How Semantic Web Technologies can Support the Mediation between Supply and Demand in the ICT Market: The Case of Customer Relationship Management

How Semantic Web Technologies can Support the Mediation between Supply and Demand in the ICT Market: The Case of Customer Relationship Management

Anna Goy, Diego Magro
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-0146-8.ch009
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This chapter presents the ARNEIS framework, i.e., an architecture enabling intelligent Web-based repositories of descriptions of software products and services. ARNEIS exploits Semantic Web technologies in order to support the interaction between ICT companies offering software solutions for business automation, and small-to-medium sized enterprises looking for technological support to their business. In particular, the authors chose Customer Relationship Management (CRM) as a field for the evaluation of the framework, and thus in this chapter, they describe how the ARNEIS framework enables a Web-based service that supports an intelligent matching between supply and demand for CRM-related tools. After presenting the background of the project and discussing related work, the chapter describes the ARNEIS framework, starting from its architecture and user interaction flow. The domain analysis of the CRM field and role of ontologies is then discussed. The chapter then focuses on the user interfaces and matching between semantic descriptions of offers and needs. A brief discussion of future challenges concludes the chapter.
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Small-to-Medium Sized Enterprises (SME) should take advantage of the opportunities offered by Information and Communication Technology (ICT), but they are traditionally very suspicious towards the adoption of new technologies, especially in Italy: convincing them to abandon their traditional work methods (e.g., based on legacy software, phone calls or paper archives), in favor of new business processes supported by advanced Web-based technologies, is usually a challenging task. However, in order to keep abreast of competitors, SME need to overcome their own resistance, in order to adopt ICT-based solutions that could automate their business processes, in order to rationalize such processes and, as a consequence, save money.

Moreover, the Internet and Web technologies offer new possibilities to develop network-based fruitful relationships with partners, suppliers, and customers. To exploit such opportunities, an agreement about the meaning of the information exchanged - i.e., an integration at the semantic level - is needed. Semantic Web standards1 provide the means to represent the semantics of data in a Web-based and machine-understandable way. In particular, semantic Web technologies can be exploited in order to support the interaction between two categories of SME:

  • (a)

    ICT companies (i.e., software houses) that offer software solutions for business automation and need to get in contact with their potential customers; henceforth referred to as ICT companies, or software houses.

  • (b)

    SME that feel the need of improving their technological integration and business automation, but lack the know-how to find the most suited ICT solution that fits their needs; henceforth simply called SME.

However, the exploitation of the technological support is not enough for being competitive in the global market: SME should also take into consideration new business and management approaches, and, first of all, the way in which they handle their relationships with customers. The new market, in fact, requires personalized approaches to the single customer, and flexible offers, that need to be updated rapidly. Moreover, in order to be aware of the market and customer behavior trends, data about sales and communications with customers have to be elaborated very quickly, to support suitable management and marketing decisions. For these reasons, SME should embrace the principles of Customer Relationship Management (CRM), as well as those ICT products and services supporting it (Freeland, 2005).

The key feature of the CRM approach is a one-to-one marketing perspective, i.e. the idea of establishing personalized relationships with the single customer, by producing personalized offers, pricing, after-sale services, and so on. Moreover, CRM is a field in which technological innovation could bring great benefits since it requires analysis, integration, and processing of a huge amount of heterogeneous knowledge (about customers, sales, communications, etc.), besides effective, fast and integrated communication tools.

Within this scenario, the choice of the “right” CRM tool is an issue of major importance and, at the same time, it is a very challenging issue (, 2011; Netsuite, 2011), especially for SME, that would thus get great benefits from a Web-based service supporting an intelligent matching between supply and demand for CRM-related tools. In this chapter, we present the result of the ARNEIS (Advanced Repository for Needs of Enterprises and Innovative Software) project, i.e. an architecture for an intelligent Web-based repository of descriptions of CRM solutions. ARNEIS represents a step in the direction of providing a Web-based, friendly and automatic recommendation service for CRM tools, especially designed for SME.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Semantic Web: The Semantic Web started from a vision of Tim Berners-Lee, James Hendler and Ora Lassila and it is still work in progress. Basically, the Semantic Web is an evolution of the World Wide Web in which machines (i.e., software processes) can, at some extent, “understand” the meaning of the information and services available on it and, in some cases, can also “reason” about them. These understanding and automatic reasoning capabilities are supported by the usage of standards and technologies that enable the description of Web resources (possibly by means of metadata) and to specify concepts and properties in a machine-readable form.

Web 3.0: Web 3.0 can be considered as an evolution of Web 2.0, which in turn can be roughly seen as a service-oriented Web, enabling and encouraging user participation and collaboration. There is no agreement about the specific features characterizing Web 3.0, but many reaserchers agree on the major role that semantic technologies and personalization techniques play in it. In this perspective, Web 3.0 can thus be viewed as a semantic and personalized version of Web 2.0.

Customer Relationship Management: Customer Relationship Management (CRM) is an overall company strategy for managing its interactions with customers. It usually exploits ICT to manage business processes related to customer care, typically sales activities, marketing, and customer services. The main goal of CRM is to find and get new customers, retain those the company already has, and reduce the costs of marketing and customer service provision. CRM usually adopts a one-to-one marketing perspective, i.e. establishing personalized relationships with single customers, by providing personalized offers, pricing, after-sale services, and so on.

Ontology: In computer science, an ontology is an explicit and formal representation of concepts, properties and relationships concerning a given domain, which specifies the semantics of a shared vocabulary. Actually, there is a huge variability in the formalization degree and in the specificity level of ontologies. Along the former dimension, ontologies range from rather informal controlled vocabularies to strongly axiomatized logic theories. As regards specificity, they range from rather general cross-domain foundational ontologies to semantic representations relevant to very specific application domains. Ontologies expressed in formal languages support, to some extent, automatic reasoning.

E-Business: Electronic business (e-business) refers to the exploitation of ICT (Information and Communication Technologies), and in particular Web-based technologies, to support business activities. E-business includes the exploitation of ICT and Web technologies to support enterprise internal activities, relationships with partners, suppliers, and customers (e-commerce).

Human-Computer Interaction: Human-Computer Interaction (HCI) is a discipline that studies the design of the interaction between human users and computers and thus the design of User Interfaces (UI). HCI is typically concerned with the goal of defining UI enabling a user-friendly interaction, and takes into account usability and accessibility issues. Roughly speaking, usability refers to the provision of an easy access to a system functionality, while accessibility takes into account the universal access (in particular for impaired people) to all system features.

Knowledge-Based Systems: Knowledge-based systems are software systems built by following methodologies and techniques typical of Artificial Intelligence. Their core component is the knowledge base, i.e. a formal representation of knowledge, usually concerning a specific domain. A distinguishing feature of these systems is the separation between the knowledge base and the procedural (and usually domain-independent) knowledge embedded in the algorithms that access to the knowledge base. A knowledge-based system typically includes also some mechanisms to acquire (new) knowledge, as well as reasoning mechanisms that exploit the knowledge base to make inferences.

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