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NIFO- Interoperability without incompatibility

In 2006, a plan was drawn up by the European Commission for the creation of a National Interoperability Frameworks Observatory (NIFO). Its aim is to make a comparative analysis, not a benchmark, of 49 aspects of the national interoperability frameworks of 34 countries: 27 Member States, 3 Candidate Countries and 4 EFTA countries. The overall goal – in parallel with those of the European Interoperability Framework v2.0 and the Architecture Guidelines – is to improve the interoperability of public services delivery in Europe.

The Observatory, which will be operational early-2010,uses an analytical model and methodology, and will lead to recommendations on how to resolve potential incompatibilities. Secondary objectives are to raise awareness, among public administrations and the EU institutions, of the rules of collaboration and the different layers of interoperability.

The NIFO project is being conducted in two phases:
conception, modelling and demonstration of the observatory,and data collection, data analysis and completion.
Phase One of the project has been concluded in which the interoperability frameworks of three pilot countries presenting differing levels of maturity and focus points
– Denmark, Germany and Malta – have been studied.The results of this phase have been presented to the Member States and a representation model has been developed.

Phase Two, which started in August 2009, will address the remaining Member States and thus the model will be updated with all 14 States that have a National Interoperability Framework.

The plan is for the Observatory to go online by the beginning of 2010. The site will be used as the platform to host the Observatory. Subsequently, the aim is to update the analytical model on a regular basis in order to ensure continuity and accuracy.

The second version of the European Interoperability Framework will take these national interoperability frameworks and related activities into account.

The NIFO objectives in detail

Comparative analysis: conduct a comparative analysis (not a benchmark) of the NIFs based on an analytical model and methodology to gain a structural snapshot of the various NIFs.

Recommendations: propose a set of recommendations tackling the possible incompatibilities of NIFs,in order to avoid proliferation of potential barriers
to interoperability.

Awareness: raise awareness about NIFs and encourage their development by presenting the analytical model, presentation model and the NIF Overview.

Analytical Model: this features three dimensions – context and principles, interoperability and services support – each containing sub-aspects for assessment.

Presentation Model: a presentation model allowing quick reference and mutual comparison between NIFs.

NIF Overview: containing condensed up-to-date information on all Interoperability Frameworks from the countries covered by the project.

Pilot country responses
Synergy put three questions to the representatives of the pilot countries involved in the NIFO project:

  • Nils Cordes of the German Federal Ministry of the Interior
  • Adam Arndt: Special Adviser with the Danish Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation
  • Noel Cuschieri: Enterprise Architect with the Malta Information Technology Agency

This is what they said:
In what ways do you think the NIFO will be of use to your public services?

NIFO will be a good source for benchmarking our two national frameworks, SAGA for technical interoperability and XÖV for semantic interoperability.

We are attempting to make public services better and cheaper through the use of open standards.We expect the NIFO to support these efforts by letting us see and take inspiration from the standards recommendations of other countries. We expect the NIFO, in conjunction with CAMSS, to give us signifi cant progress on evaluation of standards with minimal national effort. Similarly we want to make our own experiences available to others through the same channels, in order to optimise the value gained from our efforts.

Malta is an integral part of this growing and dynamic organism called Europe. The organism’s nerves (or communication channels) have to be extended all the way to its cells (public services) for it to function properly. It is therefore vital that we plan our next generation public services to work within a European public services framework (EIF and EIS) and, while it is also important to retain our identity, collaboration has to be there by design and not as an afterthought. In our opinion, the NIFO initiative is a step in the right direction. Member States can start to open their doors in a ‘show and tell’ kind of fashion with the aim of understanding, learning and helping each other out. This will hopefully lead us to further collaboration and recalibration exercises to link all the NIFs, thus improving public services in Malta by extending them to all Europe and vice versa. How has the NIFO experience been of help in formulating your own NIF?

How has the NIFO experience been of help in formulating your own NIF?

Both our national framework initiatives preceded the launch of NIFO, but NIFO will be helpful in improving them.

Specifically we are using information from NIFO to collect recommendations regarding PDF/A in order to qualify our current national process for a recommendation of that standard.

Forward-looking initiatives require focused thinking and dedicated resources. We are also aware that usable information requires a much deeper understanding of the subject at hand. The NIFO in this regard gave us the opportunity to do both, i.e. time to start thinking and a reason to iterate some of these thoughts. The creation of Malta’s new NIF is still in its very early stages, making it an excellent candidate for innovative interoperability approaches. The NIFO is therefore an invaluable resource for inspiration. It is also helping Malta to understand the more tangible realities that Member States face or have faced in their own process. In a way, the NIFO might be able to start bridging the gap between the EIF’s abstract qualities and the actual implementations of Interoperability in the various Member States.

Do you have plans to make this work known to your citizens?

Right now, we don’t have any such plans. But I expect we are going to start thinking about it once we have completed the changes to our constitution, under which the federal administration and the states will have an agreement on coordination in the field of information technology.

We have a general strategy to publicise our work through the press as well as our own papers and fl yers. We also publish on the NITA homepage ( and a collaboration site for digitisation workers (– in Danish only). Once the NIFO is officially released,we intend to publish information about it on our websites and to attempt to generate some press coverage of the fact that we are now more easily able to compare and coordinate our standards recommendations with other European countries.

Currently Maltese citizens are probably not aware of this initiative,mainly because the NIF is mostly an ICT enabler and people tend to focus on what they interact with. Having said that, Interoperability is not simply about computer systems, it is also about the citizen’s interaction with the public services. This therefore means that, at some point in time, we will include the Maltese citizens in our Interoperability initiatives and, as much as possible, create a framework that is usable and that gives tangible benefits.

Editorial published in Synergy 13 - December 2009