Interoperability is the ability of two or more systems or components to exchange information and to use the information that has been exchanged. Typically interoperability will be undertaken at two levels; semantic and technical. Semantic interoperability allows stakeholders to describe the requirements without consideration of the technical implementation. With respect to software, the term interoperability is used to describe the technical capability of different programs to exchange data via a common set of exchange formats, to read and write the same file formats, and to use the same protocols.
Interoperability represents the capability to run processes seamlessly across organisational boundaries without losing context or meaning and is achieved by:
- Understanding how the business processes of different organizations can interconnect.
- Specifying the semantics of messages within these processes so that the requirements and context can be agreed by all stakeholders.
- Developing standards to support these business processes efficiently, so that the messages can be exchanged between organizations in a scalable way.
- Providing implementation guidelines on how the semantics are transformed into syntactically equivalent messages which can be understood and processed automatically by disparate systems.
Semantic interoperability enables Trade facilitation organizations such as UN/CEFACT to develop libraries such as the UN CCL where information is presented in a consistent manner, regardless of technology, application or platform. At a government or sectoral level semantic interoperability is often a prerequisite before systems/technical interoperability because requirements can be agreed by the business owners without the complexity of discussing the implementation methodology.
This same process can be undertaken for intergovernmental message exchange. Projects such as NIEM (http://niem.gov) in the US and ISA (http://ec.europa.eu/isa/) in the EU have developed a library of common vocabulary for consistent, repeatable exchanges of information between governmental organisations. Semantic libraries can be published using the Asset Description Metadata Schema (ADMS), which is a repository where semantic asset descriptions can be stored so that implementing organisations can search or discover the appropriate standard and download the appropriate information.
It thus provides organizations with the ability to transfer and use information across multiple technologies and systems by creating commonality in the way that systems exchange information between processes across organizational boundaries.