Archive for the ‘Articles’ Category

On Business Service Semantics

March 8, 2013

Below you can find the slides of my talk about this topic at the International Conference on Exploring Service Sciences in Porto, Feb 2013.

De Leenheer, P.; Cardoso, J.; Pedrinaci (2013) Ontological Representation and Governance of Business Semantics in Compliant Service Networks. In Proc. of IESS 2012, Springer, LNBIP 143, pp. 155–169

Business Service Semantics: Ontological Representation & Governance of Business Semantics in Compliant Service Networks from Pieter De Leenheer
Abstract: The Internet would enable new ways for service innovation and trading, as well as for analysing the resulting value networks, with an unprecedented level of scale and dynamics. Yet most related eco- nomic activities remain of a largely brittle and manual nature. Service- oriented business implementations focus on operational aspects at the cost of value creation aspects such as quality and regulatory compliance. Indeed they enforce how to carry out a certain business in a prefixed non-adaptive manner rather than capturing the semantics of a business domain in a way that would enable service systems to adapt their role in changing value propositions. In this paper we set requirements for SDL- compliant business service semantics, and propose a method for their ontological representation and governance. We demonstrate an imple- mentation of our approach in the context of service-oriented Information Governance.

Towards an Emerging CS Student Community for Regreening Africa: Random Impressions of our First Workshop

April 22, 2012

Group photo of the First Web alliance for Regreening in Africa Student mini-symposium

Two years after the kick off (reported here), we are gaining a lot of momentum with the Regreening Africa initiative.

Last Friday, 20 April, we organized a first mini workshop with master students who are conducting their master thesis project in the context of a Web for Regreening Africa. The Web Alliance for Regreening Africa initiative is primarily  funded by two running EC-funded research projects W4RA and m-Voices. However, regarding the societal relevance we are convinced we can deliver a convincing bargain for  a larger community of interest to emerge. We have many communities in mind; this workshop aimed at a community at VU of master/PhD students branching their research out from the central theme, but we also have established social networks such as Diaspora and ITGlobal in mind from which we aim to source content contributions.

Our main goal, hence bargain, is to establish a Web of African content through several microprojects. A selection:

  • crowdsourcing app for converting pluvial observation data in the Sahel;
  • crowdsourcing app for gathering voice fragments in different languages that can be used for voice-based services
  • a sustainability analysis for voice-based event organizer;
  • RadioMarché: distributed market information system for non-timber tree forest products;
  • linked data mash ups for NGOs.

This workshop was a first step in bringing VU Computer Science students’ projects together from Ghana, Ethiopia, Buthan, Iran, Netherlands, Zimbabwe, Suriname, etc. For an overview of the different lines we are exploring check our CAiSE 2012 position paper and ESWC 2012 poster and paper (to be published soon, see list below). Next, some impression from the projects. From my point of view, the meeting was a succes and we agreed to organize a second installment later this year.

Master students from around the Globe: The Netherlands, Iran, Buthan, Zimbabwe / South Africa, and Ethiopia.

Historical pluvial data from regions in the Sahel captured on paper. Binyam Tesfa develops an app to source a crowd willing to convert this data into digital format.

In order to realise voice-based services for various dialects present in the Sahel, Roksareh Nakhaei builds an app that sources a crowd to produce voice fragments. The tasks here require specific language skills, so we cannot source from any general social network such as Facebook.


A mobile event organiser is one of the case studies identified in the m-Voices project. Through voice-based interfaces (using radio or phone) events can be published and consumed. The goal of this project, done by Albert Chifura is to analyse the cost of setting up such infrastructure, hence involvin a "business" sustainability model analysis.


First design of a sustainability assessment of M-event organiser identifying stakeholders and value exchange between them (courtesy of Albert Chifura).

Related publications:

  • Bon, A.; de Boer, V.; De Leenheer, P.; van Aart, C.; Gyan, N.; Akkermans, H. (2012)  The Web of Radios – Introducing African Community Radio as an Interface to the Web of Data. In Proc. of ESWC 2012: 1st Int’l Workshop on Downscaling the Semantic Web, LNCS, Springer, to appear
  • de Boer, V.; Gyan, N.; Bon, De Leenheer, P.; van Aart, C.; Gyan, N.; Akkermans, H. (2012) Voice-based Access to Linked Market Data in the Sahel. In Proc. of ESWC 2012: 1st Int’l Workshop on Downscaling the Semantic Web, LNCS, Springer, to appear
  • de Boer, V.; De Leenheer, P.; Bon, A.; van Aart, C.; Tuyp, W., Boyera, S.; Allen, M.; Akkermans, H.; Gueret, C. (2012) RadioMarché: Distributed Voice- and Web-interfaced Market Information Systems under Rural Conditions. In Proc. of CAiSE 2012, in press

RadioMarche ́: Distributed Voice- and Web-interfaced Market Information Systems under Rural Conditions

February 20, 2012

The World Wide Web connects millions of people and organizations, empowering them to socialize, express opinion, and co-create at a scale and speed never seen before. It was not a carefully top-down planning, but a set of elementary internet technologies designed for de-centralized use that allowed for a Web with such a dramatic level of complexity and scale to emerge in less than two decades. Examples of such technologies are W3C-recommended open standards such as HTTP, HTML or RDF. By carefully excluding features that are not universally useful these technologies became easily adopted on a massive scale and gave the Web a generative character, that is, the capacity to produce unanticipated change through unfiltered contributions from a broad and varied audience [Zittrain, 2009].

Implementation of the RadioMarché system in Tominian, Mali. This figure shows part of the hardware setup, including the OfficeRoute GSM gateway.

An upcoming trend is to publish structured data from different sources such as governments (e.g., and and organizations (such as public transport schemas, scientific results, etc.) using the same internet technologies such as HTTP and URI. The Web of Data emerging from this is an extension of the Web: it serves the data using Linked Data approaches so that machines can process them, rather than merely publishing them for human consumption. By treating data as an asset, by sharing and trading it, an open innovation platform for all kinds of services will flourish, linking and augmenting data across domains.

Despite its success so far, the Web implicitly assumes a wide availability of high- bandwidth Internet infrastructure and reliable power supply. Interfacing the Web requires Personal Computers and various skills of which the most pertinent are reading and writing abilities. According to the Web Foundation, there is an estimated 4.5 billion people, mostly living in developing countries, that cannot benefit from the Web for one or more of these reasons. This limits the Web’s generative character per se. For our case study in Mali, only 1.8% of the population has Internet access, only 10% has access to the electricity network, and only 26.2% is literate (source: Internet World StatisticsDeveloping RenewablesIndex Mundi).

For a truly worldwide diffusion of innovations brought forward by the Web, we must devise new types of technologies immune to these infrastructure and interface problems. Hence, complementary or even alternative technologies to the ones we know are needed. Moreover, to guarantee these technologies will be applied and content will be contributed on a large scale, we have to identify value propositions that are interesting enough for a wider audience.

The proposition we consider in this paper is targeted at reducing poverty and hunger in Sub-Saharian Africa through better agricultural and rural development. According to the International Food Policy Institute, small subsistence farmers account for more than 90% of Africa’s agricultural production and are usually at the very bottom of the pyramid. In Africa, agriculture is the primary source of livelihood for about 65% of the population, it represents 40% of Africa’s GDP and 60% of Africa’s total export. Farmers who can count on different sources of income are less vulnerable in periods of drought. Trading is the best way to increase their income; to this end, better communication and access to customers and market information are key challenges. Our focus now lies on non-timber forest products (NTFPs) because they have a very long tradition and their production involves leadership by men as well as women.

According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation, market information systems (MISs) play an important role in rural agricultural supply chains and are the key to lower food cost and to raising producer and trader incomes (see FAO). MISs are information systems that gather, analyze and publish information about prices and other augmented information relevant to stakeholders involved in handling agricultural products and services. Indeed, farmers have to know the trends in demand to adapt production, find out where to find customers, and be able to determine a reasonable price by comparing with prices from other markets. Hence, there is an urgent need for effective and fair marketing delivered by transparent information. Moreover, costs related to logistics are usually ignored. However, farmers at remote locations have to focus on products that can weigh up for such high prices implied by production as well as transportation costs. Opportunities for innovation through new cultivation techniques, new types of seeds, or by-products remain under-exploited due to a lack of market information needed to deal with the higher production costs.

RadioMarché is being developed within the context of the VOICES (VOIce-based Comunity cEntric mobile Services) project. The conceptual design of the RadioMarché system is shown below.

The RadioMarché system provides alternative interfaces based on voice or SMS via phone or radio, enabling a wider audience to consume and contribute content. The data design is optimized for (i) effective aggregation with other RM instances and data sources from other domains in the Cloud; and (ii) reuse by other services.

The contributions of this paper are :

  • The introduction of RadioMarché (RM), a MIS concept adapted for rural conditions in the African Sahel. Regarding the above-mentioned challenges, RM is not dependent on Internet infrastructure, and has voice-based and sms-based interfaces. By exploiting the upward trend in (first-generation) mobile phone usage and the traditionally central role of radio in these areas, we believe in the generativity; hence a wide adoption of the RM concept in many regions of the Sahel.
  • The proposition of a Linked Data model to address data integration issues across different regions. On a large scale, we deal with the issue of aggregation and management of distributed market data by adopting Linked Data approaches. We show how our design choices offers opportunities to link aggregated market information to datasets from other domains. The resulting “Web of Data” provides an open innovation platform to develop services with augmented reasoning capabilities for e.g. NGOs, governments, policy makers, traders and scientists.
  • A report on a first deployement of RadioMarché conducted in Mali, along with the explanation of the Living Lab approach applied to drive this activity. 

The full position paper will be published  in the proceedings of CAiSE 2012.

de Boer, V.; De Leenheer, P.; Bon, A.; van Aart, C.; Tuyp, W., Boyera, S.; Allen, M.; Akkermans, H.; Gueret, C. (2012) RadioMarché: Distributed Voice- and Web-interfaced Market Information Systems under Rural Conditions. In Proc. of CAiSE 2012

Boosting Open Innovation with Semantic Technology: the Flanders Research Information Space

August 9, 2011

The full article is now published in the professional monthly magazine Informatie. See my earlier blog post for a translation of the summary in English. The work is not done though: we are further crowd sourcing the information space using Linked Data approaches based on semantic standards managed in Collibra’s Business Semantics Glossary. Hence, to be continued, again :-)

Moulding USDL in SBVR using Business Semantics Glossary: Part 1

July 2, 2011

I truly believe in co-creation. For example, we have our Collibra software and methods regularly scrutinized by numerous master students from both technical as well as more business-oriented computer science programmes in universities across Europe.

At VU University, for example, in the context of my Business Semantics Management master class, 21 MSc students playing the role of steward formed the Amsterdam Service Modelling Community with one common purpose: building an SBVR version of the USDL service description language. There were two additional members invited playing the role of observer: Carlos Pedrinaci (representing the USDL W3C incubator group) and Ivan Razo-Zapata (our PhD student at VU working on dynamic service market place composition). Finally there was me playing the role of administrator, making a total of 24 members.

The Amsterdam Service Modelling community has 24 members (21 playing the role of "steward"; 2 as "observer"; 1 as "administrator") and is subdivided in 5 speech communities. (Note: this is an older release of the Business Semantics Glossary software)

The figure below depicts the Business Semantics Management (BSM) methodology that is established by two operational cycles (reconciliation and application) each grouping a number of modeling activities. For a summary go here and for more details see my dissertation.

Business semantics management is established by two operational cycles each grouping a number of modeling activities.

The experiment extended over a total period of 4 weeks; hence we limited ourselves to the first 4 steps of semantic reconciliation only: scope, create, refine, articulate. In September we plan to repeat this experiment  over a period of 8 weeks where we will have time to do one full cycle of BSM. Later I will also blog about similar experiments we conduct at VUB University of Brussels.

Community-driven Approach

The Amsterdam Service Modelling Community (ASMC) is modelled (in SBVR) as a semantic community. SBVR takes into account the existence of multiple perspectives on how to represent concepts (by means of vocabularies).

  • A semantic community is a group of stakeholders having a body of shared meanings. Stakeholders are people representing an organisation or a business unit.
  • A body of shared meanings is a unifying and shared understanding (perception) of the business concepts in a particular domain.  Concepts are identified by a URI.
  • A speech community is a sub-community of a semantic community having a shared set of vocabularies to refer to the body of shared meanings. A speech community groups stakeholders and vocabularies from a particular natural language in a multi-lingual community, or from a certain technical jargon.
  • A vocabulary is a set of terms and fact types (called vocabulary entries) primarily drawn from a single language to express concepts within a body of shared meanings.

Within the ASMC community, the 21 students grouped in 5 speech communities each focusing on a specific part of the USDL framework. In SBVR, speech communities are part of one semantic community and each manage their own set of vocabularies to refer to this body of shared meanings. This allows for different representations of the same business concepts.

The navigator shows (from left to right) the structure of communities and their vocabularies.

Scoping the Semantic Reconciliation Cycle

The module-based decomposition of USDL depicted below makes it easy for teams to scope. However, they all had to start from the Service and Pricing module so we could observe divergence in definitions as well, an important step in the ontology evolution process (see the Perspective Rendering principle of my PhD on BSM).

The module-based USDL framework allows for clear scoping among speech communities (by courtesy of

Create, Refine, Articulate

Below is a screenshot of the term “Service” in the Pricing and Participant vocabulary in development by the “VAAF” speech community team. The steward (indicated on the top-right) “Vlant” is responsible for selecting the right stakeholders (bottom-right) among his fellow members and engage them into the reconciliation of the term.

A term can be defined using different kinds of attributes, going from (business-oriented) descriptions and definitions to more (formal) fact types and business rules.  Currently the level of articulation is below threshold (37.5%) incentivizing the steward and stakeholders to elaborate more.

Term "Service" in the Pricing and Participant vocabulary in development by the "VAAF" speech community team.

Next time we will talk about vocabulary statistics and workflows in the software. Workflows practically implement the orchestration of reconciliation tasks to members according to their roles and responsibilities.

Dynamically Serving Long Tail Needs in the Global Digital (Education) Market

June 21, 2011

Mass connectivity between customers and suppliers on the Web transforms business from a transaction-based (or product-oriented) practice to a long-term relationship-based (or service-oriented) practice.

An example. Before we bought a car as a product: once the transaction (Car for money) was made, the car becomes your possession and you are responsible to take care of all services (like tax and insurance) you need to get the car on the road. Value was created at the point of transaction. Today, like with leasing, a car becomes never really you property: you rather consider it as a service that enables you to “move around freely”. Value is created of a much longer time: as long as you use the “car service” you evaluate the added value and feed back to the supplier so it can be improved.

When implementing technologies to support service-based market places, we must take into account economic relationships rather than work flow properties; and rethink the whole concept of value to start with. Indeed the business model of these new market places are centered around the notion of value; hence it is relevant to semantically codify “who is offering what of value to whom” and what is expected of value in return. Where before value was a simple “price”, it now includes a lot of dimensions (fed by social Web data like reputation, ratings, etc.) along the life cycle of a service. Another problem is that most interesting needs, those along the long tail, can usually not be immediately served because (i) no single supplier offers it by default; and (ii) as it is too niche, multiple suppliers have to assess ROI first and co-create accordingly.

Needs in the head (red part) of the tail are usually offered by vertically integrated service providers. Needs in the long tail are typically more complex requiring niche offerings offered by a combination of suppliers (picture by Bart Van De Casteel) .

Determining needs and offerings is not a one-pass exercise. To match them up they have to grow towards each other through compromise and sacrifice of all parties.  Therefore, we propose an interactive dialogue system to express customer needs based on marketing theory (see e.g. Philip Kotler and Kevin Keller. Marketing Management. Prentice Hall, 2006). In addition, we also provide capabilities to publish service offerings by means of an ontology-based catalog. Moreover, since mass configuration of products is playing an important role, dynamic composition of SVNs has been also supported. Finally, our long-term ultimate goal is to automatically compose a SVN, including the required business processes and Information Technology (IT) support in the form of web services. Such IT is then aligned with the business, since both are designed in an integrated way.

Razo-Zapata, I.; De Leenheer, P.; Gordijn, J.; Akkermans, H. (2011) Service Value Networks for Competency-driven Educational Services: a Case Study. In Proceedings of the 6th international Workshop on Business / IT alignment and Interoperability (CAiSE 2011), Springer LNBIP

Building a Digital Information Market Place for Open Innovation with Collibra, Atira, IBM Research and the Flemish Public Administration

June 20, 2011

Prosperity in a knowledge-based economy will benefit from a well-oiled innovation engine. With the advent of the Web, companies and research institutions have come to realize that they can no longer rely on their own research to innovate. Open innovation is a new practice in which stakeholders trade ideas and results for the benefit of themselves and others; a digital information market place for innovation may then naturally emerge.

The Department of Economy, Science and Innovation (EWI) of the Flemish government has taken the lead at European Open innovation to drive through Flanders Research Information Space (FRIS, that is “fresh” in Dutch), an ambitious change program that makes data on innovation-related core entities ranging from institutions , researchers, and projects to patents publicly available by means of semantic standards governance (Collibra, EuroCRIS) and service-oriented technology (Atira).

FRIS basic services: a mesh-up of core entities Project, Organisations, and People on a geographical map

Ultimately, this technology forms a generative basis for a digital information marketplace for innovation. To trade information services, one should first determine what information should be included, and what roles are involved in its assembly.

Snapshot of the Collibra Business Semantics Glossary

In this article we discuss the role of business semantics for describing innovation-related core entities. We further illustrate how the business semantics, can be used to capture the life (and assembly) of core entities. Finally, we give a future perspective on FRIS as a digital information market place  for innovation in the broader context of the Semantic Web, today better known as Linked Data Web.

The article is now being published in the professional magazine “Informatie” and will soon be available in English too. As a sneak preview: next figure shows a screenshot of the term “Project” (within the “Project” vocabulary of “CERIF” speech community that is part of the “FRIS” semantic community) in Business Semantics Glossary that implements the SBVR standard. The software is currently deployed at EWI for managing business semantics of CERIF terms underlying the future market place.

A term (here “Project”) can be defined using one or more attributes such as definitions, examples, fact types, rule sets, categorisation schemas (partly shown in taxonomy), and finally milestones for the lifecycle. “Project” is a subtype of the “Thing” and has two subtypes: “large academic project” and “small industrial project”.

Re governance: in the top-right corner is indicated which member in the community (here “Pieter De Leenheer”) carries the role of “steward”, who is ultimately responsible for this term. The status “candidate” indicates that the term is not yet fully articulated: in this case “Project” only 37.5%. This percentage is automatically calculated based on the articulation tasks that have to be performed according to the business semantics management methodology. Tasks are related to defining attributes and are distributed among stakeholders and orchestrated using workflows.

To be continued.

Exploiting the Clash between Customer Needs and Service Offerings in Value Co-creation

May 18, 2011

The Web is transforming into a global market place: a Service Web. In this context, mechanisms for dynamic delivery and even co-creation of services (as opposed to products; hence not to be mis-understood by software-based services) face new challenges. As we show in our case study, the Web provides already a lot of public data that can be exploited in this regard; hence this may further encourage Linked Data initiatives too as their work proves highy useful value in the digitalization of transparant value co-creation.

Indeed, the adoption of Web 2.0 within electronic commerce resulted in a more personalised user experience. this customer experience is digitized through recommendations and reviews (e.g., and product customisations (e.g. Quirky), etc. This provides benefit to other users, but also provides intangible value back to the enterprise. The co-creation of value arose from this personalised, unique consumer experience and represents a transition from simple transactional models of customers buying tangible goods or services, to purchases being only a small part of a long-term synergistic experience that also yields the creation and exchange of other forms of intangible value such as community, knowledge, etc.

Yet the scalability of these co-creation platforms  is limited as traditional approaches for developing co-creation opportunities, such as service bundling and community building have relied heavily on existing or opportunistic business relationships that are highly integrated instead of loosely coupled.

This article contributes another step in the dynamic bundling of services that exploits the clash between – and envisions the co-evolution of – customer needs and service offerings. The case is about automating the bundling of educational services in a multi-supplier setting. The experiments act on publicly available instance data about education-related needs and services we found on the Web. This also illustrates that the necessary data is indeed available for a Service Web to emerge and more data publication efforts are needed for a true Service Web to emerge.

We highlight the following mechanisms:

  • Laddering: is a marketing practice which uses a conceptual map to represent how a customer links desired product or service attributes to high-level values he/she desires . E.g., see Figure below: the need to  “improve programming skills” can be decomposed in specific functional consequences (which we were able to crawl from the Web). these can then be logically grouped in Wants. Wants may not yet be offered by concrete suppliers; they represent (based on the Wisdom of the Crowds) a certain combination of needs that is emerging on the market.


  • Matching: Matching determines a matching pool of service suppliers that plausibly provide part of the desired Want. Due to the variability of customer needs, single suppliers rarely provide all the required value on their own. Providers may anticipate on Wants as they trigger trends.
  • Bundling: Bundling finds combinations of service suppliers (again crawled from real data) in the matching pool that collectively cover the required Want, hence deliver maximum value to the customer. Different principles or policies of interactions are key during bundling as they may constrain the possible collaboration between suppliers.


The full article will be available soon with following citation:

Razo-Zapata, I.; De Leenheer, P.; Gordijn, J. (2011) Value-based Service Bundling: a Customer-Supplier Approach. In Proc.  of Service-oriented Enterprise Architecture for Enterprise Engineering (SoEA4EE) Scientific Workshop (EDOC 2011), Helsinki, Finland, IEEE

This will be the century of mass migrations, including virtual mass migrations

February 2, 2011

FB is passé.

The frequency of wall updates seem to go down, at least in my network. It has to be seen how this will evolve in general. Furthermore, the adds are pointless, and its stuffed with apps like Farmville that have no value for society. Zuckerberg will have to do his best to make FB worth 50 billion $ (that is Goldman-Sachs most recent valuation). I am sure his girlfriend Microsoft Bing, who cribs search results from Google won’t be much of a help. Moreover, according to Bloomberg, 69% of investors finds FB over-valued, while only 10% find it well-valuated. Hold on everybody and get ready to run: a small but sheer bubble is about to burst ! A virtual diaspora of 500 million people is about to happen, but the next promised land is still to be found.

This will be the century of mass migrations indeed, including virtual mass migrations.

Augmented Reality can be Simple too

January 20, 2011

Every week I am at Schiphol airport for my train connection between Brussels and Amsterdam. I also use the airport frequently for my flights as well. Like today. I was checking the RSS feed for my flight in case any delays would pop up, and I discovered a range of new information features.
For example, given your flight and your zipcode, it calculates your public transport literary from your bed at home to the check-in. It also includes an interactive map that shows you the train station exit, where to check in or drop your luggage, and many other features like the location of restaurants, shops and lounges.
Architectural design of buildings has to find the right balance to accessibility and functionality on one hand, and aesthetics on the other hand. Especially in airports, thousands of people have to pass through every day as efficient as possible, and the experience should be as comfortable as possible for the time they are there. Schiphol is an excellent example of this.
Today “architecture” is not limited to brick walls anymore. The airport building and its services itself should not only be functional, accessible, and elegant. It should also be immersed by virtual services that provide real-time information customized to your personal needs. The example I gave is a simple mash-up with Dutch Rail’s database, but already creates a highly valuable service that augments the experience for the passenger. But if it is so easy, why is it so difficult for airports to feature this ? Why are many airport websites still in their Web 1.0 infancy ?