Purpose of the Semantic Model
Posted by Doug Walters on 27th October 2013
I have spent the weekend checking my banks statements for the last 3 months, changing online banking access codes and cancelling debit cards – it will take about 10 working days to get replacements, so the inconvenience will be considerable. I received a letter on Friday morning (15th November) from a Cloud Service provider that I use, informing me that their security had been breached (in September) - “customer names, payment card expiration dates, encrypted payment card numbers…in addition the third party used our systems to decrypt some card numbers…”

After wondering why it had taken so long to inform me and making note to self – not all cloud services are equal (services such as those provided by Microsoft have collected a slew of security ad compliance accreditations; not all cloud service providers have been so assiduous) I was prompted to consider a conversation I had recently, about the Semantic Web and how it could provide an answer to the problem of storing and managing personal data…
I have often been asked "what is the semantic model or what is the point of the semantic model?" I have usually answered that it is a step in the process of getting to the Logical Data Model. I think that the widespread adoption of SOA and Cloud has provided a more direct and much more valuable use for the semantic model.

We used to talk about the App Server "owning" access to physical data - this was an artificial way of IT imposing manageability and security (throttling via threading, and IAM) on data - but data should be freely available and consumer agnostic? SOA has provided Security as a de-coupled service, and the cloud has provided elastic scalability - so the drivers for this control are largely redundant?

On the other hand, data held in cloud storage is directly-addressable via URI's (Universal Resource Indicator aka web address.) Hence the semantic model is an invaluable tool in populating the Semantic Web (URI's pointing to direct access to resources - data.)

Storing and managing personal data is a case where one can easily envisage the massive benefits of the Semantic Web:
  • We all lodge personal (sometimes quite intimate) data with a myriad of companies, public bodies, social media etc. This data is treated with varying degrees of integrity - each company will have its own "slant" on the way it wants to receive and store that data: each public sector body will have varying degrees of rigour around managing the quality (including currency) of the data; each social media site will attach varying degrees of importance to the different bits of data they collect; and our individual ability to memorise or otherwise know what we have given varies. Certain data (e.g. date of birth) will be a constant, but what about name (marriage, divorce etc?)

  • Surely the answer is to have "a single version of the truth" (in the Cloud) which you maintain (and you are the most interested in its integrity so you will maintain it)? Given the various options around security as a service, when you are asked to provide personal data, you simply grant the secure access rights and authorisations (covered by the same privacy laws and undertakings as is current.) If the organisation requires additional information, you a) have a better idea of what a company is driving at with regard to its relationship with you and b) you can chose to either enhance your personal details repository - the single version of the truth) or you can simply provide the information as a single, isolated instance.

  • The following link provides a real example of a semantic web application: Cleveland Clinic Medical Records

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