ERCIM News No.35 - October 1998

Two Information Brokering Service Environments undergo Pilot Tests

by Roland Klemke and Alexander Sigel

Information brokering or mediation of high-quality information is a complex intellectual activity which cannot be fully replaced by automated methods. However, appropriate service environments can considerably alleviate the experts’ tasks and augment their productivity. Therefore, with the long-term vision of user-tailored information environments in mind, the information brokering group at GMD’s Institute for Applied Information Technology has developed two instances of information brokering service environments in close cooperation and with involvement of end users. The prototypes are currently evaluated in the field under near-realistic conditions. Exploitation activities are under way.

Information brokers - trying to match their clients’ ill-structured information needs with information offers from networked information resources - are faced with new challenges: especially information overload and hard to use information systems aggravate or even impede the brokers’ tasks to survey all potentially useful sources in their domain and judge them for relevance and quality, as well as to stay familiar with the different and ever changing categorisation schemes.

User-tailored information environments have the potential to better support humans in adding value by collaboratively collecting, creating, processing, storing, and disseminating information objects. They allow eg for the explicit collection of certain meta information about sources like content, accessibility, quality, and usefulness, as well as categorisation schemes used. Furthermore, they provide functionalities to associate roles with tasks to be performed.

To investigate where and by which methods professional mediators can best be assisted by integrated brokering environments - a special case of user-tailored information environments - in all core tasks, our group has built two prototypes over the last two years.

In the first project (ELFI), the brokers are funding consultants at German universities and research centers whose task is to provide their clientele with a timely, well-focused awareness and search service about funding opportunities. The second project (COBRA), which aims at building a general reference model of information brokering, realised the prototype bizzyB. The bizzyB system is currently evaluated in two versions: One for brokers at the Milan Chambers of Commerce who are responsible for bringing complementary companies into contact, ie business-to- business brokering. The second version is used by brokers at County Durham TEC in Durham, who broker information about people and programmes aimed at encouraging economic developments in an underdeveloped region.

Our systems aim to be “one-stop-shops” for the information brokering process. Therefore, functions are offered to produce collections of metadata, and to adequately describe/classify information needs and offerings. The systems provide access to various heterogeneous, domain-specific sources, automatically translate and present data sets in a uniform format, and help users to browse/select/filter large data sets, which facilitates decision making. The two systems have specific interfaces for all roles/tasks that occur in the information brokering process. All relevant information objects are organised in a task-specific manner. Co-operative brokering processes are supported by communication means and sharing meta-information.

A central concept in both developments is the collection and utilisation of meta-information to support retrieval, selection, and distribution of relevant information. Access agents use these collections of meta-information for queries to information sources, and presentation agents display the gathered information according to user roles and usage contexts.

Our work also resulted in a component-based open brokering architecture that makes it now viable to create domain-specific brokering environments for different brokering scenarios and configurations.

Real users of the two domains currently test and evaluate the prototypes under near-realistic conditions in order to improve our software, as well as to help us to understand the problems in the brokering domains better. In addition we are eg interested in the impact our assistance systems have on the brokers’ workflow. A first positive result is the adoption of the prototypes by our user population. The fact that an increasing number of users integrate our prototypes into their work indicates that people find the system useful for their daily work. Therefore, commercial exploitation activities are under way.

More information is available at:

Please contact:

Christoph G. Thomas - GMD
Tel: +49 2241 14 2640

Roland Klemke/Achim Nick - GMD
Tel: +49 2241 14 2398

Hans-Guenter Lindner - humanIT GmbH

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