In telecommunication, the term interoperability has the following meanings:
- The ability of systems, units, or forces to provide services to and accept services from other systems, units or forces and to use the services so exchanged to enable them to operate effectively together.
- The condition achieved among communications-electronics systems or items of communications-electronics equipment when information or services can be exchanged directly and satisfactorily between them and/or their users. The degree of interoperability should be defined when referring to specific cases.
Source: from Federal Standard 1037C
and from the Department of Defense Dictionary of Military and Associated Terms
in support of MIL-STD-188
With respect to software, the term interoperability is also used to describe the capability of different programs to read and write the same file formats and utilise the same protocols.
Interoperability can have important economic consequences. If competitors' products are not interoperable (due to causes such as patents, trade secrets or coordination failures), the result may well be monopoly or market failure. For this reason, it may be prudent for governments to take steps to encouage interoperability in various situations.
In the UK there is a egovernment-based interoperability initative called e-gif.