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6. Interoperability is about people

HEIRPORT could not have been developed or continue to develop without agreement between organisations and their willingness to work together. Experience with HEIRPORT has confirmed that people are key to developing interoperability.

Bringing information resources together in a web-portal depends on policy decisions made at senior levels in organisations, funding agencies and in government departments (Miller 2000). All information systems development requires investment, and the resources available (for hardware, software, maintenance contracts, staff) are often dependent on decisions that are set out in an Information Systems Strategy prepared by senior managers – which in some cases is approved by an organisation's chief executive, advisory committee or political masters. Thus key decisions which support interoperability, such as the adoption of standards or investment in web-technologies, are made by senior people who will have concerns that must be satisfied. Enabling access through a web-portal may be seen as a loss of control or ownership of data rather than as an opportunity for encouraging new audiences. Managers may have concerns about their staff (who may require new skills), about the risk of a project failing or about the impact on their organisation's brand image. Senior people will need to be convinced of the benefits of interoperability and that proposed new information service will deliver real benefits.


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Developing interoperable systems also depends on people working at an operational level in an organisation. It will involve people who are involved in a technical capacity in the development (systems managers, programmers and developers) working together and making sure the separate elements of the network system (the hardware, software, network connection, communications software etc.) function effectively. The development will also involve those who curate the information resources in developing and implementing standards, mapping resources to standard information profiles and in defining how searches on their databases should work. It will also involve those people who are responsible for answering user enquiries in deciding how the results should be presented and in how users should be supported. Each of these different groups of people will have their own concerns about the development. Technical staff may be concerned about the impact of increased user numbers on network systems or any security implications of opening a Z39.50 communications channel through a fire-wall. Curators may be concerned about inconsistencies in their data, copyright and controlling access to sensitive site data. Staff may be concerned about supporting increasing numbers of users, especially if those users require help to interpret specialist data. All of these concerns need to be addressed for staff to be confident that information resources can be delivered through a web-portal sucessfully.

The development of a web-portal like HEIRPORT depends on the support and agreement of people working at both operational and policy levels but the inspiration may come from external forces. Developments by other institutions help to demonstrate the potential benefits of interoperability and decisions by national or international government to promote interoperability help to release funding. The development of HEIRPORT involves a partnership between organisations, and its impetus comes from a shared vision of improving access to information resources for users.

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Last updated: Tue Feb 18 2003