Copyright # Taylor & Francis Group, LLC
ISSN: 1522-8835 print=1522-8991 online
Interoperability and the Future of
Arlington School of Social Work, Arlington, Texas
We are entering a period of interoperability in the human services, or the automatic global linking of information across different services and organizations. The purpose of this article is to get human service professionals to think about research, policy, management, and practice in a future service delivery system where data, information, and knowledge can be electronically exchanged and used globally. If human service professionals are to be intelligent discussants at the table when our future digital human services delivery infrastructure is planned, clear thinking about the practices, impacts, and issues of linking agency data globally is critical. Since the focus in this paper is on the impact of global data interchange, the difficult technical issues surrounding user authentication, security, and privacy are not discussed in the depth they require.
KEYWORDS automation, human service administration, infrastructure, interoperability
Interoperability is a term that is not commonly understood by most human service professionals, although most understand the trends that are making interoperability inevitable. In its simplest form, interoperability is the ability of electronically linked agencies to work together, to interoperate (‘‘Interoperability,’’ 2010). It has a technical component—data linking—and a practice component—the use of linked data in decision making. Formally, interoperability is defined as ‘‘the ability of two or more systems or components to exchange information and to use the information that has been exchanged’’ (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, 2005).
Received January 11, 2010; revised February 3, 2010; accepted February 28, 2010.
Address correspondence to Dick Schoech, Professor, UT Arlington School of Social Work,
Box 19129, Arlington, TX 76019-0129. E-mail: email@example.com
Interoperability is one of the most critical concepts facing the adoption and implementation of enhanced electronic information technologies into the health and human services.
Interoperability in the human services implies and involves the following concepts:
Information from multiple agencies linked electronically to create one system from the user’s perspective
Electronic data interchange (EDI) or the automatic, instantaneous, seamless, and secure exchange of information between separate organizations based on predetermined data definitions, standards, and protocols
Global sharing of proprietary information with user authentication and identity management tools to ensure data security, client privacy, and confidentiality
Ways to meaningfully interpret the information exchanged; for example, common taxonomies, custom dashboards, ways to slice and dice and drill down into data to answer ‘‘what if’’ type of questions, data visualization techniques such as Online Analytic Processing (OLAP), visual maps for problem structuring and collaboration, etc. (Schoech, Fluke, Basham,
Baumann, & Cochran, 2004; Horn & Weber, 2007)
Local customization of standard practice processes, such as risk and safety assessments The potential for automated actions to be associated with information and analysis; for example, via intelligent agents, Web robots or bots, triggers, and alerts
The use of open rather than proprietary standards for the free sharing of agency-owned information given each agency’s restrictions on sharing
Sets of tools and rules for encoding and transmitting documents to be exchanged, such as extensible markup language (XML) (O’Looney, 2005)
Compliance with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability