Informational Interoperability
Friday, March 14, 2008 at 10:12AM
Toby Considine in Enterprise Interaction, Markets and Innovation, Microgrids and Distributed Systems, System Architecture

Power grid reliability, human heat pumps, and data centers as energy resources – what is the common thread? All of these rely on being to get above the details of the systems to see interrelationships between the systems. This approach requires systems to compete on delivering of service, rather than focusing on process. Systems that provide a similar service, albeit with fundamentally different internal processes, must be swappable.

We must move beyond protocol interoperability to informational interoperability.

In engineered systems, interoperability usually means “we can get some signal of some kind between systems”. That signal is data oriented, meaning it is a raw fact that is neither actionable nor useful on its own. Someone with deep domain knowledge program the interactions around those facts. This leads to over-integration between systems.

Informational interoperability raises the bar, by allowing systems to compete on performance and service. Data is not information; often too much data can hide information. Only when facts from the underlying process are assembled into patterns that have meaning and can influence action does data rise to the level of information.

If you have two or more systems that can both consume and produce the same information interface, then those systems are informationally interoperable. If several external systems share the same informational interface to the local system while performing different services, then the local systems interface is reusable.

If I am performing an energy intensive task such as intake reheating, it matters little if my heat source is electric coils, a central steam plant, a solar thermal collector, or the data center downstairs. Each has a cost (which may even be negative), each has a quality, and each has performance characteristics. Systems with informational interfaces can select or which thermal source to use, either at design time or on the fly. Such systems would not need to know any details about the internal operations of their design source.

The best system interactions are built using reusable informational interfaces. The most accepted and best understood reusable informational interface is money. Money provides actionable information about scarcity and value. Monetary interfaces are highly re-useable and interoperable.

Bad systems hide information about performance, scarcity, and value; good systems expose such information in ways that allow innovators to take advantage of this information. Let the systems use whatever low-level protocols they want internally. On the outside, we need information interoperability.

Article originally appeared on New Daedalus (
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