Challenges of Interoperability in an Ecosystem

Challenges of Interoperability in an Ecosystem

Barbara Flügge (Otto-Von-Guericke Universität Magdeburg, Germany) and Alexander Schmidt (University of St. Gallen, Switzerland)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60566-026-4.ch084
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True e-enabled collaboration has been assessed for many years. With the growing reach of companies’ business and cross-border trade, the entire ecosystem enterprises are embedded in is playing a crucial role to succeed. As ICT is a key driver for deploying true interoperability and integration among the participants of the ecosystem, actors with a lack of ICT knowledge, equipment, and implementation represent the vulnerable parts within the ecosystem. This article aims at providing an overview of challenges limiting business partners in an ecosystem to truly e-collaborate. Furthermore, it describes the key elements of e-enabled collaboration and interoperability ranging from the technical and business oriented to cross-organizational and cultural aspects.
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There are two main directions that have been the basis for extensive research over the last decades to touch the ground for successful electronic collaboration (e-enabled collaboration). One direction led researchers to the field of organizational development. The other direction led to the field of ICT support and solutions initiating and facilitating collaboration models. An example of the initiation of collaboration models is the commencement of the e-commerce hype in the 1990s.

The magnifying glass that allows the focus on e-enabled collaboration is the set of key characteristics in these fields that are relevant to facilitate, change, or extend the level of e-enabled collaboration. The following paragraphs are focusing on what we explore by applying the magnifying glass.

Collaborative Environments

The point of origin that leads to the foundation of any ecosystem varies. We are assuming that the ecosystem is formed because of a common interest in conducting business successfully, competitively, and innovatively. Business transactions are executed to request, support, deliver, and exchange goods, services, and data. Each of the participants in the ecosystem contributes actively to the business purpose. They are ordering, delivering, supporting, producing, assembling, and selling goods, services, and data based on their roles and capabilities. Thus, the foundation of an ecosystem is related neither to a specific sector or region nor to the means that are required to run an ecosystem.

The ecological ecosystem is providing extensive research opportunities to analyze interactions, relationship building, and the evolution of organisms. The history of ecosystem research started with Sir Arthur Tansley (1935) when he introduced the term ecosystem based on Phillips’ studies on complex organisms and the common term of biotic communities valuing similarities and boundaries of communities. He is comparing these terms to his own view of describing the changing vegetation, participants, and relationships.

Ritter, Wilkinson, and Johnston (2004) are focusing on the managerial value-related competences of organizations to steer, interact, and cooperate in a business-related network. Referring to Håkansson and Snehota’s (1993) role of relationship building, any enterprise needs to broaden its business role by interacting and actively building relationships with its environment (Ritter et al.). In the work of Ritter et al., the environment of an enterprise is comprised of customers, “complementors,” competitors and suppliers. Besides the given terms customer, competitor, and supplier, complementors are defined as “types of firms whose outputs or functions increase the value of their own outputs” (Ritter et al., p. 3). On the value side, Brandenburger and Nalebuff (1996) introduced the value net as a term to symbolize the dedicated purpose of realizing value in any given or created relationship among business partners.

Network-related research led to comparing studies. An extensive study conducted by Changizi, McDannald, and Widders (2002) examines the relevance of network size and the capability to grow in different networks such as ecological, technical, human-being, and urban networks. The number of participants joining the network is one of the positive effects that networks participants experience according to Farrell and Saloner (1985) and Reimers and Li (2005). We cautiously draft the analogy of ecological and business-oriented networks to ecosystems due to the fact that the capability to power play and act in a competitive environment is determining the capability to grow and extend the given network from within. Networks that are not business-purpose driven like the Lego network in the case of Changizi et al. are excluded from that assumption.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Interoperability Road Map: The interoperability road map is a tool set enabling companies and ecosystems to define a common denominator for interoperable solutions.

Semantic Interoperability: Semantic interoperability denotes the ability of different applications and business partners to understand exchanged data in a similar way, implying a precise and unambiguous meaning of the exchanged information.

United Nations Centre for Trade Facilitation and Electronic Business (UN/CEFACT): The UN/CEFACT, as part of the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE), aims at facilitating international transactions by simplifying and harmonizing the electronic exchange of information. The UN/CEFACT has long-lasting experience in developing e-business standards, amongst others ebXML and UN/EDIFACT.

Cross-Organizational Processes: These are so-called public processes that are relevant to any business and governmental partner in a given ecosystem. Public processes reflect the common process elements that need to be visible, achievable, and executable by the participants of the ecosystem.

Interoperability: Interoperability is the capability to exchange and reuse information, messages, and documents between applications and business partners. As a multifaceted concept, it possesses three different dimensions: technical, semantic, and organizational interoperability.

Core Component Technical Specification (CCTS): CCTS represents a methodology for a semantically unambiguous definition of business information based on syntax-neutral and technology-independent building blocks that can be used for (semantic) data modeling. Therefore, it facilitates the reuse of existing data entities, increases semantic interoperability, and allows for an integration of vertical industry standards.

Ecosystem: The ecosystem is the real-life environment business and governmental partners form to interact, share, and execute goods, products, and services relevant to a common business purpose.

Interoperability Factor: It is the maximum grade of applying the interoperable layers; refer to the term interoperability .

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