UKOLN Interoperability Focus: Looking at Interoperability

A leaflet entitled Looking at Interoperability was created in April 2005. The text is given below. A PDF version is also available.


Looking at Interoperability

What is Interoperability?

Interoperability can be regarded as the ongoing process of ensuring that the systems, procedures and culture of an organisation are managed in such a way as to maximise opportunities for exchange and reuse of information. It covers many areas including:

Being seen to "be interoperable" is becoming increasingly important. People wish to find and use high quality information resources, possibly from many different sources. Digital information services should facilitate that process, and, increasingly, service providers face the challenge of considering how their own services will be used in combination with other services.

An interoperable organisation is able to maximise the value and reuse potential of information. It is also able to exchange its own information effectively with other equally interoperable bodies, allowing new knowledge to be generated from the identification of relationships between previously unrelated sets of data. Changing internal systems and practices to make them interoperable is a far from simple task. However the greater flexibility and benefits for the organisation and those making use of information it publishes are potentially incalculable. Many organisations are aware of the need to work in this way and UKOLN supports communities in their efforts to build connections and to develop interoperable systems and processes.

Interoperability Focus Team

UKOLN's Interoperability Focus team is responsible for exploring, publicising and promoting the benefits and practice of effective interoperability across diverse information sectors. The work includes the identification and exploitation of synergies with existing UKOLN activities, and the dissemination of information to promote cross-fertilisation of ideas and knowledge across our communities.

The Interoperability Focus Web site [] provides a list of all presentations, publications and current events. Practical sections of the site include in depth answers to frequently asked questions and pointers to examples of interoperability in action. Introductions on a number of topics also regularly appear in the Ariadne Web magazine [] alongside more detailed discussion of specific areas.

Standardisation Work

A key aspect of interoperability is use of standards. Standards are important because they provide guidance for those involved in creating digital information or services. UKOLN is involved in standardisation initiatives in several areas, including:

standardisation work

Interoperability in Action

Interoperability in its various forms underpins much of the work undertaken at UKOLN.

An important aspect of developing interoperability applications is seeking consensus across organisations. UKOLN is actively engaged in supporting brokerage activities, which bring together key players in order to agree on approaches to interoperability.

During the eLib programme UKOLN managed the MODELS project, which provided a forum for the development of interoperability in a range of areas including metadata and retrieval standards, and rights management. The information architecture approach taken within MODELS has informed many other UKOLN activities. Other collaborative work includes the development of a Collection Description Schema, which is now used by many services and projects such as Cornucopia and EnrichUK as the basis for collection description implementations, and involvement in the Dublin Core Metadata Initiative (DCMI).

UKOLN is also participating in two projects that aim to develop services that will facilitate interoperability between applications within the JISC Information Environment. The IE Service Registry (IESR) provides access to information about the collections and services that are available for use. The IE Metadata Schema Registry (IEMSR) will serve as a source of authoritative information about the metadata schemas and application profiles used for resource description in the UK learning, teaching and research communities. Both the IESR and IEMSR provide interfaces for use by other applications.

What Next?

Further information on interoperability is available from the Interoperability Focus Web site:

To discuss interoperability issues join the JISC mailing list:

To contact Interoperability Focus or send us feedback email:

[UKOLN] [Interoperability Focus]