Electronic Commerce (EC) is emerging as a major Web-supported application. EC supports many business transactions via a network. The Internet is an open environment, widely distributed, and relatively inexpensive. Business transactions usually run under closed environments. To conduct business on the Internet, many problems must be solved. Examples of these problems are: security, authentication, heterogeneity, interoperability, and ontological problems. It is the aim of this research to provide an infrastructure for business-to-business EC. To narrow the scope of this research the focus is a specific business process, the tendering process. To support EC applications (tendering in particular), ontologies were used to solve many problems in this domain. It has been argued that beyond software engineering and process engineering, ontological engineering is the third capability needed if successful e-commerce is to be realized. Conceptual Graphs (CGs) are used to implement these ontologies. CGs are a method of knowledge representation developed by Sowa based on Charles Peirce's Existential Graphs and semantic networks of artificial intelligence.
This research is directed to answer the question: How can explicit ontologies be obtained, constructed, used and implemented to support e-commerce (tendering in particular)? To answer this question in practical way, three more specific questions are defined. They are: How can ontologies be built and used generally and in the tendering domain? How can CGs be used to implement these ontologies? What can ontology offer for tendering automation?
The research theme can be summarized as creating a new method for building and managing a tendering system and solving some problems in CGs to implement an ontology for the tendering domain. This thesis shows that ontologies and CGs could be used to facilitate and support e-commerce. An ontological-based tendering system will help in testing the feasibility of the ontological approach, which will contribute to building a new generation of business-to-business EC. The proposed solution deploys the mediator concept to build a shared ontology. The mediator will be responsible for maintaining different types of ontologies and performing different types of matching. This will facilitate the automation of many tendering activities such as tender forming, buyer and seller matching, bid evaluation and other activities. Four levels of abstractions are defined to build the ontologies. At some levels, two types of ontology have been established; one for concepts and the other for structures. Some CG tools have been used to build CG structures for tendering from existing Electronic Data Interchange (EDI) messages. Algorithms have been developed to extract signatures, which is a primitive CG where a single relation links two or more concepts, from CG-EDI templates. Ontologies have been used to index the tendering data. Indexes have been built around signatures. An algorithm has been developed to index and retrieve tendering information using CGs and ontologies. Using CGs to implement ontologies has been formally analyzed using the Bunge-Wand-Weber (BWW) model.
Tendering is well addressed in many disciplines and many commercial systems have automated the process or a part of the process. The significant point in this research is using explicit ontologies and deploying the e-mediator concept for matchmaking in the tendering domain.
The existence of these ontologies means that some means to manage them is required. Many ontology-based systems build tools that help them in managing their ontologies but there are no clear methodologies to build such a system.
This thesis articulates specifications for an Ontology Management System (OMS) using CGs. The meaning is defined, the components are identified, and the methodology to build an OMS using CGs is outlined. This thesis stands in between Information Systems (IS) (which covers a macro view or a descriptive view) and Computer Science (CS) (which covers a micro view or technical view). The reader whose background is information systems will find the first chapters of this thesis are the more business oriented and descriptive part. Readers whose concerns are computer science will find the more technical aspects in the later part. The thesis attempts to balance the IS and CS disciplines in clarifying how ontologies can be used to support e-commerce.