There is a surplus of other definitions out there, but IEEE describes interoperability the best “the ability of two or more systems or components to exchange information and to use the information that has been exchanged.”¹ Interoperability is really about how two systems can exchange data and work together efficiently. Think about the word itself it literally means able to inter-operate (work together).
The term “friendly fire” comes from when attacking your forces by either misidentifying your target or miscommunications. More often than not “friendly fire” comes from a lack of exchanging data. That exchange of data is the key to making two systems interoperable.
A military group goes out to protect and ensure victory for their friendly forces on land, might accidentally wipe out the whole force if information on their coordinates is inefficient. This is a classic case of “friendly fire.” More recently, we have technology to help make the two systems (the air force) and (the army) exchange data and communicate better, so they successfully complete their mission.
Even with modern communication methods “friendly fire” incidents still occur. A real life example is in 1994 United States Air Force (USAF) fighters shot down two U.S Army Black Hawk helicopters during the Iraqi no-fly zones. USAF leaders did not sufficiently integrate U.S. Army helicopter operations into the air operations. The Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS) failed to warn USAF. The identification of friend or foe system failed to operate successfully.² The three systems that needed to exchange data and work together did not. Lives can be loss when interoperability is not there.
Interoperability has generally been a systems engineering and software engineering term, but more recently the term interoperability has become important in the healthcare industry. The reason for this change is due to systems engineering starting to play a more important role in United States Healthcare. President’s Council of Advisers on Science and Technology has been making a push to use systems engineering improve healthcare care and costs.³
Healthcare has become an overly complex set of systems that do not operate effectively together. Medical professionals need to exchange constantly changing data. They need to communicate with other professionals, patients, and devices with as little error as possible. Similar to the air force and the army’s lack of communication, when the healthcare system does not exchange data efficiently people lose their lives.
So with a fresh perspective you can realize how important interoperability is to your main cause. Without it your system is useless. What good is any system if it does not operate with other systems?