What Is Interoperability?

Margaret Lindquist | Content Strategist | May 20, 2024

What do you do when you have multiple information systems that need to work with each other? You look for interoperability, where systems that use different hardware, software, data formats, and storage work together as interoperable networks. For this to happen, developers need to agree on standard hardware communication protocols, consistent data formats, and metadata so each data element uses a shared vocabulary. Numerous stakeholders, including governments, industry and technology consortia, and international standards organizations, are involved in setting the standards that make interoperability possible.

What Is Interoperability?

Interoperability allows each system on a network to communicate with its peers to share, exchange, combine, and use data. Each interoperable system can also allow the other systems to read, update, modify, and analyze that data with minimal human interaction.

In healthcare, for example, interoperable systems combine patient data from different providers at different locations and from different times to form a complete view of a patient’s health history. Interoperable communications systems let different devices, regardless of the manufacturer, talk to one another. For the military, interoperability means that allied forces can communicate, share data and procedures, and use each other’s resources, such as weapons systems and intelligence about friendly and hostile forces. In financial services, system interoperability ensures that banks, payment providers, stock exchanges, and other parties can share data—securely and as needed—with each other and with regulators, partners, and other organizations.

Software developers can advance interoperability by building products using globally accepted or domain-specific standards. Interoperable systems improve efficiency and provide users with complete, real-time information so they can make better decisions. For example, in healthcare interoperable systems provide doctors with comprehensive patient data so they can make treatment and prescription recommendations that take into account the entire patient history. In enterprise cloud environments, interoperability ensures that services from different providers work together in a multicloud environment so businesses can benefit from the strengths of each provider while avoiding vendor lock-in and reducing risks, such as those associated with service outages. Across industries, standards-based interoperable systems are bringing together the data needed to tell a complete story.

Integration vs. Interoperability

Unlike integration, which describes systems that are connected to operate as a single system, interoperable systems remain separate but can securely share data in real time with minimal or no human interaction.

Interoperability is achieved through adherence to standards, protocols, and technologies that permit data to flow between different systems. These standards can operate at a very low level, such as the ASCII codes used to describe text characters, SQL for database queries, XML for complex records, and SVG for vector graphics. At a higher level, interoperability standards define the contextual meaning of data; examples include EDIFACT for financial records and HL7 FHIR for patient records.

Get the Benefits of Interoperability with Oracle

The benefits of interoperability emerge only when organizations commit to using systems that adhere to global and industry standards designed to reduce complexity and lower costs. Oracle products such as Oracle Database, Oracle Health HIE, and Java all rely on industry-accepted standards, and Oracle participates in more than 100 standards-setting organizations and more than 300 technical committees. Going forward, Oracle will participate in the development of standards for AI and cloud innovations. Customers can also look to multicloud architectures, which combine services from multiple cloud providers, including Oracle Cloud Infrastructure, to gain the benefits of interoperability. The International Organization for Standardization provides guidelines for the interoperability of public cloud environments.

Interoperability FAQs

What is an example of interoperability?

One example of interoperability is local government agencies’ focus on connecting dispatch systems, records management systems, communications systems, and hands-free and other devices to help police, firefighters, and EMTs respond to emergencies more quickly, with more actionable information at their disposal.

What does interoperability do in healthcare?

Interoperability in healthcare connects key health data from providers, payers, health partners, and researchers, allowing providers to make decisions based on timely, complete, and accurate information.

Benefit from our open business approach and interoperable technologies that help strengthen care delivery services across the continuum.