For today's increasingly globalised and decentralised economy, the lack of interoperation between electronic services presents a considerable problem. Many e-businesses, for example, are confronted with the need to bring together multiple e-services in order to operate as a whole (known as e-service blends), to collaborate with one another and to achieve mutual targets.

This is also true of government departments and sectors in European countries and across the EU (e.g. energy, health, water, environment and transport) where there is an increasing need to share knowledge, systems and competencies currently available through a myriad of e-services.

The 'merging' process is usually complex, fraud with difficulties (e.g. systems are application-specific and do not have the flexibility to change or evolve), time-consuming, costly and requires manual customisation (and maintenance) in order to allow different operations to work together.

Eight partners from Belgium, Estonia, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, the UK and Israel will pursue a research programme over the next three years based on two key ideas. The first, interoperation hubs, will enable flexible and scalable support for service collaborations in an open network. The second, dynamic artefacts, will simplify the management of data and processes between different services and organisations.

To become operational by 2013, the team will pursue three research stages: the development of the new notion of an artefact-centric interoperation hub, the development of a prototype for creating and operating these hubs and demonstration and testing to validate the research results. The open-source software that will ultimately be created will allow any organisation worldwide to use the technology.

The ACSI team has also set itself several productivity targets to reduce merging time and increase automation and efficiency. It aims to achieve significant savings over conventional approaches to service interoperation, specifically: 40% minimum reduction in the design and deployment of environments that support large numbers of service collaborations; 20% minimum reduction in the costs of on-boarding into (and maintaining) service collaborations; and minimum 30% reduction in ongoing manual activity needed to support these services. The researchers also expect that at least 90% of data transformation in service collaborations will be automated.

Research under ASCI will be undertaken by experts on business process management, artifact-centric business operations, verification, data integration and ontologies, process mining and services architectures.

The project is coordinated by IBM Research (Israel) and includes partners from Sapienza Universita degli Studi di Roma (Italy), Free University of Bozen-Bolzano (Italy), Imperial College of Science, Technology and Medicine (UK), Technische Universiteit Eindhoven (the Netherlands), University of Tartu (Estonia), Indra Software Labs SLU (Spain) and Collibra NV (Belgium).