Interoperability 101: How Interoperability Affects Your Organization

Written by Donna Kmetz
8 Minutes read
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Interoperability’s the word of the year and it’s no wonder—it’s a consideration we can’t ignore. A prime example is healthcare. The global healthcare interoperability solutions market is booming. With a 14.5% CAGR, it’s expected to reach a market valuation of $16.2 billion by the end of 2033. 

And it’s not just healthcare. Interoperability affects the collaboration between every system in every industry. Finance, government and public services, manufacturing, even retail/e-commerce are supported by diverse infrastructure that must communicate effectively. 

This puts software developers at the forefront of innovation. As companies vie to promote interoperability and integrate systems, organizations with products built for this functionality are well-placed for success.

But what is interoperability? How does it differ from integration? What’s its impact on organizations, and why should you consider it vital to your business? And what engineers do you need to achieve full systems communication and compatibility, now and in the future?

Welcome to Jobsity’s Interoperability Series. In this first part, we’ll cover the basics of interoperability and why it’s important. It’s an easy overview so you can better understand system communication—and know the devs you’ll need to get it done.

What Is Interoperability?

Simply put, “interoperability” refers to the extent to which software systems, devices, and applications connect and communicate. To qualify as “interoperable,” the components must collaborate in a coordinated manner, without needing end-user interaction. 

It’s most applicable to aspects including data access and transmission—but extends beyond the software itself. Interoperability also includes collaborative efforts across organizations: how users apply, modify, and add to the data. 

An interoperability synonym would be “compatibility:” interoperability allows every organizational component to “talk to each other” in a mutually-intelligible language. It provides a more holistic view of information, allowing for greater efficiency and insight.

There are four main levels of interoperability, most commonly used in reference to healthcare but applicable across industries:

1. Foundational Interoperability: Foundational interoperability can be described as “opening the pipes” for data to flow smoothly between systems. It's all about effective data exchange. Foundational interoperability is only the first layer, so while data’s communicated, it’s not interpreted or used in a meaningful way.

2. Structural Interoperability: Structural interoperability defines the format for how data is exchanged between systems. It’s also called “syntactic interoperability.” It includes a standardized data format and protocol so the recipient system can understand and make use of the data. In this second step, the data’s already there—now we’re making sure it’s in a common language so it’s usable. 

3. Semantic Interoperability: Semantic interoperability ensures that systems not only exchange data in a common language, but also understand it in the same way. It’s a subtle distinction, and an important one. It’s the difference between hearing a sentence of words and recognizing that they’re in your language, and understanding their meaning.

4. Organizational Interoperability: Organizational interoperability is the highest level of interoperability possible. It’s where every system used by multiple organizations can communicate: not only software, but users, too. It requires governance, policies, and considerations for data privacy to ensure trust and reliability in data exchange. 

So now you know a little more about what interoperability means—but you’ve noticed that it’s often paired with the word “integration.” How do they differ?

What’s the Difference Between Interoperability and Integration?

Systems interoperability and integration are certainly related, but they refer to different aspects of connecting and using various systems. 

Interoperability refers to the ability of different systems or components to exchange and use information. It means that diverse systems can work together, exchange data, and interpret that exchanged data–or, “interoperate.” Interoperability focuses on the compatibility and communication between systems, allowing them to operate together effectively.

Integration, on the other hand, involves combining different systems or components into a single, unified system that functions cohesively. Integration often requires the development of interfaces, middleware, or adapters to build communication protocols and data exchange between disparate systems. The goal of integration is to create a smooth experience for users or processes. It does this by consolidating abilities from multiple systems into one interface or workflow.

So, in short, interoperability is the ability of systems to communicate and exchange data effectively. Integration is the process of combining and coordinating different systems to work together as a merged whole. Interoperability is a prerequisite for successful integration, as integrated systems must be able to communicate with each other to operate effectively.

The Impact of Interoperability on Organizations

Interoperability and integration allow systems to work together, regardless of their underlying technologies or protocols. What does that mean for your business? It translates to improved efficiency, productivity, and flexibility—and cost savings across the board

One of the primary impacts of interoperability is improved collaboration. When systems can easily exchange data through interoperable communications, teams within an organization can work together more effectively

For example, a sales team could access real-time inventory data from the warehouse management system. This would allow them to provide accurate delivery timelines to customers. Another example is marketing. If marketing teams can analyze customer data from the CRM system, they can tailor their campaigns more precisely.

Interoperability also fosters innovation. By integrating disparate systems, businesses can create new workflows and processes that leverage the strengths of each platform. It opens up opportunities for automation: streamlining operations and ultimately driving business growth. 

This is the case with AI integration, particularly in customer service. Integrating customer support systems with AI chatbots can improve response times and provide round-the-clock assistance to customers—without human intervention.

Interoperability enables organizations to adapt more quickly to changing market dynamics and customer demands. With interconnected systems, businesses can easily scale their operations, add new functionalities, or switch to alternative solutions as needed. This agility is invaluable in today's competitive market, where companies must constantly evolve to stay ahead of the curve.

Finally, we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention cost. In addition to the cost savings inherent in a more efficient organization, interoperability has a specific impact on cost-reduction. By integrating existing systems rather than building everything from scratch, businesses can reduce development costs and time-to-market

Another benefit? Interoperable systems often require less maintenance and support, leading to lower overhead costs in the long run.

How Does Interoperability Affect Various Industries?

Every industry that uses software is affected by interoperability—which, in the modern age, means that every industry is affected. There are, however, industries that are more impacted than others: 

  • Healthcare: Interoperability in healthcare streamlines the exchange of patient data among various medical systems. These include electronic health records (EHR) and medical imaging systems. When systems are interoperable, they provide quick access to comprehensive patient information, improving decision-making and patient care. There’s improved coordination between healthcare facilities, ensuring continuity. Interoperability also supports population health management by analyzing data from multiple sources to track and improve public health outcomes.
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  • Finance/Banking: Interoperability is essential in finance and banking for smooth transactions between different financial institutions. It enables integration with payment networks, allowing fund transfers and real-time data sharing. Interoperable systems also support fraud detection, risk management, and personalized financial services.

  • Manufacturing: Interoperability in manufacturing allows for effective communication between systems and equipment, as well as data exchange throughout the manufacturing process. It supports real-time monitoring, optimization, and collaboration, leading to increased productivity and improved product quality. Interoperability also improves supply chain management by integrating systems with suppliers, partners, and customers.

  • Government/Public Services: Interoperability allows government agencies to share data securely and efficiently. It supports electronic government initiatives: citizens can access various services online easily. It also gives decision and policy makers more comprehensive information for their work. Another impact is on emergency response and public safety efforts. Interoperable communication systems help first responders act as quickly as possible to support people in need.

  • Education: Interoperability in education enables effective integration between different educational systems, supporting personalized learning experiences for students. It simplifies communication and collaboration between educators, students, and parents. This, in turn, improves engagement and academic outcomes. Interoperability also allows for data portability across educational institutions and systems.

  • Retail/E-commerce: Interoperability in retail and e-commerce promotes omnichannel retailing and consistent shopping experiences across diverse systems. It supports real-time inventory visibility, order management, and fulfillment, optimizing supply chain operations. And, of course, it means easy integration with third-party services that boost retail operations and reach a broader audience.

Obstacles to Achieving Interoperability

While achieving interoperability is a significant goal, it’s not without its challenges. One is the ironic problem of progress: legacy systems and incompatible platforms make interoperability difficult. Integration of older software requires careful planning and expertise—and as software’s constantly evolving, the definition of “outdated” follows suit.

Standardization is also key. Interoperability requires agreed-upon protocols and formats. Creating common standards for data exchange and communication is necessary to bridge gaps between systems and applications.

Security and privacy concerns add another layer of difficulty. As businesses exchange sensitive information between systems, they must ensure the confidentiality and integrity of data—particularly in healthcare. Interoperability must therefore include building strong security measures and compliance protocols.

Organizational and cultural barriers also slow the process. Resistance to change, departmental silos, and different priorities can impede the communication necessary for change. This is an example of the highest level of interoperability: that which includes not only software, but the end users. Everyone has to be on the same page for the system to work, much less integrate.

Naturally, the first step to overcoming all of these challenges is to have the right hires on your side. Bringing on software developers well-versed in interoperability and integration promotes confidence within your existing team and streamlines the procedure. So who do you need?

Learn to build and manage an effective team. Learn more with Jobsity's Distributed Teams series.

The Top Five Software Devs You Need to Be Interoperable

Through the many software developers and engineers who contribute to interoperability and integration processes, there are five who stand out. You’ll need these devs on your team from beginning to end:

  • API Developers: Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) serve as the bridges between different software systems, allowing them to communicate and share data. API developers specialize in designing, building, and maintaining APIs that permit interoperability between different applications.

  • Integration Developers: Integration developers focus on connecting disparate systems and applications to support data flow and functionality. They work with middleware technologies, such as enterprise service buses (ESBs), message brokers, and integration platforms. These technologies are necessary for communication between systems.

  • Protocol Developers: Protocols define the rules and standards for communication between different systems. Protocol developers, therefore, specialize in designing and implementing protocols that enable interoperability. These include HTTP, REST, SOAP, and MQTT.

  • Data Exchange Developers: Data exchange developers are responsible for making sure that data can be exchanged efficiently and accurately between different systems. They work with data formats, such as JSON, XML, CSV, and others, to support data interchange and transformation.

  • Standards Compliance Developers: Standards compliance developers verify that software systems adhere to industry standards and specifications. They stay up-to-date with relevant standards bodies and protocols, such as W3C, ISO, and IETF to implement standards-compliant solutions.

While these roles are important, collaboration and effective communication among team members are equally vital. You need a team that’s in it for the long haul, a team that gets it done right the first time.

That’s Where Jobsity Comes In

Our approach to staffing helps you level up your tech team, with long-term payoff. We find your ideal candidate, on your timeline, in your budget.

Jobsity devs stand head and shoulders above the rest, with an average retention rate of over 3 years. They represent the top 3% of LATAM talent, specializing in programming languages such as HTML, CSS, and JavaScript. 

That’s why companies like McGraw Hill and Creed Interactive trust Jobsity to provide the talent they need to make their projects a breeze.

Want a risk-free trial? Book a call today.

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Written by Donna Kmetz

Donna Kmetz is a business writer with a background in Healthcare, Education, and Linguistics. Her work has included SEO optimization for diverse industries, specialty course creation, and RFP/grant development. Donna is currently the Staff Writer at Jobsity, where she creates compelling content to educate readers and drive the company brand.

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