Interop: The Promise and Perils of Highly Interconnected Systems

Interoperability and Networks, the Internet, and Cloud Computing

Article Snapshot


Urs Gasser and John Palfrey


Basic Books, 2012


This book analyzes the complex modern issue of interoperability and how to maximize its potential benefits.

Policy Relevance

Moving forward, interoperability should be addressed as a matter of public policy. Both the private and the public sector can benefit from structuring systems that take full advantage of interoperable systems.

Main Points

  • As the digital age continues to grow in complexity, the ability of systems to exchange information also grows. This process of integrating communication between systems, networks, and programs is known as interoperability.
  • In order to take full advantage of the capacity for interoperability between systems, both the public and private sector need to gauge the ideal level of interconnectivity. The theory of interoperability can be used, primarily, in four ways: as a high-level theory, as a description, as a predictive factor, and as a normative device.
  • As a high level theory, interoperability can be used to predict the potential problems that can arise in complicated systems that rely on a constant flow and exchange of information. One key insight is the importance of easy and clear communication between human beings and artificial programs.
  • Interoperability is also helpful at a less theoretical level and can be used to describe precise phenomena in complex systems. By exploring case studies that examine interoperability currently in practice, potential pitfalls can be avoided by policy makers moving forward.
  • As a predictive tool, interoperability theory can be used to anticipate future consequences of actions, such as allowing free access to core systems in the technology sector. Smart interoperability strategies will help maximize the benefits of interconnectivity while avoiding its risks.
  • Finally, interoperability theory can be used to inform the decision making process about how to approach new problems. For example, reforming health care will require governments, companies, and consumers to all have a firm understanding on the transportation of information into and out of any newly created system.


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