Fostering innovation and trade in the global information society
By Urs Gasser and John Palfrey
Interoperability has become an important feature of information and communication technology (ICT) products, services, applications and organisations in the digital age. Travellers around the world, for instance, book their flights online, pay hotel bills by credit card or make international calls with mobile phones as they move across nations. All these transactions require the meaningful and organised flow of data across systems. The role that interoperability plays in today’s information society becomes particularly visible when it fails. Examples of limited interoperability in everyday life in a digital age include attempts to transfer a video purchased from a popular online store to a player manufactured by a competitor, the trouble of rendering certain Web sites even with standard Web browsers or the hassle associated with changing file formats from one version of software to the next, to name just a few. In contrast, a broad range of applications on the Internet demonstrate the power of interoperability. Thousands of user-created applications for social networking sites such as Facebook and other platforms, maps-based geolocation applications for information and entertainment purposes, emerging business models based on interoperable identity management systems and even basic services such as e-mail illustrate the enormous benefits of high levels of ICT interoperability. Electronic health records and smart energy grids are current, big-picture examples which illustrate the power of ICT interoperability as well as some of the key challenges associated with it.