Tuesday, January 24, 2006

What is the difference between "Interoperability" and "Integration"?

In a comment to my posting yesterday, James McGovern proposed an answer to this question that was somewhat different to my attempt but observed that the interesting question is what others in the industry believe.

He suggested I throw this open to my wider readership.

So, is there a difference between "interoperability" and "integration"? If so, what is it? Can you provide crisp examples?

Comments, as ever, are open

[2006-02-07: Update] IBM's Bobby Woolf has some additional thoughts here.


LeeChee said...

I tend to agree with you: interoperability is an attribute of two or more systems, whereas integration is actually the act of making them talk to each other.

I think interoperability is a bit of a 'non-term'. My handheld GPS unit is "interoperable" with my iPod - provided I build an adapter from a USB cable, a PC/USB interface, some software to do data conversion, a PC/Firewire interface and a Firewire cable. Whether it's meaningful to do so is another matter.

Systems that are interoperable still need integration to make them talk, whether this integration is a simple wire or wifi link, or a full-blown ESB.

I'm suspicious of the word interoperable: it seems to imply that two systems can magically communicate without the need for any integration effort - something which is never the case.

Richard Brown said...


My suspicion is that those who use the word "interoperable" are trying to coast on the intuitive understanding people have of it ("My TV and VCR are interoperable... I 'just' connect them with a wire") and hope it encourages users to believe that integrating systems is as easy.