Data Ethics

What is Interoperability and Why it Matters

April 11, 2019  |   Lisa Rapp

What is Interoperability?

If “interoperability” sounds like tech jargon, it’s because it is. The term was coined as a way to describe an essential characteristic of software applications and systems. Interoperability states that in order to be useful, software and systems need to work together to have compatible formats—different systems, devices, applications, or products should have the ability to connect and communicate in a coordinated way.

Bobby Roberts, SVP at SIS Solutions, explains that “[w]hen systems are interoperable, they have the ability to not only share information, but to interpret incoming data and present it as it was received, preserving its original context. In layman’s terms: interoperable systems speak the same language.” Think about how Microsoft Office transformed the way we work, all due to the high level of interoperability it provided.

Why is Interoperability Important?

Interoperability is particularly important to the healthcare industry and health information technology. Since the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) was enacted ten years ago in 2009, healthcare providers have moved from paper to electronic health records with the goal of improving patient outcomes and allowing for seamless access to information that can address the health needs of individuals and populations. According to the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS), the electronic exchange of data has been a major development in healthcare in recent years and has increased productivity, reduced cost, reduced errors, and improved patient privacy and the patient experience.  

Now we have another reason to reacquaint ourselves with this term. Our world economies are global and intimately interconnected, and many new laws governing data use and data exchange are currently being developed. GDPR, ePrivacy Regulation, CCPA — each of these have a common purpose but take different approaches and reflect different cultural contexts that do not guarantee interoperability.

Interoperable Laws

To better serve both individuals and populations at large, to minimize gaps between different standards, and to maintain the growth of a global economy reliant on the movement of data, it is vital that we have globally interoperable laws. For example, many of the laws cited require that companies demonstrate the accountability of their data governance programs. While there is diversity around the globe of legislation protecting individuals from the inappropriate use of information, these diverse approaches can and should be made to work together to ensure the secure flow of data.

It will take some time for these new privacy laws to fully mature, so now is the time to ensure interoperability by making data usage standards available to the general public and developing and maintaining them via a collaborative and consensus-driven process. These standards will require a strong framework that preserves thinking and learning with data that is key to prosperity and innovation and interoperable across governments.

It is possible to protect and preserve innovation and the vibrancy of the global economy while acknowledging and respecting other cultures, economies, and corresponding data protection laws around the world. Countries should be mindful to adopt privacy regulations that avoid overlapping, inconsistent, or conflicting rules. Privacy regulation should support transferring data across any borders whether it’s server to server, organizational, or even across national boundaries.

LiveRamp believes in the ethical use of data and the power of data for good. Learn more about our data ethics initiatives.