It is always interesting to talk shop with the experts in a new technology arena. My interview with Luca Scagliarini, VP of Strategy and Business Development for Expert System, and Brooke Aker, CEO of Expert System USA was no exception. They had been digesting my research on Semantic Software Technologies and last week we had a discussion about what is in the Gilbane report.
When asked if they were surprised by anything in my coverage of the market, the simple answer was "not really, nothing we did not already know." The longer answer related to the presentation of our research illustrating the scope and depth of the marketplace. These two veterans of the semantic industry admitted that the number of players, applications and breadth of semantic software categories is impressive when viewed in one report. Mr. Scagliarini commented on the huge amount of potential still to be explored by vendors and users.
Our conversation then focused on where we think the industry is headed and they emphasized that this is still an early stage and evolving area. Both acknowledged the need for simplification of products to ease their adoption. It must be straightforward for buyers to understand what they are licensing, the value they can expect for the price they pay; implementation, packaging and complementary services need to be easily understood.
Along the lines of simplicity, they emphasized the specialized nature of most of the successful semantic software applications, noting that these are not coming from the largest software companies. State-of-the-art tools are being commercialized and deployed for highly refined applications out of companies with a small footprint of experienced experts.
Expert System knows about the need for expertise in such areas as ontologies, search, and computational linguistic applications. For years they have been cultivating a team of people for their development and support operations. It has not always been easy to find these competencies, especially right out of academia. Aker and Scagliarini pointed out the need for a lot of pragmatism, coupled with subject expertise, to apply semantic tools for optimal business outcomes. It was hard in the early years for them to find people who could leverage their academic research experiences for a corporate mission.
Human resource barriers have eased in recent years as younger people who have grown up with a variety of computing technologies seem to grasp and understand the potential for semantic software tools more quickly.
Expert System itself is gaining traction in large enterprises that have segmented groups within IT that are dedicated to "learning" applications, and formalized ways of experimenting with, testing and evaluating new technologies. When they become experts in tool use, they are much better at proving value and making the right decisions about how and when to apply the software.
Having made good strides in energy, life sciences, manufacturing and homeland security vertical markets, Expert System is expanding its presence with the Cogito product line in other government agencies and publishing. The executives reminded me that they have semantic nets built out in Italian, Arabic and German, as well as English. This is unique among the community of semantic search companies and will position them for some interesting opportunities where other companies cannot perform.
I enjoyed listening and exchanging commentary about the semantic software technology field. However, Expert System and Gilbane both know that the semantic space is complex and they are sharing a varied landscape with a lot of companies competing for a strong position in a young industry. They have a significant share already.