual models, with a focus on understanding, e.g legislation.
  • Knowledge management, with a focus on reasoning, e.g semantic web.

As such they can provide the pillars supporting the representation of the whole range of enterprise concerns:


Taking a leaf from Zachman’s matrix, ontologies can also be used to differentiate concerns with regard to architecture layers: enterprise, systems, platforms.

Last but not least, ontologies can be profiled with regard to the nature of external contexts, e.g:

  • Institutional: Regulatory authority, steady, changes subject to established procedures.
  • Professional: Agreed upon between parties, steady, changes subject to established procedures.
  • Corporate: Defined by enterprises, changes subject to internal decision-making.
  • Social: Defined by usage, volatile, continuous and informal changes.
  • Personal: Customary, defined by named individuals (e.g research paper).

Cross profiles: capabilities, enterprise architectures, and contexts.

Ontologies & Communication

If collaborations have to cover engineering as well as business descriptions, communication channels and interfaces will have to combine the homogeneous and well-defined syntax and semantics of the former with the heterogeneous and ambiguous ones of the latter.

With ontologies represented as RDF (Resource Description Framework) graphs, the first step would be to sort out truth-preserving syntax (applied independently of domains) from domain specific semantics.


RDF graphs (top) support formal (bottom left) and domain specific (bottom right) semantics.

On that basis it would be possible to separate representation syntax from contents semantics, and to design communication channels and interfaces accordingly.

That would greatly facilitate collaborations across externally defined ontologies as well as their mapping to enterprise architecture models.


To summarize, the benefits of ontological frames for collaborative engineering can be articulated around four points:

  1. A clear-cut distinction between representation semantics and truth-preserving syntax.
  2. A common functional architecture for all users interfaces, humans or otherwise.
  3. Modular functionalities for specific semantics on one hand, generic truth-preserving and cognitive operations on the other hand.
  4. Profiled ontologies according to concerns and contexts.

Clear-cut distinction (1), unified interfaces architecture (2), functional alignment (3), crossed profiles (4).

A critical fifth benefit could be added with regard to business intelligence: combined with deep learning capabilities, ontologies would extend the scope of collaboration to explicit as well as implicit knowledge, the former already framed by languages, the latter still open to interpretation and discovery.

Further Reading


Business Intelligence & Semantic Galaxies

March 26, 2018

Given the number and verbosity of alternative definitions pertaining to enterprise and systems architectures, common sense would suggest circumspection if not agnosticism. Instead, fierce wars are endlessly waged for semantic positions built on sand hills bound to crumble under whoever tries to stand defending them.

Nature & Nurture (Wang Xingwei)

Such doomed attempts appear to be driven by a delusion seeing concepts as frozen celestial bodies; fortunately, simple-minded catalogs of unyielding definitions are progressively pushed aside by the need to understand (and milk) the new complexity of business environments.

Business Intelligence: Mapping Semantics to Circumstances

As long as information systems could be kept behind Chinese walls semantic autarky was of limited consequences. But with enterprises’ gates crumbling under digital flows, competitive edges increasingly depend on open and creative business intelligence (BI), in particular:

  • Data understanding: giving form and semantics to massive and continuous inflows of raw observations.
  • Business understanding: aligning data understanding with business objectives and processes.
  • Modeling: consolidating data and business understandings into descriptive, predictive, or operational models.
  • Evaluation: assessing and improving accuracy and effectiveness of understandings with regard to business and decision-making processes.

BI: Mapping Semantics to Circumstances

Since BI has to take into account the continuity of enterprise’s objectives and assets, the challenge is to dynamically adjust the semantics of external (business environments) and internal (objects and processes) descriptions. That could be explained in terms of gravitational semantics.

Semantic Galaxies

Assuming concepts are understood as stars wheeling across unbounded and expanding galaxies, semantics could be defined by gravitational forces and proximity between:

  • Intensional concepts (stars) bearing necessary meaning set independently of context or purpose.
  • Extensional concepts (planets) orbiting intensional ones. While their semantics is aligned with a single intensional concept, they bear enough of their gravity to create a semantic environment.

On that account semantic domains would be associated to stars and their planets, with galaxies regrouping stars (concepts) and systems (domains) bound by gravitational forces (semantics).


Conceptual Stars & Planets


Semantic Dimensions & Concepts Metamorphosis

While systems don’t leave much, if any, room for semantic wanderings, human languages are as good as they can be pliant, plastic, and versatile. Hence the need for business intelligence to span the stretch between open and fuzzy human semantics and systems straight-jacketed modeling languages.

That can be done by framing concepts metamorphosis along Zachman’s architecture description: intensional concepts being detached of specific contexts and concerns are best understood as semantic roots able to breed multi-faceted extensions, to be eventually coerced into system specifications.


Framing concepts metamorphosis along Zachman’s architecture dimensions

The Alignment of Planets

As stars, concepts can be apprehended through a mix of reason and perception:

  • Figured out from a conceptual void waiting to be filled.
  • Fortuitously discovered in the course of an argument.

The benefit in both cases would be to delay verbal definitions and so to avoid preempted or biased understandings: as for the Schrödinger’s cat, trying to lock up meanings with bare words often breaks their semantic integrity, shattering scraps in every direction.

In contrast, making room for semantic alignments would help to consolidate overlapping definitions within conceptual galaxies, as illustrated by the examples below.

Example: Data

Wikipedia: Any sequence of one or more symbols given meaning by specific act(s) of interpretation; requires interpretation to become information.

Merriam-Webster: Factual information such as measurements or statistics; information in digital form that can be transmitted or processed; information and noise from a sensing device or organ that must be processed to be meaningful.

Cambridge Dictionary: Information, especially facts or numbers; information in an electronic form that can be stored and used by a computer.

Collins: Information that can be stored and used by a computer program.

TOGAF: Basic unit of information having a meaning and that may have subcategories (data items) of distinct units and values.


Example: System

Wikipedia: A regularly interacting or interdependent group of items forming a unified whole; Every system is delineated by its spatial and temporal boundaries, surrounded and influenced by its environment, described by its structure and purpose and expressed in its functioning.

Merriam-Webster: A regularly interacting or interdependent group of items forming a unified whole

Business Dictionary: A set of detailed methods, procedures and routines created to carry out a specific activity, perform a duty, or solve a problem; organized, purposeful structure that consists of interrelated and interdependent elements.

Cambridge Dictionary: A set of connected things or devices that operate together

Collins Dictionary: A way of working, organizing, or doing something which follows a fixed plan or set of rules; a set of things / rules.

TOGAF: A collection of components organized to accomplish a specific function or set of functions (from ISO/IEC 42010:2007).

Further Reading

EA: The Matter of Layers

March 7, 2018

As the world turns digital,traditional fences between social, businesses, and systems realms are progressively crumbling. That brings new challenges for enterprises governance, in particular when manifold business stakes and IT systems are concerned.

Layers & labels (T. Cragg)

Supposedly, enterprise architecture would deal with the framing of enterprises and systems concerns into a single paradigm. Yet spirited controversies persist between bottom up and top down approaches, the former trying to upgrade the footprint of IT systems to enterprise level, the latter ready to downgrade these systems to equipment level. But dissent in that case means unfinished business: like diggers tunneling from opposite directions, both groups are to succeed together or fail together. For that to be achieved common sense dictates that both teams agree on target, with each one getting its specific orientation right.

What to look for

Issue (information systems) and circumstances (digitization of business environment) put the focus on the relationship between business processes and enterprises organization and how to capture, manage, and use information.

On that account, and not surprisingly, understandings differ between EA proponents:

  • Bottom-up approaches are focused on the distinction between processes, applications, and data, overlooking key enterprise architecture concerns (a).
  • Top-down approaches come with a better understanding of EA stakes but fall short of the conceptual bridge between organization and business environments (b) .

Bottom-up (a) and top-down (b) approaches to EA

These shortcomings can be mended and approaches made to converge.

How to get there

As already noted, EA can only succeed as a discipline if systems and enterprise perspectives can be crossed, i.e if bottom-up and top-down approaches can be joined. That cannot be achieved along the outdated Process/Application/Data layers:

To begin with, the distinction between application and data, inherited from traditional programming, goes against both object-oriented design and service oriented architectures; then, processes don’t describe architectures but the way they are used.

On a broader perspective, if the impact of digitized business environments on EA is to be taken into account, data and information are to be redefined in a new paradigm, the former associated with a raw input, to be mined from the business environment and processed into the latter. It ensues that (1) data becomes irrelevant for architecture concerns and, (2) information becomes a key asset for enterprise architecture.

Merging applications and data into a logical/functional layer between business and engineering processes also critically redefines the perspective: instead of a being a collection of applications, business processes become the nexus of the architecture.


Introducing a functional layer between business and engineering processes

With a bottom-up EA perspective focused on business and engineering processes, a top-down counterpart has to be set from enterprise perspective that would ensure a meeting of minds around business processes.

That can be readily achieved by keeping processes as pivot between business environments and objectives on one side, enterprise organization on the other side:


Processes are the nexus of enterprise and engineering concerns.

Enterprise architects could then focus on the mapping of business functions to services, the alignment of quality of services with architecture capabilities, and the flows of information across the organization.

Why It Matters

A proper understanding of architecture layers is not an academic concern to be overlooked. As a matter of fact, what is at stake is the very practical purpose of EA: display of boxes and arrows or effective handling of the spindle between business processes and architectural assets. Whereas anything will do for the former, the latter cannot be achieved without a principled and effective coupling between enterprise models and systems engineering.

Further Reading

External Links

Focus: Requirements Reuse

February 22, 2018


Requirements is what to feed engineering processes. As such they are to be presented under a wide range of forms, and nothing should be assumed upfront about forms or semantics.

What is to be reused: Sketches or Models  ? (John Devlin)

Answering the question of reuse therefore depends on what is to be reused, and for what purpose.

Documentation vs Reuse

Until some analysis can be carried out, requirements are best seen as documents;  whether such documents are to be ephemeral or managed would be decided depending on method (agile or phased), contents (business, supporting systems, implementation, or quality of services), or purpose (e.g governance, regulations, etc).

What is to be reused.

Setting apart external conditions, requirements documentation could be justified by:

  • Traceability of decision-making linking initial requests with actual implementation.
  • Acceptance.
  • Maintenance of deliverables during their life-cycle.

Depending on development approaches, documentation could limited to archives (agile development models) or managed as intermediate products (phased development models). In the latter case reuse would entail some formatting of requirements.

The Cases for Requirements Reuse

Assuming that requirements have been properly formatted, e.g as analysis models (with technical ones managed internally at system level), reuse could be justified by changes in business, functional, or quality of services requirements:

  • Business processes are meant to change with opportunities. With requirements available as analysis models, changes would be more easily managed (a) if they could be fine-grained. Business rules are a clear example, but that could also be the case for new features added to business objects.
  • Functional requirements may change even without change of business ones, e.g if new channels and users are introduced addressing existing business functions. In that case reusable business requirements (b) would dispense with a repeat of business analysis.
  • Finally, quality of service could be affected by operational changes like localization, number of users, volumes, or frequency. Adjusting architecture capabilities would be much easier with functional (c) and business (d) requirements properly documented as analysis models.

Cases for Reuse

Along that perspective, requirements reuse appears to revolve around two pivots, documents and analysis models. Ontologies could be used to bind them.

Requirements & Ontologies

Reusing artifacts means using them in contexts or for purposes different of native ones. That may come by design, when specifications can anticipate on shared concerns, or as an afterthought, when initially unexpected similarities are identified later on. In any case, reuse policies have to overcome a twofold difficulty:

  • Visibility: business and functional analysts must be made aware of potential reuse without having to spend too much time on research.
  • Overheads: ensuring transparency, traceability, and consistency checks on requirements (documents or analysis models) cannot be achieved without costs.

Ontologies could help to achieve greater visibility with acceptable overheads by framing requirements with regard to nature (documents or models) and context:

With regard to nature, the critical distinction is between document management and model based engineering systems. When framed as ontologies, the former is to be implemented as thesaurus targeting terms and documents, the latter as ontologies targeting categories specific to organizations and business domains.

Documents, models, and capabilities should be managed separately

With regard to context the objective should be to manage reusable requirements depending on the kind of jurisdiction and stability of categories, e.g:

  • Institutional: Regulatory authority, steady, changes subject to established procedures.
  • Professional: Agreed upon between parties, steady, changes subject to accord.
  • Corporate: Defined by enterprises, changes subject to internal decision-making.
  • Social: Defined by usage, volatile, continuous and informal changes.
  • Personal: Customary, defined by named individuals (e.g research paper).

Combining contexts of reuse with architectures layers (enterprise, systems, platforms) and capabilities (Who,What,How, Where, When).

Combined with artificial intelligence, ontology archetypes could crucially extend the benefits of requirements reuse, notably through the impact of deep learning for visibility.

On a broader perspective requirements should be seen as a source of knowledge, and their reuse managed accordingly.

Further Reading

Healthcare: Tracks & Stakes

February 8, 2018


Healthcare represents at least a tenth of developed country’s GDP, with demography pushing to higher levels year after year. In principle technology could drive costs in both directions; in practice it has worked like a ratchet: upside, innovations are extending the scope of expensive treatments, downside, institutional and regulatory constraints have hamstrung the necessary mutations of organizations and processes.

Health Care Personal Assistant (Kerry James Marshall)

As a result, attempts to spread technology benefits across healthcare activities have dwindle or melt away, even when buttressed by major players like Google or Microsoft.

But built up pressures on budgets combined with social transformations have undermined bureaucratic barriers and incumbents’ estates, springing up initiatives from all corners: pharmaceutical giants, technology startups, healthcare providers, insurers, and of course major IT companies.

Yet the wide range of players’ fields and starting lines may be misleading, incumbents or newcomers are well aware of what the race is about: whatever the number of initial track lanes, they are to fade away after a few laps, spurring the front-runners to cover the whole track, alone or through partnerships. As a consequence, winning strategies would have to be supported by a comprehensive and coherent understanding of all healthcare aspects and issues, which can be best achieved with ontologies.

Ontologies vs Models

Ontologies are symbolic constructs (epitomized by conceptual graphs made of nodes and connectors) whose purpose is to make sense of a domain of discourse:

  1. Ontologies are made of categories of things, beings, or phenomena; as such they may range from simple catalogs to philosophical doctrines.
  2. Ontologies are driven by cognitive (i.e non empirical) purposes, namely the validity and consistency of symbolic representations.
  3. Ontologies are meant to be directed at specific domains of concerns, whatever they can be: politics, religion, business, astrology, etc.

That makes ontologies a special case of uncommitted models: like models they are set on contexts and concerns; but contrary to models ontologies’ concerns are detached from actual purposes. That is precisely what is expected from a healthcare conceptual framework.

Contexts & Business Domains

Healthcare issues are set across too many domains to be effectively fathomed, not to mention followed as they change. Notwithstanding, global players must anchor their strategies to different institutional contexts, and frame their policies as to make them transparent and attractive to others players. Such all-inclusive frameworks could be built from ontologies profiled with regard to the governance and stability of contexts:

  • Institutional: Regulatory authority, steady, changes subject to established procedures.
  • Professional: Agreed upon between parties, steady, changes subject to accord.
  • Corporate: Defined by enterprises, changes subject to internal decision-making.
  • Social: Defined by usage, volatile, continuous and informal changes.
  • Personal: Customary, defined by named individuals (e.g research paper).

Ontologies set along that taxonomy of contexts could then be refined as to target enterprise architecture layers: enterprise, systems, platforms, e.g:

A sample of Healthcare profiled ontologies

Depending on the scope and nature of partnerships, ontologies could be further detailed as to encompass architectures capabilities: Who, What, How, Where, When. 

Concerns & Architectures Capabilities

As pointed above, a key success factor for major players would be their ability to federate initiatives and undertakings of both incumbents and newcomers, within or without partnerships. That can be best achieved with enterprise architectures aligned with an all-inclusive yet open framework, and for that purpose the Zachman taxonomy would be the option of choice. The corresponding enterprise architecture capabilities (Who,What, How, Where, When) could then be uniformly applied to contexts and concerns:

  • Internally across architecture layers for enterprise (business and organization), systems (logical structures and functionalities), and platforms (technologies).
  • Externally across context-based ontologies as proposed above.

The nexus between environments (contexts) and enterprises (concerns) ontologies could then be organised according to the epistemic nature of items: terms, documents, symbolic representations (aka surrogates), or business objects and phenomena.

Mapping knowledge to architectures capabilities

That would outline four basic ontological archetypes that may or may not be combined:

  • Thesaurus: ontologies covering terms, concepts.
  • Document Management: thesaurus and documents.
  • Organization and Business: ontologies pertaining to enterprise organization and business processes.
  • Engineering: ontologies pertaining to the symbolic representation (aka surrogates) of organizations, businesses, and systems.

Global healthcare players could then build federating frameworks by combining domain and architecture driven ontologies, e.g:

Building federating frameworks with modular ontologies designed on purpose.

As a concluding remark, it must be reminded that the objective is to federate the activities and systems of healthcare players without interfering with the design of their business processes or supporting systems. Hence the importance of the distinction between ontologies and models introduced above which would act as a guaranty that concerns are not mixed up insofar as ontologies remain uncommitted models.

Further Reading

External Links

Ontologies as Productive Assets

January 22, 2018


An often overlooked benefit of artificial intelligence has been a renewed interest in seminal philosophical and cognitive topics; ontologies coming top of the list.

Ontological Questioning (The Thinker Monkey, Breviary of Mary of Savoy)

Yet that interest has often been led astray by misguided perspectives, in particular:

  • Universality: one-fits-all approaches are pointless if not self-defeating considering that ontologies are meant to target specific domains of concerns.
  • Implementation: the focus is usually put on representation schemes (commonly known as Resource Description Frameworks, or RDFs), instead of the nature of targeted knowledge and the associated cognitive capabilities.

Those misconceptions, often combined, may explain the limited practical inroads of ontologies. Conversely, they also point to ontologies’ wherewithal for enterprises immersed into boundless and fluctuating knowledge-driven business environments.

Ontologies as Assets

Whatever the name of the matter (data, information or knowledge), there isn’t much argument about its primacy for business competitiveness; insofar as enterprises are concerned knowledge is recognized as a key asset, as valuable if not more than financial ones, and should be managed accordingly. Pushing the comparison still further, data would be likened to liquidity, information to fixed income investment, and knowledge to capital ventures. To summarize, assets whatever their nature lose value when left asleep and bear fruits when kept awake; that’s doubly the case for data and information:

  • Digitized business flows accelerates data obsolescence and makes it continuous.
  • Shifting and porous enterprises boundaries and markets segments call for constant updates and adjustments of enterprise information models.

But assessing the business value of knowledge has always been a matter of intuition rather than accounting, even when it can be patented; and most of knowledge shapes up well beyond regulatory reach. Nonetheless, knowledge is not manna from heaven but the outcome of information processing, so assessing the capabilities of such processes could help.

Admittedly, traditional modeling methods are too stringent for that purpose, and looser schemes are needed to accommodate the open range of business contexts and concerns; as already expounded, that’s precisely what ontologies are meant to do, e.g:

  • Systems modeling,  with a focus on integration, e.g Zachman Framework.
  • Classifications, with a focus on range, e.g Dewey Decimal System.
  • Conceptual models, with a focus on understanding, e.g legislation.
  • Knowledge management, with a focus on reasoning, e.g semantic web.

And ontologies can do more than bringing under a single roof the whole of enterprise knowledge representations: they can also be used to nurture and crossbreed symbolic assets and develop innovative ones.

Ontologies Benefits

Knowledge is best understood as information put to use; accounting rules may be disputed but there is no argument about the benefits of a canny combination of information, circumstances, and purpose. Nonetheless, assessing knowledge returns is hampered by the lack of traceability: if a part of knowledge is explicit and subject to symbolic representation, another is implicit and manifests itself only through actual behaviors. At philosophical level it’s the line drawn by Wittgenstein: “The limits of my language mean the limits of my world”;  at technical level it’s AI’s two-lanes approach: symbolic rule-based engines vs non symbolic neural networks; at corporate level implicit knowledge is seen as some unaccounted for aspect of intangible assets when not simply blended into corporate culture. With knowledge becoming a primary success factor, a more reasoned approach of its processing is clearly needed.

To begin with, symbolic knowledge can be plied by logic, which, quoting Wittgenstein again, “takes care of itself; all we have to do is to look and see how it does it.” That would be true on two conditions:

  • Domains are to be well circumscribed. 
  • A water-tight partition must be secured between the logic of representations and the semantics of domains.

That could be achieved with modular and specific ontologies built on a clear distinction between common representation syntax and specific domains semantics.

As for non-symbolic knowledge, its processing has for long been overshadowed by the preeminence of symbolic rule-based schemes, that is until neural networks got the edge and deep learning overturned the playground. In a few years’ time practically unlimited access to raw data and the exponential growth in computing power have opened the door to massive sources of unexplored knowledge which is paradoxically both directly relevant yet devoid of immediate meaning:

  • Relevance: mined raw data is supposed to reflect the geology and dynamics of targeted markets.
  • Meaning: the main value of that knowledge rests on its implicit nature; applying existing semantics would add little to existing knowledge.

Assuming that deep learning can transmute raw base metals into knowledge gold, enterprises would need to understand, assess, and improve the refining machinery. That could be done with ontological frames.

A Proof of Concept

Compared to tangible assets knowledge may appear as very elusive, yet, and contrary to intangible ones, knowledge is best understood as the outcome of processes that can be properly designed, assessed, and improved. And that can be achieved with profiled ontologies.

As a Proof of Concept, an ontological kernel has been developed along two principles:

  • A clear-cut distinction between truth-preserving representation and domain specific semantics.
  • Profiled ontologies designed according to the nature of contents (concepts, documents, or artifacts), layers (environment, enterprise, systems, platforms), and contexts (institutional, professional, corporate, social.

That provides for a seamless integration of information processing, from data mining to knowledge management and decision making:

  • Data is first captured through aspects.
  • Categories are used to process data into information on one hand, design production systems on the other hand.
  • Concepts serve as bridges to knowledgeable information.


A beta version is available for comments on the Stanford/Protégé portal with the link: Caminao Ontological Kernel (CaKe).

Further Reading

External Links

Open Ontologies: From Silos to Architectures

January 1, 2018

To be of any use for enterprises, ontologies have to embrace a wide range of contexts and concerns, often ill-defined for environments, rather well expounded for systems.

Circumscribed Contexts & Crossed Concerns (Robert Goben)

And now that enterprises have to compete in open, digitized, and networked environments, business and systems ontologies have to be combined into modular knowledge architectures.

Ontologies & Contexts

If open-ended business contexts and concerns are to be taken into account, the first step should be to characterize ontologies with regard to their source, justification, and the stability of their categories, e.g:

  • Institutional: Regulatory authority, steady, changes subject to established procedures.
  • Professional: Agreed upon between parties, steady, changes subject to accords.
  • Corporate: Defined by enterprises, changes subject to internal decision-making.
  • Social: Defined by usage, volatile, continuous and informal changes.
  • Personal: Customary, defined by named individuals (e.g research paper).

Assuming such an external taxonomy, the next step would be to see what kind of internal (i.e enterprise architecture) ontologies can be fitted into, as it’s the case for the Zachman framework.

The Zachman’s taxonomy is built on well established concepts (Who,What,How, Where, When) applied across architecture layers for enterprise (business and organization), systems (logical structures and functionalities), and platforms (technologies). These layers can be generalized and applied uniformly across external contexts, from well-defined (e.g regulations) to fuzzy (e.g business prospects or new technologies) ones, e.g:

Ontologies, capabilities (Who,What,How, Where, When), and architectures (enterprise, systems, platforms).

That “divide to conquer” strategy is to serve two purposes:

  • By bridging the gap between internal and external taxonomies it significantly enhances the transparency of governance and decision-making.
  • By applying the same motif (Who,What, How, Where, When) across the semantics of contexts, it opens the door to a seamless integration of all kinds of knowledge: enterprise, professional, institutional, scientific, etc.

As can be illustrated using Zachman concepts, the benefits are straightforward at enterprise architecture level (e.g procurement), due to the clarity of supporting ontologies; not so for external ones, which are by nature open and overlapping and often come with blurred semantics.

Ontologies & Concerns

A broad survey of RDF-based ontologies demonstrates how semantic overlaps and folds can be sort out using built-in differentiation between domains’ semantics on one hand, structure and processing of symbolic representations on the other hand. But such schemes are proprietary, and evidence shows their lines seldom tally, with dire consequences for interoperability: even without taking into account relationships and integrity constraints, weaving together ontologies from different sources is to be cumbersome, the costs substantial, and the outcome often reduced to a muddy maze of ambiguous semantics.

The challenge would be to generalize the principles as to set a basis for open ontologies.

Assuming that a clear line can be drawn between representation and contents semantics, with standard constructs (e.g predicate logic) used for the former, the objective would be to classify ontologies with regard to their purpose, independently of their representation.

The governance-driven taxonomy introduced above deals with contexts and consequently with coarse-grained modularity. It should be complemented by a fine-grained one to be driven by concerns, more precisely by the epistemic nature of the individual instances to be denoted. As it happens, that could also tally with the Zachman’s taxonomy:

  • Thesaurus: ontologies covering terms and concepts.
  • Documents: ontologies covering documents with regard to topics.
  • Business: ontologies of relevant enterprise organization and business objects and activities.
  • Engineering: symbolic representation of organization and business objects and activities.

Ontologies: Purposes & Targets

Enterprises could then pick and combine templates according to domains of concern and governance. Taking an on-line insurance business for example, enterprise knowledge architecture would have to include:

  • Medical thesaurus and consolidated regulations (Knowledge).
  • Principles and resources associated to the web-platform (Engineering).
  • Description of products (e.g vehicles) and services (e.g insurance plans) from partners (Business).

Such designs of ontologies according to the governance of contexts and the nature of concerns would significantly reduce blanket overlaps and improve the modularity and transparency of ontologies.

On a broader perspective, that policy will help to align knowledge management with EA governance by setting apart ontologies defined externally (e.g regulations), from the ones set through decision-making, strategic (e.g plate-form) or tactical (e.g partnerships).

Open Ontologies’ Benefits

Benefits from open and formatted ontologies built along an explicit distinction between the semantics of representation (aka ontology syntax) and the semantics of context can be directly identified for:

Modularity: the knowledge basis of enterprise architectures could be continuously tailored to changes in markets and corporate structures without impairing enterprise performances.

Integration: the design of ontologies with regard to the nature of targets and stability of categories could enable built-in alignment mechanisms between knowledge architectures and contexts.

Interoperability: limited overlaps and finer granularity are to greatly reduce frictions when ontologies bearing out business processes are to be combined or extended.

Reliability: formatted ontologies can be compared to typed programming languages with regard to transparency, internal consistency, and external validity.

Last but not least, such reasoned design of ontologies may open new perspectives for the collaboration between cognitive humans and pretending ones.

Further Reading

External Links


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