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Interoperability Achieved

Enable interoperability across the enterprise at high levels of maturity.

The European Interoperability Framework (EIF)

In order to make the free movement of goods between the 28 member states of the European Union more efficient, effective timely, and of high quality, these Member States are modernizing their public administrations through digital public services. However, there is still the risk of creating isolated digital environments and other barriers that may prevent public administrators from connecting with each other. Therefore, the European Commission has created the European Interoperability Framework (EIF) to guide administrations within member states to set up and run interoperable systems.
Although this framework had been developed for governments of local states, its contents can be applied to enterprises and this is the purpose of this chapter.

First, Interoperability is defined by the European Commission (2017) as; “the ability of organisations to interact towards mutually beneficial goals, involving the sharing of information and knowledge between these organizations, through the business processes they support, by means of the exchange of data between their ICT systems.”

The European Interoperability Framework is based on 12 principles that are fundamental behavioral aspects to drive interoperability actions. Some of these principles are:

  1. Openness. Data should be published and shared as much as possible. This could help save development costs, avoid a lock-in effect and create synergies within the enterprise. Additionally, the level of openness of a specification/standard is a key aspect of the reuse of the underlying data or software implementing that specification.
  2. Transparency. Transparency in the EIF consists of (1) visibility, (2) availability of interfaces, and (3) the protection of personal data. First, visibility is about allowing other players such as customers, other businesses, and governments to view and understand administrative rules, processes, data, services, and decision-making. Second, interfaces between heterogeneous and disparate information systems are necessary to make these systems work together and their interfaces are thus crucial for interoperability. Third, applicable legal frameworks for handling large amounts of personal data such as GDPR should be respected.
  3. Reusability. The reusability of IT solutions, information and data is an enabler of interoperability and improves quality because it extends operational use while saving money and time.
  4. Technological neutrality and data portability. Technological neutrality (i.e. technology agnosticism) means focusing on functional needs and deferring decisions on technology as long as possible to minimize technological dependencies, to avoid imposing specific technical implementations or products on their constituents, and to be able to adapt to the rapidly evolving technological environment. Additionally, data portability refers to the ability to move and reuse data easily across different applications and systems as means to avoid lock-in and ensure interoperability as well.
  5. User-centricity. User needs and requirements should guide the design and development of services in accordance with the three expectations. First, a multi-channel services delivery approach means that availability of alternative channels (physical and digital) to access a service and it is important as users may prefer different channels depending on the circumstances and their needs. Second, a single point of contact should be made available to users to hide internal administrative complexity and facilitate access to a service. Third, User feedback should be systematically collected, assessed, and used to design new services and to further improve existing ones.
  6. Administrative simplification. Digitization of services should take place in accordance with (1) digital-by-default, (2) digital-first. The former means that there should be at least one digital channel available for each service. The latter concept means that priority must be given to using services via digital channels while applying the multi-channel delivery concept and no-wrong-door policy.
  7. Preservation of information.
  8. Assessment of effectiveness and efficiency.

The EIF describes an interoperability model that consists of four layers as depicted in figure 1 below. This model depicts the so-called interoperability governance which is defined as; “decisions on interoperability frameworks, institutional arrangements, organizational structures, roles and responsibilities, policies, agreements and other aspects of ensuring and monitoring interoperability at national and EU levels.”

interoperability governance

Fig 1: Interoperability Governance

Legal interoperability is about ensuring that organizations or parts of organizations operating under different legal frameworks, policies, and strategies are able to work together.

Organizational interoperability

This interoperability layer concerns the way in which organizations align their business processes, responsibilities, and expectations to achieve commonly agreed and mutually beneficial goals. In practice, organizational interoperability refers to documenting and integrating or aligning business processes and relevant information exchanged. Organizational interoperability also aims at meeting the requirements of the user community by making services available, easily identifiable, accessible, and user-focused.

Semantic interoperability

This interoperability layer aims at ensuring that the precise format and meaning of exchanged data and information is preserved and understood throughout exchanges between parties.
It covers semantics and syntax:

  • Semantics
    refers to the meaning of data elements and the relationships between them.
  • Syntax
    refers to describing the exact format of the information to be exchanged in terms of grammar and format.

Technical interoperability

This covers the applications and infrastructures linking systems and services. Aspects of technical interoperability include interface specifications, interconnection services, data integration services, data presentation and exchange, and secure communication protocols.

The Use Case Tree Method as an enabler of interoperability

As business silos are isolated parts of an organization that either work together in a rather dysfunctional way or do not work together at all, we consider that achieving high levels of interoperability within the enterprise is essential to allow these silos to work together and create synergies among them.

The Use Case Tree Method is a rationale by which enterprises could design, build and deploy Enterprise Knowledge Graphs that, at high levels of maturity, will enable interoperability across the enterprise. Besides offering in semantic interoperability via ontologies and machine-readable definitions of meaning, the Use Case Tree enables organizational by offering the opportunity to different parts of an organization to align their business processes, responsibilities, and expectations through modular reusable business capabilities (i.e. use cases) that are easy to deploy and have proven their value in the past.

Additionally, EKG and the Use Case tree method could help organizations to reach higher levels of legal interoperability through compliance.

Author: Carlos Tubbax