How can we better manage our ontologies?

Terminologies and ontologies

Safeguard the core of your company's knowledge using ontologies.

Terminology and ontologies, or how to better manage and use companies' knowledge

Can an ontology help you to structure the vocabulary that is at the core of your trade?

An ontology to structure your strategic vocabulary?

Terminology management has become a real issue for all companies, for the plain and simple reason that communication effectiveness depends on it. One of the pillars on which the sharing of this terminology stands is the structuring and standardization of terminology bases. However, generally, we are content to store terms in successive entries, along with their definition and perhaps a related translation. We can easily see the limits of this type of storage. So, how can we create a richer more hierarchical terminology base, in which all project collaborators can easily locate a term and all its associated meanings?

An ontology to classify all element by category or sub-category
An ontology to classify all element by category or sub-category


One of the solutions (and for many, the most promising) could be the creation of an ontology. Ontology, which was originally widely used in the world of artificial intelligence, today is used in a number of fields. In our case, it proves to be particularly effective, and that is surely why it has been very popular in collaborative engineering since the '90s.

In fact, ontology is defined as "A specification of a conceptualization of a area of knowledge" (Gruber). More simply, it allows for the creation of a structured database in which it is possible to classify the elements by categories and sub-categories, to add definitions to each element, to add attributes and to create all types of links (semantic or linguistic) between the elements and the categories. Therefore, it becomes very easy to create a complete terminology base, assuring the quality of communication and consolidation of our terminology.

Furthermore, and this is far from insignificant, the data stored in the ontology can easily be reused by other applications. Let's look at a simple example: a company designs software to monitor buildings. This software system requires an installation comprised of various devices (sensors, etc.). This company creates an ontology to assign names and definitions to its products, it adds necessary translations to its base. The coherence and consensus provided by this ontology is another plus for customers. Furthermore, let's imagine that they want to put an online boutique on their Internet site, where all of their products will be available. It's pointless to create a new database, since the ontology already exists. Thus, the ontology not only presents its products in a coherent and structured manner that facilitates the customers' navigation, thanks to links created beforehand, it also offers possible product configurations. This is the same principle on which the Amazon.com site is based: prior categorization of works and authors allows the site to suggest connected reading to Internet surfers.

Several tools can create ontologies. Free Protégé and Swoop software are two of them. Of course, mastery of this methodology and these tools takes a bit of practice, but the rewards are surely worth it!

For more information on terminology management, please see the following sources:

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