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Forget About Interoperability

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I get this question all the time: What is meant by the word interoperability? Interoperability? What a word. It has eight syllables. How hard is that to understand? To find out, use something called a Flesch-Kincaid readability grade level. In Microsoft Word, select a sentence, paragraph, or a whole document. Then select the
option. Word gives you back a readability score. It's the school grade needed to understand a sentence or paragraph.

Test the sentence, what is meant by interoperability?

The score is 14.6. That's high. You must be a junior in college to understand it.

Here's another question I often get: Does ArcGIS have built-in interoperability? The answer is yes. But it's better than that. It allows people to connect with one another, using location to help along the way.

Forget interoperability. Too complicated. Too hard to understand. I like the two-syllable word connect better. Modern IT platforms, such as social media, are based on the simple principle of connecting people. Connecting to give and get information or stuff. I connect with Amazon. I tell them what I want. They know what I like. I connect with my credit card. I get my stuff. Platforms are all about connection. In his seminal book, Age of the Platform, Phil Simon stated it well. He says, "A platform allows people to reach and connect with one another and obtain information."

The word interoperability conjures up standards and extracting, transferring, and loading data. I can picture dearly departed comic George Carlin saying the word interoperability with a deep, exaggerated frown and low, intimidating voice. Then I see him smile with that huge, goofy, toothy smile. Then he would say "Connect" in that high-pitched happy voice.

If we think about how we could connect easily with parts of our business, the value would be enormous.

We all hate it when we can't connect with businesses or departments. No one returns my text, emails, or phone calls. How about when we struggle with interactive voice recognition (IVR). The simulated voice asks for all kinds of information: What's your birthday? Your home address? Your 17-digit account number? Your favorite Taylor Swift song? Then when a real person comes on the line, they ask you to repeat the same information. Only after a long time listening to music do we hear the recorded message, "we truly value your patience." Interoperability, maybe, but not connection. Not real human connection.

When I worked for the power company, we regularly dug up streets to install new cables as part of our planned work. That was fine. But we had this nasty habit. We would dig the trench the day after the city just paved the street. City planners were furious. Why was it so hard to coordinate the work? We were unable to connect with the city (or the water department or the gas department) immediately. Imagine simply having our GIS systems connect dynamically with each other? Then ask the simple question, where do we plan to dig that the city plans to pave? Easy. This is exactly what ArcGIS does.

It connects people, departments, companies, and society. It organizes connection by location.

The single value of connecting is to make interactions with different parts of society easy. In a power company, it means having a way to connect human field crews to the people in the office and to the human call center reps freely, immediately, and without hassle. Connecting with customers quickly and simply. Connecting with first responders during storms rapidly and clearly. Providing data from the city to the utility company immediately. Connecting saves time and money, and guess what? It makes people work better. It makes people feel better. Best of all, it gets things done.

Connecting almost always involves location. Where are the field crews? Where are power failures? Where will the city be paving its streets? Where are sensors? What's happening where?

ArcGIS transformed GIS by making connection simple. On any device, anywhere, anytime. Powerful. Using what people know best: maps.

GIS connects people. The Flesch-Kincaid readability grade level for that sentence is 5.2. Easy to understand. So easy, even a fifth grader can understand it.

To learn more about how ArcGIS makes connections easy for electric companies, visit Esri Electric and Gas Utilities.

Bill Meehan's picture

Thank Bill for the Post!

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Esri, the global leader in geographic information system (GIS) software, builds the most powerful mapping and spatial analytics technology available.


Robert Lilley's picture
Robert Lilley on May 25, 2019 10:17 pm GMT

Bill, interoperability is not hard at all when you have a one-vendor solution like GE. Utilities get a single, proven data model and scalable, reliable end-to-end solution without depending on mutiple partners for support. GE's utility expertise has been embedded in our software, from Asset Control (OMS, DMS, SCADA, EMS, ADMS) to Asset Management (Electric Office, Gas Office, Telco, Water Office) and Mobile (Asset Management, Mobile Outage response, Mobile Distribution Optimization). This "native" interoperability is what allows those connections you mention to be seamless and simple and drive data fabric Analytics. However all those connections mean nothing unless the fundamental quality of your network connectivity data can be maintained. I'm not sure how readable that last sentence was but I'm sure its all that matters for most utilities....not just pretty maps.

Bill Meehan's picture
Bill Meehan on May 28, 2019 10:00 pm GMT

Hi Robert.  Thanks for reading and commenting on my post. I just like the word connect better than interoperability. It suggests connecting with many disparate sources. To find out more about how ArcGIS connects people, check out our web site at 

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