IP protection

1 Please provide a short description of the state-of-the-art and/or current trends in the field? How does the result fit into it?
Enterprise Application Integration (EAI) has been for years a major information technology concern for companies and organizations as well as the public sector worldwide. Recent studies estimate that up to 30% of a company’s annual IT investments in the future will be on systems integration efforts. This is because corporate mergers necessitate the integration of disparate software infrastructure, and because the introduction of new software solutions, like Customer Relationship Management and Business Intelligence, necessitate cooperation with existing solutions such as Enterprise Resource Planning and Supply Chain Management.

The construction of collaborative business processes that span across organisational boundaries and involve multiple enterprise software applications is a highly resource intensive procedure, because the applications to be integrated typically originate from different vendors and are inherently incompatible. The universal adoption of service-oriented computing and Web service standards by software vendors in recent years has had a positive impact in this problem domain, since the encapsulation of application logic in the form of reusable services, and the standardization of the communication among services at the message transport-level, significantly reduce the effort required for business process integration.

Developments in this field gave rise to a whole market for specialized products and services for Enterprise Application Integration. On the one hand, large software vendors like IBM, Microsoft, Oracle, SAP and others, have created specialized software products known as “middleware” that are aimed at lessening the effort of integration among their own enterprise software applications and applications by other vendors. On the other hand, consultant firms of all sizes have started offering business process integration services on the basis of the aforementioned middleware platforms by large vendors, or by providing custom-crafted integration solutions on an ad-hoc technological basis.

From a scientific point of view, interest has been growing during the past decade around the question of understanding the different aspects of the integration problem (behavioural and structural compatibility and compositionality of systems, business-level goal alignment, etc) and proposing novel ways to increase the levels of automation in integration activities.  Since around 2001, researchers from the Semantic Web Services community have been proposing a number of methods for increasing automation in integration activities such as Web service discovery, composition and mediation, which are essential steps in creating collaborative business processes in a service-oriented environment. The common base for all of the approaches proposed in this sphere is the usage of Semantic Web technologies for creating formal descriptions of service characteristics that are amenable to automated processing.

This is the background in which the FUSION methodology and tool suite for semantic Enterprise Application Integration belongs. This R&D result proposes an alternative route to carrying out business process integration that is contrasted with the heavy-weight middleware platforms proposed by large software vendors, which are not striving for generality, but rather for creating vendor lock-in phenomena, as they are naturally biased towards specific suites of enterprise application products. The FUSION methodology and tool suite for semantic Enterprise Application Integration is proposed as a light-weight middleware solution that abstracts from specific vendor idiosyncrasies, and utilizes some of the latest research advancements from the domains of service-oriented computing and Semantic Web technologies to increase automation in creating collaborative business processes in which heterogeneous business software applications are involved. The main concept is employing standards to create formal descriptions of Web Service characteristics, and using those descriptions to automate the tasks of synthesing a collaborative business process (via discovery and composition of suitable Web services), and mediating the communication among the various process participating enterprise applications to resolve heterogeneities.

2 What is the problem/need/knowledge gap that the research result is responding to?  How was it addressed before?
Overall, the FUSION approach is differentiated by other approaches to supporting EAI, in that it attempts to strike a balance among facilitating high levels of automation for integration tasks and using standards to promote industrial adoption.

A first important differentiation of the specific approach, with respect to others proposed in the literature, is in the technology employed for creating formal service descriptions. FUSION proposes to utilize a combination of two new technology standards: SAWSDL (Semantic Annotations for WSDL), which is a standard from the domain of Web service technologies, and OWL (Web Ontology Language), which is a standard from the domain of Semantic Web technologies. A second important difference is the technology adopted for creating definitions of executable collaborative business processes, which is also based on a standard; BPEL (Business Process Execution Language), the de-facto standard in business process management today, and one that all vendors and integration consultants are expected to be familiar with.

Compared to other approaches proposed before, such as WSMO or OWL-S, the FUSION approach gives rise to a light-weight framework for creating formal descriptions of services that enables a significant degree of automation for service discovery, composition, and mediation, but is also more likely to become accepted by the industry of software vendors and integration consultants. In contrast to the FUSION approach, other approaches like WSMO or OWL-S proposed the usage of excessive modeling using powerful (but also complex) logical formalisms (i.e. ontologies and rules) to facilitate full automation of service-related activities, but frequently discarded the use of existing standards because of their known limited expressive power and analysability.

3 What is the potential for further research?
The evaluation of the R&D result within the FUSION project gave rise to some directions for future research activities. Firstly, additional emphasis could be placed in finding ways to employ semantic technology but nevertheless effectively hide it from its users. Adequate support for ontology engineering tasks can be a decisive factor for the adoption of not only FUSION, but of semantics-based methodologies and solutions in general. The ontology engineering tasks that are involved in the FUSION approach for creation of formal service descriptions could particularly benefit from advances in this respect. Secondly, additional research effort could be invested in researching aspects relating to run-time data mediation and its underlying mechanism. The FUSION project revealed that bijective transformations between “semantic” and “syntactic” data representations can be a hard problem in certain scenarios, and the FUSION data mediation mechanism could certainly benefit from more concrete and generalised research results in this domain. Lastly, future research could focus on technological aspects that were beyond the scope of the FUSION project but are nevertheless significant and closely related to it, such as the challenges that stem from supporting lifecycle management and post-design maintenance for a FUSION-based Semantic EAI solution.
4 What is the potential of the research result for synergy with other research areas either in the same or in a different discipline?
The research communities that have been primarily occupied with the research questions of understanding the different challenges of integration, and increasing the levels of automation in integration activities, have been the software engineering community (and particularly those interested in service-oriented architectures), the business process management community, and the Semantic Web services community. Over the past decade this field has been constantly growing and attracting interest, and there appears to be ample room for collaboration and synergies among members of these communities in the area of semantic enterprise application integration.
5 What is the proposed method of IPR-protection? (patent, license, trademark etc.)
It is unclear whether this question refers to the R&D result, or to a future derivative product based on the R&D result.

The R&D result that is discussed here consists of a methodology and a suite of tools, which were both developed with the EU-funded collaborative research project FUSION (FP6-IST STREP). The situation with their IPR protection is as follows:

  • The methodology was developed collaboratively by SEERC and other members of the project consortium and became available in the public domain by publishing the respective report.
  • The tool suite comprises three tools and was developed collaboratively by SEERC and other members of the project consortium. The specifications of all tools became available in the public domain by publishing the respective reports. The implementations of two out of the three tools are also available as open source software, the copyrights being held by the respective developers.
6 What are the steps that need to be taken in order to secure the IPR-protection? What is the cost of IPR-protection?
It is unclear whether this question refers to the R&D result, or to a future derivative product based on the R&D result.

In any case, as far as software is concerned the copyrights lie with the author(s), and there is no need to go through a special process. To the best of our knowledge the only possibility for further securing copyrights to a literary work, including software, in Greece, is to submit the work to a notary’s office. The cost should be negligible.

7 What is the expected impact of the research result? (industry, society, administration etc. and target groups of beneficiaries)
The FUSION methodology and tool suite can be applied by Enterprise Application Integration consultants for offering integration services and solutions to medium-sized and large enterprises, irrespectively of industrial specialisation. Therefore, the beneficiaries from the development of a future product based on discussed R&D result would be EAI consultants and enterprises with integration needs. The FUSION approach is a low cost alternative to the heavy-weight middleware platforms that are made available by large software vendors.
8 What is you overall assessment of the scientific maturity of the research result?
The scientific maturity of the FUSION methodology and tool suite for semantic EAI has been validated within the FUSION project and is considered substantial. The main differentiating factor among the FUSION approach and other approaches is the effort to strike a balance between using industry-accepted standards and facilitating high levels of automation.

Further research is however needed on finding ways to employ formal service descriptions while hiding the complexity from users, understanding the challenges of run-time data mediation (particularly bijective transformations between “semantic” and “syntactic” data representations), and supporting lifecycle management and post-design maintenance for semantic EAI solutions.

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