White paper on semantic interoperability addresses challenges in digital transformation age

Humans use words, diagrams, images, context, sounds, facial expressions or body language to be understood. Machines use data and information models as well as algorithms to manipulate information, and human concepts need to be translated for machine use. A recent white paper offers an assessment of current and future challenges involving semantic interoperability in industrial domains and related industry-based standards.

Due to the exponentially growing number of systems that collect, process, and share data, machines increasingly need to be able to communicate with each other without the intervention of humans. This requires increased interoperability in terms of concepts, data structures, information models as well as digital specifications. In addition to enabling data exchange, so-called semantic interoperability defines the meaning of data without the need for additional programming. It provides the means for two systems to understand each other’s conventions and functions behind the data and the context in which it is used. It allows computer systems to exchange data with unambiguous, shared meaning. Semantic interoperability will be the key to digitalisation and the latest industrial revolution.

White paper

IEC has published a free white paper that offers an assessment of current and future challenges involving semantic interoperability in industrial domains and related industry-based standards. The main goal of the paper is to identify conditions in which the application of ontology-based semantic technologies, together with already existing information models, can be used to improve interoperability within and between applications and domains, and to formulate recommendations based on a review of use cases versus existing technology and standards.

Persons who can benefit from reading this white paper include:

  • IEC decision makers
  • Managers charged with deciding whether to provide resources for information modelling/knowledge representation
  • Persons responsible for life cycle management of both products and systems engineering
  • Ontology developers and semantic technologists
  • Engineers involved in developing standards-based semantic interoperability in tools

The white paper was developed by the IEC Market Strategy Board (MSBsemantic ontologies project team with major contributions from Siemens AG and project partner, Prof. Dr.-Ing. Christian Diedrich, ifak e.V. Magdeburg (Germany).


Section 1 begins by describing what interoperability involves, what semantics and ontologies consist of, and what 'understanding' means in the context of knowledge processing. This is followed by a description of the digitalisation process.

Section 2 discusses the state of the art of information modelling in the industrial production life cycle. Because this includes findings fundamental to understanding the requirements associated with semantic interoperability, it is recommended that all readers with a technical background read this section carefully. The paragraphs dedicated to the state of the art include references to existing IEC Standards. These aspects are of special interest for engineers who develop semantic interoperability in tools.

Section 3 presents examples of industrial use cases. These serve to illustrate semantic interoperability requirements and discuss gaps between the current state of the art and requirements introduced within a projective framework of 5 to 10 years. This presentation also indicates where the emphasis should lie in modelling resource expenditure efforts by the responsible management. Those involved in the life cycle management of product and system engineering can identify appropriate main use cases and derive decisions concerning the strategic use of standard or company-specific solutions.

Section 4 recapitulates experiences from the semantic interoperability scenarios as they relate to the use case information modelling and provides relevant hints to ontology developers and semantic technologists.

Section 5 outlines the challenges involved in achieving semantic interoperability.

Section 6 offers recommendations to the IEC and its committees as well as to industry and consortium.

Download the free white paper here

This article has been written within the framework of  Standards Cell Industrie 4.0. 

(Source picture: IEC)