Interoperability is Easy, Right?


hitinteropWhen I first sat down to talk with Mario Hyland (@interopguy), AEGIS.net’s founder, we focused on the fundamental concept of interoperability. Despite a plethora of definitions created by different standards development organizations (SDOs), Mario’s definition seemed simple enough to me. He defines interoperability as, “[the] Exchange of information between two systems where both systems share an understanding of the context in which the information is to be used.”

Interoperability: [the] Exchange of information between two systems where both systems share an understanding of the context in which the information is to be used.

While Mario’s definition is simple, the complexities of informational context become more apparent when we examine interoperability standards, a domain that he clearly understands quite thoroughly. He explained, “There are currently many organizations that develop interoperability standards for a given industry, such as healthcare. Although interoperability standards are developed with the best of intentions, all standards are then interpreted through implementation.” To put this even more simply, a standard is broken down into a requirement, a requirement into code, and code into a test case. When you consider all of the transformations that standards go through to become test cases, it is easy to see why subtle intricacies can be lost in translation.

Another large hurdle to interoperability is money – more specifically, the allocation of funding for interoperability projects. In order to achieve interoperability, more money needs to be devoted to the testing process. One example of interoperability that we often never give second thought to is ATMs. “You can insert your debit card at an ATM that is not affiliated with your bank and immediately withdraw cash, check account balances, and in some cases, make a deposit. How did this come together? Magic? Unfortunately, no – over three billion dollars’ worth of interoperability testing was performed in order to achieve the effortless interoperability end users experience today. Traditionally, companies spend less than 25% of their total project budget on testing- this amount needs to increase.” Although interoperability testing is a key portion of the testing process, other forms of testing, such as regression and integration, cannot be ignored.

It is clear that achieving interoperability is not as simple as it seems at first glance, both in terms of logistical and monetary hurdles. However, just because interoperability is a difficult objective to achieve does not negate the extreme importance of reaching this milestone. How can interoperability be moved forward? Check back soon for more insights from Mario on how we, both as organizations and individuals, can move interoperability forward.

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