Help define “interoperability”

As part of my volunteer work with ASTM F49 Digital Information in the Supply Chain, I was challenged by one of the subcommittee chairs, Iliriana Kaçaniku, to assist in defining the term “interoperability” for Subcommittee F49.02 called “Interoperability”.  Iliriana has written:

The [proposed] scope of this subcommittee is to develop standards enabling interoperability of heterogeneous supply chains, logistics, and transportation technologies on events related to transportation starting with container availability.

In response to the request and in alignment with my role as subcommittee chair for F49.01 Terminology, I reviewed the existing work items and modified the work item WK87871 New Terminology for Supply Chain Key Terms and Terminology Modifiers to add the keyword ‘interoperability’.  Research of sources for citable definitions was prepared and then during Committee Week in November 2023, the F49 executive team discussed progress on Work Items including this one.  

Globally, the calling for ‘interoperability’ in supply chain systems has generated a multitude of technology providers who have made offerings to address portions of the supply chain’s communication dysfunction, but to what end?  Are we better off?

Is ‘interoperability’ the goal?  

Do we need that level of integration?

Do we need interoperability

Research reveals the variations in published definitions for interoperability has generated a complex landscape of experts’ comprehension of that interoperability word depending primarily on source, role, geography and industry sector. 

For example, do we need Data-Level Interoperability or Semantic-Level Interoperability?

  • Data-level Interoperability: Data-level or syntactic interoperability enables data to be shared across applications and platforms’ 
  • Semantic-level Interoperability: This type of interoperability allows the data to be interpreted correctly by different machine-learning systems []

Interoperability is defined by the National Institute for Standards and Technology (NIST) as “the ability of one entity to communicate with another entity.”

Interoperability is defined by the International Electrotechnical Commission as the “capability of two or more functional units to process data collaboratively or cooperatively.”

Interoperability is also defined by the European Commission as “a key factor in making a digital transformation possible. It allows administrative entities to electronically exchange meaningful information in ways that are understood by all parties.”

The International Organization of Standardization (ISO) has defined Interoperability in several standards:

  • IEEE Standard Computer Dictionary and ISO/TS 27790:2009 [3.39] define interoperability as the “ability of two or more systems or components to exchange information and to use the information that has been exchanged.
  • ISO 37100:2016 [3.6.3] and ISO/IEC 30182:2017 [2.10] define interoperability as the “ability of systems to provide services to and accept services from other systems and to use the services so exchanged to enable them to operate effectively together.
  • ISO/IEC 20944-1:2013 [] and ISO/IEC 30182:2017 [2.5] define data interoperability as “interoperability concerning the creation, meaning, computation, use, transfer, and exchange of data.”

Interoperability is defined by Amazon Web Services as “the ability of applications and systems to securely and automatically exchange data irrespective of geographical, political, or organizational boundaries. Coordinated data sharing across organizations and departments is essential in several sectors for research and development as well as an improved end-user experience. Interoperability refers to the standards, protocols, technologies, and mechanisms that allow data to flow between diverse systems with minimal human intervention. It allows diverse systems to talk to each other and share information in real time. Interoperability solutions reduce data silos and help organizations achieve industry-compliant communications. This translates to increased efficiency and higher-quality service offerings.”

Interoperability is defined by LinkedIn as “the ability of different components of a system to exchange and use information effectively. It is essential for ensuring the reliability, scalability, and performance of your system design. However, testing interoperability can be challenging, as it involves multiple factors such as protocols, standards, data formats, and interfaces.”

I wonder how ‘interconnected’ would work in place of ‘interoperability’? 

Interconnected is a different thing from interoperability, yet the word interoperability is the word people often choose to use when describing their vision for the future state of global logistics.  

From an International Organization of Standardization (ISO) perspective, ICS 35.100 is the standard for Open System Interconnection (OSI), and states that “[t]he model provides a common basis for the coordination of standards development for the purpose of systems interconnection, while allowing existing standards to be placed into perspective within the overall Reference Model.’ 

NIST SP 800-16 defines System Interconnection as “a direct connection between two or more systems in different authorization boundaries for the purpose of exchanging information and/or allowing access to information, information services, and resources.”

Directive 97/33/EC of the European Parliament Interconnection in Telecommunications with regard to ensuring universal service and interoperability through application of the principles of Open Network Provision (ONP) states “interconnection means the physical and logical linking of telecommunications networks used by the same or a different organization in order to allow the users of one organization to communicate with users of the same or another organization, or to access services provided by another organization.”

Consider the term interconnected [not defined in, but] used in the CSCMP’s Glossary in the following definitions: 

  • Arrow Diagram is “a planning tool to diagram a sequence of events or activities (nodes) and the interconnectivity of such nodes.  It is used for scheduling and especially for determining the critical path through nodes.
  • Global Data Synchronization Network (GDSN) is “an Internet-based, interconnected network of interoperable data pools and a Global Registry, the GS1 Global Registry, that enables companies around the world to exchange standardized and synchronized supply chain data with their trading partners.
  • Internet is a computer term which refers to an interconnected group of computer networks from all parts of the world, i.e. a network of networks. Accessed via a modem and an on-line service provider, it contains many information resources and acts as a giant electronic message routing system.

So, from a Standards Development perspective, which is it that is needed for supply chain technologies to synchronously ‘flow’ data between technology intermediaries without digital friction?  

Interoperability or Interconnectedness?

Both words should be defined and clarified for industry, government, and technology alignment.

Here is the ASTM format for writing definitions (Sec E).

If the Standards Development work in F49 interests you, and you have #knowledge and #experience with supply chain terms, join the F49 Committee and participate in Subcommittees F49.01 Terminology and F49.02 Interoperability to harmonize supply chain terms so we can realize interconnectedness and, when warranted, support integrations needed for realizing interoperability.

Comments stating your opinion or adding additional references are appreciated.

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