Interoperability Issues of Business Processes: Key Issues and Technological Drivers

Interoperability Issues of Business Processes: Key Issues and Technological Drivers

DOI: 10.4018/978-1-61520-611-7.ch091
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At the beginning of the third millennium, we are facing one of the most important transition challenges: to build an electronic society. In that movement, EC (Electronic Commerce) represents one of the major driving forces that survived two big failures in the past, represented by EDI (1980s) and “dotcom era” (1990s). Despite different network technologies, EDI (Electronic Data Interchange) over OSI (Open Systems Interconnections) vs. dotcom over the Internet both left out of the e-business too many companies (e.g. most of SMEs, Small-to-Medium Enterprises). After disillusionment and failure analysis, new expansion of EC is taking place, especially in the form of B2B. In such circumstances there is a lot of heterogeneity between business processes, supported applications and associated data on one side and different hardware, operating systems, database systems, network infrastructure, etc. on the other side, that make huge difficulties and barriers in achieving the full potential of EC (Medjahed et al., 2003; Kajan & Stoimenov, 2005; Hepp, 2006). Similar situation is taking place inside companies where A2A (Application-to-Application) costs for data integration and access software were about $2.5 billion in 2007 and are going to grow further (Bernstein & Hass, 2008).
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Interoperability Issues

At least three types of interoperability (according to the main task that should be performed), communication, syntactic, and semantic, are crucial. Communication interoperability must be able to bring the data from one place to another on time with the required quality. It relies on the infrastructure and standardized protocols where all the necessary data are precisely defined (e.g., encapsulation, frames, checksum algorithms, etc.). Despite the widespread and longtime use of TCP/IP protocol stack, new application requirements caused a flood of new protocols, thus the number of RFCs (Request for Comments) by the end of 2008 has grown over 5,400. However, this exciting research field does not endanger the main task of this level. The main obstacles that reduce communication interoperability are poor and/or expensive communication infrastructure, the situation existing in most countries outside the developed world making the so-called digital divide deeper than ever. There are many case studies that investigate particular country or region from that point of view, a good overview of which is available in (Roubiah, et al., 2009).

The main task of syntactic interoperability is to provide a data format understandable by peers. It should allow content exchange among multiple software components independently of their implementation languages, run-time environments and other technological differences.

Unlike syntactic interoperability where the main issue focuses on data formats, semantic interoperability focuses on data meaning. It provides peers with the ability to overcome semantic conflicts arising from differences in implicit meanings, perspectives, and assumptions in the data, business processes and so on. The sources of semantic conflicts are the subject of the next chapter.

Key Terms in this Chapter

B2B (Business-to-Business): Type of EC where participating entities are enterprises at both sides. Nowadays, it may be thought as a third wave of EC, where bes should be able to establish and handle their business relationship dynamically and seamlessly on demand.

A2A (Application-to-Application): Process of data and application integration inside an enterprise in order to reach ZLE. Also known as EAI (Enterprise Application Integration) and EII (Enterprise Information Integration).

ZLE (Zero Latency Enterprise): A be that has been reached the full A2A integration so that there is no data latency between its own business processes.

Framework: A common template that has well defined functionality in order to solve a problem, e.g. interoperability, and precisely defined inputs and outputs intended for its communication with the external world.

Middleware: A dynamic self-organized layer, usually acting on the top of the transport layer, that provides uniformity between the lower layers of the framework (hardware, operating systems, etc.), which are different by default, and hides serious, natural discrepancies that exist among applications.

EC (Electronic Commerce): An emerging concept that describes the process of buying, selling, or exchanging data, services and products over the Internet.

be (business entity): An enterprise, a part of an enterprise and/or its application that participate in A2A or B2B.

Interoperability: An attribute given to systems, applications and data that assigns their ability to communicate with another systems, applications and data in a manner that they may exchange and mutually use that data.

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