Interoperability is not a new term, but it is one of the most commonly used mantras lately by providers of cloud services and solutions to capture a difficult but very attractive market, the so-called large accounts or "Enterprise".
Interoperability is gaining interest in this market segment because these companies are the ones that normally have disparate information systems from several suppliers that have to work easily between them, exchange data and share procedures. Providing interoperability helps customers reduce the complexity of their infrastructures and better manage heterogeneous environments, while facilitating decision making and innovation in a highly competitive market. At the same time, having an integrated infrastructure enables valuable business connections, whether through processes, between people and information, or between companies in a value chain.
For this reason we cannot talk about interoperability without mentioning the three necessary facets of this resource: technical, legal and business.
The first, the technical ability to share data and enable the exchange of information between different systems, depends largely on the will of the provider, but is also given by standardization. Standardisation covers the technical problems of connection of computer systems and services and includes key aspects such as open interfaces, interconnection services, data and middleware integration, data presentation and exchange, accessibility and security services.
The legal side is not minor; since interoperability is essential to maximise the social and economic potential of ICTs, legislators in any field must ensure that this capability has sufficient legal coverage to generate confidence in developers and user enterprises. Therefore, it can only make adequate progress if it is guaranteed to be based on open standards and platforms.
Compliance with legal regulations, especially for multinational organizations, is a complex task. Compliance is even more of a challenge for regulated industries, such as healthcare or financial services. In addition, not only are there numerous standards and regulations, but they are constantly changing, making it even more difficult for a company to keep abreast of national and international laws on electronic data management. If we add to that the proliferation of systems and the interoperability between them, we will find ourselves facing a challenge of great magnitude that requires legal clarity and simplification, as well as a firm commitment from the responsible entities.
One of the greatest benefits of partnering with well-established cloud providers that promote and ensure interoperability is that many of the regulatory and data protection obligations and requirements to meet recognized standards can be delegated to or, at least, shared with the cloud provider.
Large cloud providers address regulatory compliance needs every day, and because they deal with large volumes of customers and data spanning virtually every industry and every country, their extensive experience in standards and regulatory compliance is more comprehensive than any enterprise can have on its own.
When appropriate technical and legal frameworks are in place, cloud providers can manage their customers' most sensitive data and meet the needs of even the most strict data protection regulations. Customers know that their data is being managed correctly if their cloud provider has met the criteria for these international standards.
Finally, enterprise interoperability is characterized by the business relationships of a company and its external partners, customers, suppliers, and service providers.
Enterprise interoperability needs refer to the ability of companies (or part of them) to interact by exchanging information with other entities, such as material objects, energy, etc. Interoperability is a necessary support to allow business collaboration to happen, and can be applied to both inter and intra-enterprise needs, and includes the concept of extended enterprise, virtual enterprise and subsystems of an enterprise. Interoperability is considered a generic concept and therefore it is assumed that common interoperability problems and the solutions to overcome them can be identified and developed by any particular company.
For this reason, there is a need to distinguish different levels of interoperability ranging from interaction with ad-hoc external partners to the maximum level of commercial interoperability where external relationships can be established at no or minimum cost.
However, a higher level of business interoperability is not necessarily a sign of business excellence or maturity, due to the fact that the optimal level of interoperability depends on the "fit" between interoperability and its contingencies.
Interoperability in Microsoft products
Microsoft has made and continues to make far-reaching changes to its technology and business practices to foster greater interoperability, with an approach that includes interoperability in its products, collaborating with customers, partners, and competitors, supporting and developing industry standards, and providing developer resources and access to Microsoft intellectual property. For partners and developers, interoperability efforts provide access to technology and tools that help create solutions to customer needs while improving market opportunities.
To promote this interoperability and ensure the continued appeal of its products to developers and customers, Microsoft is committed to designing high-volume products and conducting its business according to the following principles: open connections to its products, support for industry standards, and data portability.
In more detail, Microsoft is committed to establishing and maintaining open connections between its high-volume products and non-Microsoft products through either external protocols or APIs, and will ensure that these connections are open for any developer to use to connect to its products. The corporation is also committed to supporting the relevant standards in its high-volume products and doing so in a way that promotes interoperability with support for major standards, ensuring maximum compatibility and documenting each and every extension included in its products. As far as data portability is concerned, it is committed to designing its high-volume products and providing documentation to enable such data portability by adopting industry standards, open formats and allowing the choice of default formats.
All these considerations, while important, cannot make us forget that a business profitability model is necessary to support the interoperability ambitions of customers and suppliers or else progress will be slow and benefits will not arrive as quickly and easily as everyone wishes.
This is because, traditionally, both platform and service providers and system integrators have used the advantages of each other's intellectual property as a differentiating argument to win customers and extract benefits from unique data and application models, ensure regulatory compliance if and only if their solutions and services were used, and foster closed and exclusive relationships between the different elements of the value chain.
Therefore, to find the business and profitability model that supports full and easy interoperability, it is necessary that we also go to the meeting of relationship models between different suppliers based on the complementarity of solutions, the economic coexistence of different developments and the search for profit in the ongoing relationship with customers rather than the occasional opportunity to make a sale.
If a company's main source of profit is its competitive advantage in a market, let's make interoperability one of those advantages for both suppliers and user companies and let adaptability and data cohesion lead to increased productivity, cost savings, scalability and rapid deployment of applications that support the profitability model necessary to promote it.