• Strategy and Transformation


  • Citizen-Centric Personalized Digital Government
  • Government


by Nortal

Strategies promoting interoperability across systems

Digital transformation is essential for organizations across all sectors, as it helps enhance efficiency, streamline processes, and elevate customer experiences through technology. But this transformation extends beyond simple technology adoption—it necessitates a profound change in business operations, communication, and engagement with customers and collaborators. Interoperability sits at the heart of digital transformation, facilitating the integration of various systems and technologies for fluid communication and data sharing.

In our intricate web of technological systems, this ability to connect is vital for running effective public services, healthcare, and business operations. This guide explores the significance of interoperability in the digital age. We’ll look at benefits, best practices, and impact on international cooperation.

Team sitting together in the office

Understanding interoperability

When dealing with the extensive bureaucracy of any large organization—with various departments that largely operate in their own silos and on their own timelines—it quickly becomes clear that fragmentation hurts rather than helps a holistic approach. That’s why system interoperability is so critical for an efficient operation—especially as we rely more and more on digital tools.

Interoperability entails seamless integrating tools, systems, or applications from various providers—without constant user intervention. This allows for a free exchange of data and resources across systems through local (LAN) or wide (WAN) area networks, which helps organizations improve efficiency and performance. Ideally, all of your tools and departments should communicate with each other on the same level, without conversion from one tool or department’s standard to another’s. Think of it as picking a lingua franca for the company’s data sharing.

Establishing the rules of data exchange lingua franca depends on two key stages:

Syntactic interoperability

Syntactic interoperability refers to the ability of two or more systems to exchange data with a common format and structure. It focuses on the rules for structuring data and the protocols for transferring it. This ensures that exchanged data exchanged is understandable at a structural level for both/all systems—and that these systems can decode it correctly.

Semantic interoperability

So at a base level, you’ve ensured that your systems all communicate data in a shared structural format—they’re all working from the same alphabet, as it were. Semantic interoperability now takes it a step further, ensuring that exchanged information has the same meaning for the receiving system as it does for the sending system. This involves the use of metadata and controlled vocabularies or ontologies, so that the data is not just structurally correct but also contextually meaningful.

Different organizations, departments, and tools may attach different meanings to data and code if left to their own devices. But by setting and adhering to standardized conventions, systems can convey information meaningfully regardless of the underlying information system.

Benefits of interoperability

System and software interoperability capabilities are helpful across fields but stand out as especially essential for two in particular: healthcare and government. Let’s unpack the benefits for both of these fields in more detail.

In healthcare

  • Improved patient care. With interoperable systems, healthcare providers can access complete patient records across different facilities. This leads to more informed decision-making, timely interventions, and personalized care.
  • Efficiency and cost savings. Interoperability reduces the need for repeated tests and procedures, as historical data is readily available. This saves time and reduces costs for both healthcare providers and patients.
  • Enhanced data security. Strict data standards incorporate security protocols to protect patient data during exchanges, reducing the risk of breaches and ensuring compliance with regulations like HIPAA.
  • Public health reporting and monitoring. Interoperable systems facilitate easier reporting to public health agencies and enable real-time monitoring of health trends. This aids in disease surveillance and management of public health crises.
  • Research and development. The ability to aggregate and analyze data from diverse healthcare systems aids in research efforts and the development of new treatments.


Interoperability in government

  • Improved public services. Interoperability allows different government agencies to share information seamlessly, leading to more efficient public service delivery, reduced processing times, and less duplication of efforts.
  • Transparency and accountability. When systems are congruent, data flows more freely, which can lead to greater transparency in government operations and better accountability for public officials.
  • Cost efficiency. Universal systems enable agencies to share infrastructure and resources, reducing duplication and costs associated with maintaining multiple disparate systems.
  • Citizen-centric services. With a single point of access to various government services, interoperability makes it easier for citizens to obtain the services they need without navigating multiple departments.
  • Policy development and decision-making. Interoperability facilitates better analysis of cross-agency data. This can lead to more informed policy development and strategic decision-making.


woman on the street with tablet and smartphone

The global perspective on interoperability

Interoperability from a global perspective represents the capability of different systems, organizations, and nations to work together seamlessly and exchange data or services efficiently, regardless of geographic, technological, or institutional boundaries. Its impact on international cooperation and societal development can be profound, as it facilitates communication, collaboration, and resource sharing on a global scale.

When it comes to health information systems, interoperability allows for better coordination in the fight against global pandemics and diseases. Shared data can lead to faster responses, better tracking of disease spread, and more effective distribution of vaccines and treatments.

In trade and customs systems, it simplifies cross-border transactions, reduces trade barriers, and increases efficiency. This can lead to economic growth and stronger trade relationships between countries; it also enables emerging markets to connect with global trade systems, access international finance, and participate in the digital economy.

Another key area for international cooperation and integration of data systems is the global monitoring of environmental changes. This includes climate change, deforestation, and ocean health. Countries can collaborate on conservation efforts and disaster response, leveraging shared data for a global impact.

Further, interoperable communication and information-sharing systems enhance international security cooperation. This helps in combating transnational crime, terrorism, and cyber threats more effectively. It also encourages the development and adoption of international standards.

Education, social inclusion, and knowledge sharing can also be significantly enhanced through the synergy of educational platforms. It allows for the sharing of resources, courses, and research across borders, fostering global learning communities and bridging educational gaps.

Strategies for promoting interoperability

Enhancing interoperability across systems through the development of universal standards and protocols, requires a multifaceted approach. Let’s unpack some key practices and strategies to consider:

  • Universal standards. Work with international standards organizations (such as ISO, IEEE, W3C) to adopt or develop technical standards that ensure compatibility and interoperability between systems. Embrace open standards to facilitate broader adoption.
  • Collaborative development. Encourage collaboration between public and private entities, including academia, industry, and government agencies, to develop and agree upon common standards and protocols.
  • Modular design. Design systems with modularity in mind, which allows different components to be easily connected and interchanged. This approach can accommodate changes and updates without disrupting the broader system.
  • Common data formats. Use common data formats (like XML, JSON) and exchange protocols (such as SOAP, REST) to ensure that systems can exchange data smoothly (and understand it correctly).
    APIs. Develop and implement Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) that allow different systems to communicate with each other in a standardized way, enabling data exchange and functional interoperability.
  • Data normalization. Apply data normalization practices to reduce redundancy and ensure consistency in how data is represented across different systems.
  • Testing and certification. Implement comprehensive testing and certification programs to ensure that products and systems comply with established standards before they are deployed.
  • Version control and backward compatibility. Maintain backward compatibility and clear version control to ensure that new updates or changes to systems do not disrupt existing interoperable connections.
  • Education and training. Educate and train stakeholders on the importance of interoperability and how to implement standards and protocols effectively.
  • Continuous improvement. Establish feedback mechanisms and processes for continual review and improvement of interoperability standards and protocols.
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X-Road: A case study in effective interoperability

Different interoperability approaches suggest policies and reforms to reduce institutional complexity. They also align institutions and regulations to match a whole-of-government approach and its services.

Estonia’s approach to data management involves a decentralized, distributed system. The data isn’t stored on the portal; rather, it is shared via the “X-Road” data exchange and interoperability system. This gives individuals the power to oversee their own data and monitor who accesses their information, from which database, and for what purpose.

X-Road is an open-source solution that provides secure data exchange between organizations. Although X-Road has been jointly developed by Estonia, Finland, and Iceland through the Nordic Institute for Interoperability Solutions, the Nortal team carries out its core solution development to serve as a sustainable platform for secure data exchange. At least 20 countries implement the software, and the user group has members from over 60 countries.

X-Road Development Journey

Since it first launched as basic information portal, X-Road has evolved to become a sustainable and attractive comprehensive platform for secure data exchange.

The second-generation platform recognized users’ needs, offering relevant content, subscription options, and links to emerging digital services for initiating transactions. Despite these advancements, its primary role remained to direct users to the appropriate government authorities.

A third-gen launch transformed the platform from a simple informational site into a robust digital gateway, enabling users to complete governmental tasks entirely online, eliminating or reducing the need to visit physical offices. This marked the birth of a one-stop digital government hub. Nevertheless, the platform was still organized based on government functions, leaving users with the challenge of navigating their specific rights and responsibilities.

At last, the fourth generation emerged to make user interactions more straightforward. It introduced proactive services and support for significant life events, enhancing public service accessibility and efficiency. Moreover, as personal devices became the preferred medium for accessing services, the focus shifted to delivering a consistent, high-quality experience across platforms. Thanks to a conversational AI agent, Bürokratt, services are now integrate seamlessly. Bürokratt interprets citizens’ inquiries via voice or text and either directs them to the appropriate service or handles their requests directly.

Embracing interoperability for a connected future

Interoperability represents a cornerstone of modern digital ecosystems, enabling disparate systems to communicate and collaborate efficiently.

Experiences from successful implementations of interoperability solutions like Estonia’s X-Road, demonstrate the substantial benefits that can be realized. These range from improved government services and healthcare delivery to enhanced international cooperation and disaster response. The principles underpinning X-Road—decentralization, user control over data, and transparent data exchange—serve as benchmarks for best practices around the globe.

By adopting universal standards, promoting collaborative development, and committing to continuous improvement, we can create a digital landscape that is not only more efficient and secure but also more equitable, cost-effective, and accessible.

As a trusted strategic partner for governments, healthcare departments, and leading businesses Nortal helps transform and future-proof institutions by building world-changing solutions with the right technologies. Let’s connect.

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