Part 5: Good terms are important for socializing the ontology

In my previous post, I explained why, when building an enterprise ontology, it is a good idea to focus on concepts first and to decide on terms later. Today, we will discuss what to do when ‘later’ arrives. But first, if terms don’t matter from a logic perspective, why do we care about them? In short, they are essential for learning and understanding the ontology.

This is true even if there is a single developer, who should be able to immediately know the meaning of a term, at a glance, not having to rely on memory. It is more important if there are multiple developers. However, the most important reason to have good terms is because without them, it is nearly impossible for anyone else to become familiar with the ontology, which in turn severely limits its potential for being used. How do we choose good terms for an enterprise ontology? An ideal term is one that is strongly suggestive of its meaning and would be readily understood by anyone in the enterprise who needs to know what is going on and is unfamiliar with terms tied to specific applications.

A term being strongly suggestive of its meaning just makes things easier for everyone. It requires that not only that the term is (or could be with minimal disruption) commonly use across the enterprise to express the concept it is naming, but also that the same term is not used for a variety of other things too. Such ambiguity is the enemy. Because an enterprise ontology is designed to represent the real world in the given enterprise independent from its applications, it is important to the terms are independent from any particular application.

This is easier said than done, as the terminology of a widely used application in an enterprise often becomes the terminology of the enterprise in general. Individuals in the enterprise forget that various terms are tied to a particular application and vendor just like we forget that ‘Kleenex’ is tied to a particular brand and manufacturer. Also, because the enterprise ontology is intended for use across the whole enterprise, it is not a good idea to use jargon terms that are only understood by specialists in a given area, and will likely be confusing to others. Future applications that are based on the enterprise ontology can introduce local terms that are understood by the narrower group of people.

To reap the most rewards from the enterprise ontology in the long term, it is important to explicitly link the terms in the application to the concepts in the enterprise ontology. This way, the terms in the application effectively become synonyms for the terms in the ontology reflecting the mapped concepts.

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