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UNECE, ISO, IEC and ITU focus on semantic interoperability to advance e-business

UNECE, ISO, IEC and ITU focus on semantic interoperability to advance e-business

UNECE ISO IEC ITU semantics webinar

In today's data-driven world, organizations face the challenge of efficiently integrating and making sense of vast amounts of diverse data. Semantics and semantic interoperability provide a solution by enabling the meaningful interpretation and integration of data across heterogeneous systems. To address this critical need and promote cooperation in the field of electronic business, experts from across the globe recently gathered to delve into the importance, expected advantages, and obstacles related to semantics and semantic interoperability.

The event was organized by the IEC-ISO-ITU-UNECE Electronic Business Memorandum of Understanding Management Group, convened by the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC), International Organization for Standardization (ISO), International Telecommunication Union and UNECE to address multiple facets of electronic business, encompassing the advancement and advocacy of standards, guidelines, and best practices associated with electronic business processes, technologies, and interoperability. Its primary objective is to cultivate global harmonization and interoperability of electronic business frameworks and solutions.

Moderator of the event and Chair of the Management Group for 2022-2023, Mr. Stephen Dutnall, reiterated the significance of strengthened collaboration and emphasized the need to unite efforts and utilize expertise and resources effectively to tackle the intricate challenges and opportunities associated with electronic business, while avoiding redundant work. Continuous harmonization of e-business standards is crucial to ensuring consistency and compatibility across various sectors and domains and will simplify processes, diminish barriers, and foster international interoperability.

Participants shared experiences on the process of defining and developing semantics, how the semantics are applied across domains, best practices and challenges. The United Nations Centre for Trade Facilitation and Electronic Business (UN/CEFACT) showcased the evolution of data exchange from paper-based to semantic document message structures, drawing upon the United Nations Layout Key for Trade Documents (Rec. 1) as an example. Furthermore, it outlined the semantic building blocks and further explained the vast semantic library of e-business constructs UN/CCL “Core Component Library”.

Representatives of ISO shared their experience in implementing semantics in industrial data through the Pallas Project and discussed the challenge of handling input and output information from engineering processes. They also highlighted the role of semantics interoperability in healthcare and emphasized the commonalities in semantic development among organizations. 

Equally pertinent was the rationale of why they developed a semantic rather than ontology-based approach to enable sharing of data in healthcare and biomedical research as multiple “ontologies” and “Data models” by various stakeholders in healthcare make the task of interoperability impossible.

Representatives of ISO and IEC described their activities to incorporate their work into the ontologically structured Common Data Dictionary, which serves as the common repository for product ontologies based-on or transformable to ISO 13584-42 and IEC 61360-2 Common Data Dictionary Schema (CDDS). It provides a mechanism for fast updating of content through its change request process whilst adhering to the principles of international standards development.

Additionally, ISO representatives shed light on the obstacles faced in achieving interoperability in the financial services sector, particularly in reference to data and information exchange, and stressed the need for a shared modelling methodology that is independent of syntax.

Representatives of IEC offered insights into the journey of semantic interoperability and digital transformation. They presented an approach to support society's digital transformation by focusing on standards that facilitate the digitalization of data exchanges and provide roadmaps toward universal interoperability. Furthermore, IEC SyC Smart Cities presented a perspective on semantic interoperability in smart cities, which are complex systems heavily reliant on IT infrastructure and require a city anatomy ontology at their core.

By leveraging their collective expertise and resources, IEC, ISO, ITU and UNECE work together to facilitate the adoption and implementation of electronic business practices, promoting efficiency, transparency, and seamless electronic transactions across sectors and regions. The Management Group serves as a framework for collaboration, ensuring the organizations align their efforts to achieve common objectives in advancing electronic business.

Materials from the webinar can be found here:


Note to editors

The United Nations Centre for Trade Facilitation and Electronic Business (UN/CEFACT) is an international forum for experts from all UN Member States to participate in the development of global technological standards, recommendations and framework agreements to promote international trade through the simplification, harmonization and standardization of trade procedures and processes, envisaging the eventual elimination of paper-based transactions in both public sector regulatory systems and  private sector supply chains.   

UN/CEFACT is working closely with member countries to develop international standards and frameworks that promote interoperability and facilitate seamless integration of digital solutions across borders. Through its repository of 950 standards and nearly 50 recommendations, UN/CEFACT aims to eliminate barriers to trade and enhance the resilience of supply chains against future disruptions. 

In addition to digitalization, UN/CEFACT recognizes the importance of building sustainable and environmentally friendly supply chains. By promoting circular economy principles, sustainable sourcing practices, and renewable energy adoption, UN/CEFACT aims to address the climate crisis and reduce the ecological footprint of global trade. More information is available here:  

UNECE assists 56 member States to better integrate into the world economy and to harness trade, innovation and infrastructure financing and investment for the sustainable development of the UNECE region. UNECE normative tools cover many diverse areas, ranging from trade facilitation and agricultural quality standards to ESG traceability of supply chains, innovation and public private partnerships (PPP). UNECE also specifically supports its 17 programme countries in Central Asia, Southern Caucasus, Western Balkan and Eastern Europe, in close cooperation with UN Country Teams.