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Interoperability: Understand the challenges 

Interoperability: Understand the challenges 

Nick KnowltonQ. What are the different types of interoperability and their challenges? 

A. There are four different types, or levels, of interoperability: foundational, structural, semantic and organizational. Each presents its own set of challenges, but when viewed collectively, it's clear why interoperability isn’t just a good idea, but a necessity.  

The most fundamental level of interoperability is foundational interoperability, which refers to the ability of two or more systems to exchange data. At this level, the challenge is simply to ensure that the data can be exchanged and acknowledged. 

Structural interoperability refers to the ability of two or more systems to connect and share information at a data field level. This is the start of interpreting the data, not just receiving it, which in and of itself leaves open the possibility of inconsistent and unused information locked away in a document. The challenge here is to ensure that both parties can properly parse and understand the data being exchanged.  

Semantic interoperability builds on structural interoperability with an emphasis on the meaning and the use of the data being exchanged. This level is necessary to meet the vision that our industry and systems must not only share data but also make sense of it to take appropriate action and enable automation. To ensure the data is correctly interpreted, it’s critical that involved parties use the same terminology and definitions.  

The fourth type of interoperability is organizational interoperability, which refers to the ability of different organizations to work together effectively. This level requires not only the interoperable technical infrastructure, but also policies, procedures and processes that are consistent across organizations. The difficulty lies in ensuring that all of the various stakeholders are able to come to an agreement on how to align on equally important topics such as legal and governance. 

Nick Knowlton is vice president, business development at Brightree. FMI:


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