NUI Galway opens web technology institute

24 Jun 2004

A new technology institute that will conduct research into the next generation of web technologies has been opened at National University of Ireland (NUI) Galway. The facility is being co-funded by Hewlett-Packard’s (HP) European Research Centre in Galway.

In June 2003, NUI Galway was awarded €12m over five years from Science Foundation Ireland to fund a new Digital Enterprise Research Institute (DERI). The investment will make NUI Galway an internationally recognised centre of excellence for semantic web research, eventually employing more than 60 researchers from both the university and industry partner HP.

Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Mary Harney TD, officially opened the facility and spoke about the Government’s commitment to the development of a knowledge-based economy, which she said would be assisted through the continuing investment in research initiatives such as DERI.

The principle behind the semantic web is to make it easier for people to find information than it is in today’s search engines and for machines to automatically process and integrate information available on the web. The semantic web is one of four research clusters at DERI, the others being semantic web services, knowledge management and enterprise application integration.

The new institute is being run by Professor Dieter Fensel and Professor Christoph Bussler, both leading figures in global semantic web research, who plan to build the number of research staff in DERI to more than 60 postgraduate and postdoctoral researchers by 2008.

Says Fensel: “The development of the semantic web will be as revolutionary as the original development of the web itself. Although still in its infancy, research indicates that the semantic web will revolutionise the way we do business by delivering global cost and efficiencies. It is estimated that the time spent using web technology will be dramatically reduced within the next five years, resulting in significantly lower costs for users. It will also deliver greater choice and better pricing structures for consumers and business.”

He continues: “Our work at DERI will transform e-commerce over the web. When most people think of e-commerce, they think of business-to-consumer. In fact, business-to-business accounts for a much larger proportion of revenue generated directly by e-commerce. Ultimately, consumers and businesses will be provided with a level of choice unimaginable years ago at much more competitive prices. For example, when making an enquiry into the purchase of a corporate business trip, the purchaser will not only get information on the best deal but also the best deal on all associated services such as car hire and accommodation — all at the touch of a button.”

The new technology will replace the HTML-based web language with languages such as extensible markup language, resource description framework and ontology web language, which will involve tagging, eventually enabling purchasers to compare pricing across different websites. “This will enable consumers to get the best price and the best deal and will rank them according to the criteria a consumer has specified,” notes Fensel.

DERI has also developed strong academic links with the Next Web Generation Group at the University of Innsbruck in Austria through joint projects headed by Fensel. There are plans to foster an extensive researcher exchange programme with the group.

Dr Chris Coughlan, strategy and e-commerce, database and telemarketing manager of HP, adds: “We are now moving into a very exciting phase in the development of the semantic web, which is a vision for the future of the internet. The merging of industry and academia provides an ideal platform for the development of this new technology. The sharing of ideas and personnel will greatly enhance the potential of DERI as a world-class leader in the development of this web technology.

“This research is vital to the way we will manage the explosion of information on the internet and for Ireland to be pioneering research in this area is a significant development for the whole area of research and development in this country,” he concludes.

By Brian Skelly

Pictured in the Digital Enterprise Research Institure (DERI) were (from left): researcher Ina O Murchu; Professor Christoph Bussler, executive director, DERI; and Professor Dieter Fensel, scientific director, DERI