What is interoperability in IT and what are the challenges for businesses?

Have you tried to send a document to the Administration, but it couldn’t be read? Or have you tried to send an invoice to your customer, but he can’t read the file?

This kind of incident has several consequences: it can lead to delays in the process, and therefore to sanctions by the competent bodies, or it can force you to enter the information manually in an Excel or Word file, for example, in order to send it.

But interoperability can help you avoid such situations.

In this article, we explain:

  • What is interoperability in IT?
  • And the challenges for companies

What does “interoperability” mean?


Interoperability defines a set of systems capable of operating and communicating together without barriers (semantic, syntactic, technical, etc.).

There are several levels of interoperability, according to EIF (European Interoperability Framework). These levels make it possible to define standards or norms on which players must agree in order to be able to exchange data without restriction.

Interoperability levels

To be able to exchange, understand and communicate, stakeholders need to use a common language. Hence the notion of interoperability. As mentioned above, there are different levels of interoperability, which determine the standardized communication norms that apply in a given context.

Political level

For this to work, stakeholders need to have a shared vision, a strategy aimed at the same goal, and so on.

Legal level

Refers to the compliance of exchanges with the legal framework (national law, confidentiality, etc.) and contractual agreements (exchange modalities, etc.).

Organizational level

Refers to the functioning of an organization through processes, skills and knowledge.

Semantic level

The term “semantics” refers to the meaning of words. Thus, interoperability at the semantic level is the agreement of stakeholders on the definition of a word.

Technical level

Within this level, we’ll distinguish two parts: the “exchange protocol” part, referring to data transmission. And the second part, “syntax”, refers to technical formats (structure, coding, etc.).

To understand interoperability in the IT context, we need to understand the notion of an information system.

What is an information system?

What is an information system?

An information system or IS is characterized by the collection, storage, processing and communication of information relating to the management of a company, in our context. The IS makes it possible to deliver information at the right time and in the right format.

So, to return to the definition of interoperability in IT, we can define it as the ability of two or more IS to communicate without restriction.

The General Interoperability Regulation (GIR)

The General Interoperability Regulation (GIR)

What are the General Interoperability Regulations?

The General Interoperability Regulation defines the rules that will promote the interoperability of government information systems. This delimitation is achieved through a set of standards.

The scope of the regulation :

  1. Exchanges between administrative authorities (A2A)
  2. Exchanges between administrative authorities and a company (A2B)
  3. Exchanges between administrative authorities and citizens (A2C)

(see diagram).

schema perimeter of the General Interoperability Regulations

(source: General Interoperability Regulation )

In this way, the RGI will highlight the common standards to be implemented to ensure interoperability within the above-mentioned perimeter.

The choice of standards made by the RGI is based on several criteria, which we will describe in detail below.

The interoperability criteria of the General Rules of Interoperability

For a device to be considered interoperable, it must meet the six criteria defined by the general interoperability regulations.

Here are the criteria for an interoperable standard, according to the RGI:

  • Open: the standard is considered open if it is free, complete, public, and without access or implementation constraints. What’s more, it must be royalty-free and implemented by a non-profit organization. Its evolution must be transparent, open and accessible. One last important point on this first criterion: the standard must be compatible with both open-source and proprietary software.
  • Relevant: for this second criterion, the aim is to highlight the usefulness of the standard and ensure that it is recognized in the marketplace. The standard must be necessary and easy to integrate.
  • Mature: the maturity of the standard must be demonstrated by its use in a real-life context and its implementation within technological infrastructures.
  • Independent: no acquisition, technological or material constraints.
  • Easy to deploy: implementation doesn’t have to be cumbersome or costly.
  • Supported by the industry : the standard must have a solid reputation in its field.

It is on the basis of these six criteria that the General Interoperability Regulation will determine the common language to be adopted in order to be able to exchange with administrations and other companies.

Where do interoperability standards come from?

Where do interoperability standards come from?

It should be noted that it is not the RGI that creates the standards; these come from international standardization bodies whose reputation is well established, as well as from public bodies.

Here is a summary of the organizations in question:

Code Name
AFNOR French Standards Agency
AFS Swiss Federal Archives
BnF French National Library
CEN European Committee for Standardization
DSS Social Security Department
DISIC Interministerial Department for Information and Communication Systems
ECMA European association for standardizing information and communication systems
ETSI European Telecommunications Standards Institute
IEEE Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers
IETF The Internet Engineering Task Force
ISO International Organization for Standardization
OASIS Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards
OGC Open Geospatial Consortium
OIF OpenID Foundation
SIAF Service Interministériel des Archive s de France
ITU International Telecommunication Union
W3C World Wide Web Consortium
Xiph Non-profit association for the development of free software and protocols

(source: General Interoperability Regulation )

It is through a series of consultations with organizations that the RGI can propose standards that will guarantee interoperability.

Let’s take a look at the selected standards.

What norms or standards are defined as

What norms or standards are defined as “interoperable”?

The tables below list the standards defined by the RGI as interoperable.

Technical standards

Level Category Subcategory Standards
Technical Network IPv6, IPSec
Technical Transport TCP, UDP, NTP, RTP, SRTP, RTCP, TLS (SSL)
Technical Session SSH
Technical Application Transfer HTTP, HTTPS, CORS, FTP, SFTP, R66, AMQP, AS2
Technical Application Operation DNS, DNSSEC
Technical Application Access LDAP, LDAPS
Technical Application Multimedia RTSP, H.323, SIP, MGCP
Technical Application Messaging SMTP,SMTPS, S/MIME, POP3, POP3S, IMAP4, IMAP4S, XMPP, XMPPS, WebRTC
Technical Service Identity & authentication OpenPGP, SAMLv2.0, Oauth 2.0, Open ID connect
Technical Service Service web SOAPv1.2, WSDL, UDDI, MTOM, XOP, WS-Security, WS-Addressing, InterOPS
Technical Service Service orchestration WS-BPEL, WS-CDL
Technical Service Geospatial WMSWFS, TJS, WMTS, CSW, WCS, WPS,

(source: General Interoperability Regulation )

Syntax standards

Level Category Subcategory Standards
Syntax Encoding Character UTF-8
Syntax Encoding Compression Bzip2, gzip, ZIP, 7z, TAR
Syntax Document ODF, OOXML, DocBook, PDF, PDF/A, EPUB3
Syntax Web HTML, CSS, Internet media type, ATOM, APP, Javascript, CMIS
Syntax Data structuring api description YAML, RAML
Syntax Data structuring Identifier URI, ARK, ISNI
Syntax Data structuring Geospatial Shapefile, GeoJSON, GeoSpatial-Metadata, GML
Syntax Data structuring Address book vCard
Syntax Data structuring Calendar iCalendar
Syntax Structured data processing XSLT, XPath, XLink, XQuery, XInclude, XPointer, XML Signature
Syntax Structured data processing Geospatial OpenLS, OWS Context, SLD
Syntax Multimedia Video container MPEG-TS, MP4, MKV, WebM
Syntax Multimedia Video codec VP8, VP9, H.264, H.265
Syntax Multimedia Audio container OGG
Syntax Multimedia Audio codec Opus, MP3, Vorbis, AAC, FLAC
Syntax Multimedia Image GeoTIFF, PNG, JPEG, SVG
Syntax Signature PAdES, XAdES, CAdES, ASIC
Syntax Security messaging IDMEF, IODEF

(source: General Interoperability Regulation )

The challenges of interoperability for businesses

The challenges of interoperability for businesses


In administrative management, companies have to deal with other organizations (companies, administrative authorities).

To optimize their human and financial resources, companies are increasingly opting for management solutions such as ERP, HRIS and payroll.

These tools provide reliable data for company management, as well as a single database.

Thus, it is through the data integrated within the management software information system that companies exchange with the players in their environment (customers, service providers, authorities): invoices, sales proposals, payroll, DPAE, etc.

As a result, data transmitted from one IS to another must be readable by software other than the sender.

It is in this context that interoperability is essential, as it guarantees communication between two software programs.

The different challenges of interoperability for businesses

The financial implications of interoperability

With recognized norms and standards, software publishers don’t need to make specific developments for each software language. This generates costs and has a major impact on software prices.

Freedom” at stake

Interoperability allows each player to be free to choose their own IT solution, while guaranteeing fluid exchanges between software.

As a result, each company is free to choose the management software that suits its needs, and continue to be able to transmit information to its various entities (suppliers, customers, administration).

The challenge of coherent information

A single piece of software can’t handle all a company’s needs. As a result, the latter use other software to complete the picture.

For example, HRIS and payroll software.

To work together, the two software packages must be interoperable, and therefore have the same protocol, so that data can be enriched and transferred from one information system to another in a consistent way.

Time is of the essence

With interoperable software, the user doesn’t have to perform the task a second time.

Take Tradeshift, for example! You’re probably familiar with this name, as some of your customers use it to manage their supplier invoices. In this case, without interoperability between your ERP and Tradeshift, you have to enter your customer’s invoice manually, which is ironic when you have an ERP.

In addition to the time lost by not moving forward on a project with higher added value, you’re not ruling out the risk of errors.

This is where interoperability comes into play, as it enables your ERP and Tradeshift to communicate with each other.

To conclude on interoperability in IT and its challenges for businesses

Interoperability in computing is characterized by the ability of several systems to communicate with each other using a common protocol.

Based on six criteria, the RGI has defined common software standards to guarantee interoperability.

In this way, different organizations can exchange information without constraint. For example, an ERP and the URSSAF platform for a DPAE.

In their day-to-day activities, companies are required to exchange a great deal of data with other players in their environment (suppliers, customers, public authorities, etc.).

This is where the RGI comes into play, by defining language standards. These standards give companies a choice of software, and enable them to transport information with other stakeholders.

Interoperability presents real challenges for companies in terms of cost, freedom, consistency and time savings.

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