Identification of different types of standards for domain-specific interoperabilityR.A. Stegwee and B.D. Rukanova

Starting from the assumption of communication as the main concept in interoperation, the paper explores the capabilities of available standards in area of communication in a specific domain. The health care domain is taken as an example, but the analysis is applicable in any domain. The authors propose a categorisation of standards into four different categories: methods, meta-models, concrete models and operational standards, and evaluate the categories. Methods and meta-models are of limited use, achieving interoperability only if software and interfaces are developed according to the specific method or meta-model. But even concrete models are not sufficient, since their interpretations still lead to different implementations, which in turn are still not able to interoperate. Operational standards have to describe not only the interface (syntax), but the items to be communicated or exchanged (semantic) as well as when to communicate them and what to expect back in return (pragmatic).

Using the IEEE definition of interoperability ‘ability of two or more systems or components to exchange information and to use the information that has been exchanged’ the ability to interoperate is analysed in the terms of the two requirements: a) the exchange between systems or components and b) the use of the exchanged information.

The different components of a domain are humans, processes and technology. Interoperation in a domain specific context is described as communication between those different components, leading to six different types of communication, which have to enable communication in every combination of the three components e.g. human to human, human to process and human to technology. Together they define the organizational interoperability of applications. As for the information use: on the technology level the authors see the ISO OSI model capable to analyse communication between technologies. Human communication is determined by the commonality of language syntax (grammar), semantics (meaning) and pragmatics (intentions). For processes, the passing of control can be identified as a form of communication between processes, ranging from pre and post conditions of the communicating processes being known a priori, to actively influencing the process flow in the partner application. Three types of organizational interoperability have been identified:
1) interconnectivity – ability to exchange information at a network, syntactical level,
2) interchangeability – ability to use information at a presentation, semantic level and
3) interoperability – ability to use information at an application, pragmatic level. A framework identifies types of standards for the types of organizational interoperability.

For more information:,

Stegwee, R.A., Rukanova, B.D. (2003). Identification of Different Types of Standards for Domain-Specific Interoperability. In: Proceedings of the Workshop on Standard Making: A Critical Research Frontier for Information Systems, John L. King and Kalle Lyytinen, (eds.), Seattle, WA, December 12-14, 2003, pp. pp. 161- 170.Pre-Conference Workshop ICIS 2003. , available on line at:,


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