Information Interoperability: The Next Great Challenge for IT

The networks are seemingly ubiquitous, “five-nines” are common, and hardware and software work together more or less fluidly; these were once among IT’s greatest challenges. Today, many of these one-time obstacles to business productivity are considered just part of the fabric that is our interconnected world.

“The challenges keep getting solved and each time you solve a challenge you get a bigger challenge or another challenge,” said Chris Harding, who manages The Open Group’s work on semantic interoperability. “So, the next problem is making the same sense out of the data that you exchange across those connections.”

In other words, too get everyone talking a common language, or lexicon—at least from a business perspective (good luck on the rest). So, you ask, why does IT need to care? Because, like all things business today, it is IT’s job to make “it” work. Information interoperability (IIO) is no different since it is IT’s job to take whatever terminology is being used to describe whatever business transaction is taking place, and replicate it across system and after business system.

And, as businesses continually strive to link to other businesses in real-time, if the information is not accurate, then whatever IT does in its role as facilitator will fall short in terms of business outcome. This, in a nutshell, is why IT needs to care about IIO. Without IIO, problems based on misunderstandings cascade very quickly. They can also be fixed quickly, but that takes people away from more important, higher-level work.

If you look across verticals—healthcare, aerospace, IT, etc.—you realize that common lexicons built around specialized knowledge have been in place since the Stone Age. The push today is to mold the everyday language of business into a common lexicon that means the same thing to everyone regardless of where the transaction is taking place or in what language.

The semantic Web we’ve begun hearing so much about recently is an attempt to make this vision a reality but it is, for now, an academic exercise with little impact in the business world.

From a technology perspective, XML and metadata are merely wrappers, if you will, for this effort but the real work of establishing common lexicons is done by people. Machines will facilitate the end result, but it’s up to people to find common ground on the meaning of terms and that means it ain’t going to be easy.

“There’s a lot of people who don’t appreciate it yet, because they look at things from their (siloed) perspective and to them it’s clear,” said Tom Reale, associate executive director in the Command, Control, Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance division of MITRE, a non-profit research corporation.