Interface, Interoperability, Integration—A Quick Guide

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Integration, interface, and interoperability are buzzwords that are used often but easily misunderstood. By definition, integration means to add, to mix, to combine and to unite. On the other hand, the definition of interface means border, boundary line, a point where two systems, subjects or organizations meet and interact. Throw in the term, "interoperability," which describes the extent to which systems and devices can exchange data and interpret it, and you've got some serious thinking to do.


InterfaceThe Bridge

An interface is like a bridge that lets two programs share information with each other. The information can come from different sources that may use different programming languages. Business systems can send and receive data, but otherwise they act independently of each other.

An interface doesn't allow you to sync data between systems in real-time. If and when you need to sync your data from separate systems, make sure that your system network is powerful enough to handle running data sync often enough to be close to real-time.

Another consideration is the maintenance of mapping codes between systems. Mapping codes act as the directory for information from one system into another. If any changes are made in either system, your mappings table may have to be updated or the software might pull information from the wrong place giving you incorrect data.

In short:

  • Separate software products communicate under limited capacity
  • Data is maintained in multiple locations requiring more administration
  • Additional steps to exchange data
  • Constantly maintain, monitor and update mappings
  • Real-time synchronization is not available

InteroperabilityAn Exchange

In a perfect world, and in a software sense, "Interoperability is a characteristic of a product or system whose interfaces are completely understood to work with other products or systems, at present or future, in either implementation or access, without any restrictions" according to Wikipedia. The definition becomes even more robotic from there: "Semantic interoperability is the ability to automatically interpret the information exchanged meaningfully and accurately in order to produce useful results as defined by the end users of both systems." In my opinion, interoperability means that if you are expecting information to come from two or more sources, and you get it, and it makes sense, then you have a win on your hands.

Here's the catch: Upon further definition, "Interoperability would allow different systems to work together in their existing state; however, future upgrades, developments, or improvements to any of these products can cause interoperability to cease."

In short:

  • Interoperability implies exchanges between a range of products. (see interface)
  • Interoperable systems work together now, but the future is uncertain
  • A guiding principle rather than a technical specification
  • Upgrades or product advances can terminate interoperability

KPIWith an Integrated software system, Key Performance Indicators are at your fingertips with real-time data.

IntegrationFull Functionality

With integration, your software product works as one solution. Instead of passing information between different systems. Your 'one' system contains the same code and database. Integrated systems work tightly together as the pieces of the whole are 'one.'  System updates are easier, as are real-time reporting requirements. Integrated solutions share the same databases, so there is no process of mapping codes between systems which can substantially reduce errors and downtime. Any changes are automatically applied to your whole system. Integration provides a unified user experience that combines data, reporting and workflow across a single business platform. Integration is indisputably the truest, most unified way a software system can be utilized.

Of Note: An integrated system not only allows a series of products to talk to each other in their current state, but also provides backwards and forwards compatibility with future versions of each product within the structure.

  • One uninterrupted system
  • Real-timeAll data is immediately gathered, stored, mediated and reportable
  • Data is centralized, no synchronization needed
  • Data transfers are reliable and workflow performance is accelerated
  • No mapping updates required, less maintenance
  • Business Intelligence Reporting is up-to-the-minute

Published by of Computers Unlimited. Date modified: February 15, 2018.

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