Interoperability – A common understanding

14 July 2020 in Blockchain


No don’t worry, you’re mobile device is not glitching. That’s simply Chinese. The reason a lot of us didn’t understand it, is because our personal system (the brain) was not optimized for that language. Speaking different languages is a common barrier to effective communication. It’s something we overcome by creating a standard language. With multiple organizations from all over the world working together, it’s high time that we move towards standards that will remove the unnecessary friction that exists in today’s technology. One of the most important next steps of technology is making things interoperable. So how do we get there?



As I spend more and more time working here at Ledger Leopard I get a greater idea of just how important standards are. If we go back in time to just a couple of decades ago the internet was a lot like a dystopian nightmare. There were few standards for browser compatibility or coding. Because of this lack of standards, a lot of websites did not work with all the browsers that were out there. If you needed information from a web site that did not support your browser, you either had to get the information from somewhere else or buy a different browser. 

Fortunately, along came the Word Wide Web Consortium (W3C) with an open and collectively empowering model that radically improved the way people around the world developed new technologies and started innovating for humanity.

And here we are today with the ability to access virtually any website we want without giving it a second thought. Standards create a common ground and understanding that ensure quality and safety in both products and services for national and international trade. Or as beautifully stated on the ISO website:

ISO standards provide a strong basis for the development of national and international regulation, helping save time and reduce barriers to international trade.

ISO – Benefits of Standards

Standards are not static. Standards evolve and activities that were once considered the standards will be replaced when a new and improved standard arrives. But they are the necessary foundation to create a more interoperable technological landscape. As of the 19th of November 2019, W3C has created a data model for verifiable credentials. It’s a foundation from which developers can create the future of digital identities. 

Interoperable identity

As more and more developers start working on the future of digital identities, we don’t think there will be a one size fits all for digital identity. Just like it doesn’t matter which browser people use to access the internet, it shouldn’t matter which digital identity app people use to identify themselves. As long as there is a standard that is interoperable, we’re going to be heading the right way.

What does it mean when something is interoperable?
Interoperability is the ability to share information between systems and applications in a meaningful way. This means that I can send you a piece of information that you can not only read and understand but also understand why I send it to you in the first place.

To start off, there are three levels of interoperability, namely:

  1. Technical
  2. Syntactic and,
  3. Semantic interoperability

The ability to send a piece of information from one device to the next is the technical interoperability. The ability to read what is sent to you is the syntactic interoperability. This is where most systems stop. They assume that because you’re able to read it you should be able to understand it. But there’s an additional very important level that is oftentimes overlooked, which is the semantic interoperability. Here the question is not only to get the information to you, and for you to be able to read it, but for you to actually understand it. 

History has a great number of lessons to be learned from people using great miscalculations. One that pops to my mind as I write this is the mars climate orbiter when NASA lost a spacecraft due to a metric math mistake. These were errors that could’ve been prevented if only both parties really understood each other. Semantic interoperability really wants to hammer on making sure that different systems completely understand each other and don’t cause unnecessary great miscalculations.

It’s the combination of the three levels that ensure systems communicate with each other in a seamless/frictionless way. 

This is why standards, as described earlier, are very important. As long as the parties adhere to the same standards, systems will become more efficient. This way multiple different parties can exchange data and information with one another thus removing the friction.

While this post mainly focusses on digital identity, I do want to make a quick sidestep to clarify that interoperability goes beyond just a digital identity. When multiple organizations work with one another it is often the case that those organizations need to share data with each other. With this in the back of your mind, you can imagine the struggles these organizations face when it comes time to share the necessary information with one another when the systems are not fully interoperable. (Semantic) interoperability is the next step to optimizing systems.  


Optimizing Ledger leopard

The goal of technology should be to remove friction and make our lives a little bit easier. Technology, just like most things in life, evolves. As time moves on, new ways of thinking and working will give our systems the much-needed updates. Don’t worry, there’s no need to remove the old systems. With these principles in place, we can optimize existing systems and help with the natural evolution of technology.

Want to know how we can optimize your systems and make them more interoperable? Feel free to schedule a call and we’ll help you along! 

written by Ivan Esseboom

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