Towards Seamless Knowledge - Integrating Public Sector Portals

by Steve Pepper, Chief Strategy Officer, Ontopia AS

The more connected our computer systems become, the more we realise how *disconnected* our information really is. Disconnectedness is not new; it is simply far more apparent nowadays: so much so that it underpins a renewed quest for ways to integrate information - and knowledge.

One aspect of this is the focus on information integration within large organizations. Another is the spread of portals whose task is not so much to provide information directly as to provide consolidated, indirect access to information that resides elsewhere. In the public sector, in particular, portals have sprung up like mushrooms over the last 3-4 years. Far from providing a final solution to the problem, however, this development has led to a new requirement: Namely, the ability to be able to integrate portals, to exchange information and navigate between them a seamless fashion.

The last three years have seen the advent of what might be called "Semantic Portals" in the public sector in Norway. These are portals that use topic maps to structure their content and provide navigation paths for users. Starting with and in 2001, over a dozen such portals have been created for organizations ranging from the Research Council to the Consumers Association, from the Conservative Party to the Armed Forces, and from the Department of Culture to the Department of Agriculture.

For the most part these portals have been a resounding success, with both users and content providers, and their number is expected to rise sharply in the next 12 months.

One of the features of such portals is that they contain a large amount of rich semantic data. Also, because they are based on topic maps, they have the potential to establish the identity of the subjects with which they are concerned in a very robust manner. This in turn makes them ideal as a springboard for portal connectivity.

This presentation will tell the story of the Semantic Portals of the Norwegian public sector, describing the features, the user reactions, and the underlying technology. It will show how such portals make it much easier for users to find information and much easier for editorial staff to maintain the content. It will also describe experiments currently being undertaken to achieve the goal of "Seamless Knowledge", whereby portals are able to link to one another and share content entirely automatically on the basis of topics that they have in common.

Although focusing on the integration of public sector portals across organizations, the lessons to be covered in this presentation will also be of direct interest to those building distributed information and knowledge management solutions within a single organization and in the private sector.