Interoperability is increasingly seen as critical for business success, but what is it? Simply put, it is the ability to work together.
Interoperable organizations are those that can easily exchange information and subsequently make use of that information.
Interoperability allows organizations to work without barriers and without extra effort with other systems or organizations.
Individuals have already become highly interoperable, thanks to tools such as the social networks Facebook and Instagram, which both have hundreds of millions of users. These networks add value insofar as they promote communication and the exchange of information, making our lives feel more fulfilled. Without such tools, how would we keep in touch in a world where less time exists to socialize? Of course, connecting online shouldn’t be a substitute for face-to-face, but it does help us feel connected to something bigger than ourselves and to see other things happening around us more clearly.
In the business context, technologies that facilitate interoperability drive innovation. If businesses don’t innovate, they are doomed, even in the short term. Interoperability between enterprises is thus important, as it enhances collaboration and innovation.
Enterprise interoperability can be defined as a collaboration competence, occurring between business partners, and through which value is created. The oftentimes very close business relationships that result are supported by information technology, which acts as more than an enabler or a simple conduit, providing an efficient means whereby relationships can evolve to a higher level.Interoperability can focus on different aspects of these relationships, which organizations must leverage to the fullest in order to produce the innovation they need to survive:Communication—exchanging information.Coordination—aligning activities.
Channeling—involving the Internet.
One should not only look to the Internet (channel interoperability) as a solution to organizational problems. We increasingly need to know how to share (cooperation interoperability) among individuals, teams, and organizations, as this fosters knowledge creation. We need to be aligned so as not to repeat activities that have already been performed, and not to forget to do other activities that cannot be left undone (coordination interoperability).
Collaborating in teams means that more can be accomplished. Teams are collections of individual talents, which need to be celebrated, but individual stars should not be seen as being more important than the team’s overall talent to produce innovation. The IDEO Design Thinking approach, building on teamwork and on the principle that “enlightened trial and error succeeds over the planning of the lone genius,” stresses the relevance of teamwork. Communicating effectively is a form of interoperability. Information needs to be exchanged and circulated if it is to be of value.
Companies are increasingly leveraging more interoperability types at their disposal, and this will lead to more forms of innovation.Innovation comes in several forms, such as products and services, processes, organizational structure, and marketing. Companies need to introduce as many forms of innovation as possible: New products and services increase sales, process innovations decrease costs, organizational innovations increase morale and motivation, and marketing innovations increase visibility.Interoperability may perhaps come more naturally to smaller entrepreneurial firms, which need to be innovative and to have alliances and partnerships in order to survive and gain market presence. Small entrepreneurial companies communicate based on trust, with an open attitude to the environment. However, larger firms like Apple and Samsung are also innovating, suggesting that they, too, are capable of being interoperable—even if mainly on an internal basis to avoid sharing knowledge and company secrets outside the firm.
In the decades ahead, accelerating technological innovation will lead to paradigm shifts in the economy, causing certain jobs to disappear. Continuous learning will be necessary to keep people competitive and employable. So individuals, much like companies, will also be leveraging as many interoperability types at their disposal as possible, in both their personal and professional networks, to stay ahead.
Never before will being connected mean so much. In a world where we are increasingly seen as personal brands of our capabilities and unique competencies, teamwork and the honest and earnest exchange of knowledge will be paramount to the success of the multiple teams in which we move. The world is increasingly mobile, and that actually means that the world is increasingly interoperable.