ThoughtWorks in Toronto: Forging a new alliance between business and IT

I attended this morning’s Toronto edition of ThoughtWorks‘ new Quarterly Technology Briefing, on the subject of Forging a New Alliance: Cutting-edge software to power the Business/IT relationship. I was a bit turned off by the title, which sounds kind of “marketing speak”ish, but was convinced by the fact that Martin Fowler, ThoughtWorks’ Chief Scientist, would be presenting — not that I know much about Fowler, but I’m familiar with some of his ideas, and am always eager for free opportunities to be intellectually stimulated (and to enjoy some good continental breakfast).

What presenters Fowler and Scott Shaw, Director of Services for ThoughtWorks Australia, were talking about was essentially the inefficiencies and poor communication fostered by traditional IT-business relationships, and how we should, in the words of Fowler, “get rid of IT” — a trend he says is already underway. The way to thrive in such an atmosphere, says Fowler, is to move IT closer to the business people.

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The semantic web gets friendly

I’ve had a passing interest in the semantic web since I first heard the term a few years ago, but hadn’t explored it much beyond using the hCard microformat for contact info on a few websites I’ve done. It sounded like an interesting idea, but in the absence of significant, working applications beyond the academic world, it didn’t really capture my attention. Not to mention that there were (and are) some very vocal opponents of the idea, with a wide-ranging set of criticisms (some well-taken, some just strange).

But it recently popped back into mind when I chanced across a post entitled Semantic web comes to life from Joel Alleyne’s blog, Knowledge Rocks. Given that I still have access to the e-journal database of one of my former Universities, I logged in a grabbed the full Scientific American article Joel had linked to, The Semantic Web in Action. The article spills a good deal of ink highlighting various real-world applications of semantic web (or at least semantic web-ish) technologies, mostly from the medical field, where practical applications abound. (The stories shared by the article authors reminded me of a story I read a while ago about a researcher without any actual health training who made a significant cancer treatment-related discover just by linking together existing research that hadn’t yet been put together — I wish I could remember whether it was on the web, in Harper’s, or possibly a CBC Ideas episode).

So I’m on a bit of a semantic web kick now… I’ve FOAF-a-matic‘ed myself, and am reading all I can. It’s a fairly timely rediscovery as my workplace (Canadian Education Association) moves towards implementing a new website. We’re sitting on a goldmine of content (particularly from our magazine, Education Canada) that really needs indexing and some good metadata, and it will be interesting to see if RDF or something like it can fit into the emerging picture.