Location standards boring? Not when you realise the value.

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Content Copyright © 2011 Bloor. All Rights Reserved.

Open standards have played a crucial role in enhancing the interoperability of diverse systems and in helping organisations provide better services, saving significant costs to both public and private enterprises“,says Steven Ramage, Executive Director, Marketing and Communications, OGC.

The Open Geospatial Consortium (OGC) was established in 1994 with a membership of 5. Today the OGC has more than 420 member organisations including government, academic and private sector organisations from 34 different countries. Traditional GIS vendors are involved, along with technology integrators, data providers, and companies at the cutting edge of location services. In the commercial sector, the OGC has attracted Fortune 500 companies, as well as numerous smaller technology providers, and globalisation is expanding the participation of companies from previously underserved world regions.

The mission of the OGC is “To serve as a global forum for the collaboration of developers and users of spatial data products and services, and to advance the development of international standards for geospatial interoperability”.

To support this mission, the OGC manages four programmes:

  • Interoperability – to establish communities of interest and encourage collaboration. A good example is aviation with the requirement to create a shared air space, such as for all of Europe.
  • Standards development and maintenance – a consensus process in which the OGC members collaborate to define, develop, and maintain international geospatial standards.
  • Compliance testing – to provide the resources, procedures, and policies for improving software implementation compliance with OGC standards.
  • Marketing and communications – to explain and promote the value of open standards, creating more interest and participation, resulting in more benefits for all.

A key aspect of the work of the OGC is to enable the effective and seamless sharing of location data. Beginning in 1998, OGC members defined a new OGC standard called the Geography Markup Language (GML). GML became an official OGC standard in 2000. In 2007, GML also became an ISO standard [ISO is the International Organisation for Standardisation, the world’s largest developer and publisher of international standards http://www.iso.org/iso/about.htm]. However, GML by itself does not solve the location data-sharing problem. Common content models, such as for sharing airport or weather information, need to be defined and then encoded using GML.

Working with communities of interest such as Defence and Intelligence, Emergency and Disaster Management, Hydrology, Aviation, and Meteorology, these content models and associated GML schema (encodings) have been, or are in the process of being, developed. Examples of community-specific standards that utilise GML include:

  • AIXM – Aviation Information Exchange Model;
  • EDXL – Emergency Data Exchange Language;
  • GeoSciML – GeoScience Markup Language for the Geology community with 109 countries currently collaborating;
  • WXXM – Weather Information Exchange Model.

These community-specific models are often evaluated and endorsed by the OGC as conforming to OGC standards, specifically GML.

Standards implemented in applications enable many-to-many interoperability. This many-to-many concept underlies one of the most important trends in information and communication technology today: cloud computing. Robust networks and service-oriented architectures (SOA) drive cloud computing in which enterprises, large and small, gain flexible and efficient access to hardware, software, and networks as services. This removes the need to purchase and maintain possibly underutilised expensive in-house resources. The cloud approach enables access to all these resources as services, quickly and flexibly meeting current as well as future needs.

Distributed operations use open standards to enable information flow. OGC standards have removed the technical boundaries that previously limited communication between complex information systems, making geospatial information “just another data type” accessible across boundaries to applications of all kinds.

In 2004, the US National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) conducted a Return on Investment (ROI) study through Booz Allen Hamilton (BAH) to assess the impact of using open standards that enable geosciences interoperability among its partnering agencies. This study did not explicitly assess the value of service-oriented architectures but, rather, anticipated them. The open standards assessed then are now part of virtually all current architectures that use web services and enable publishing, discovery, access and use of geospatial information. The NASA study compared one government programme using open geospatial interface standards with another government programme not using those standards. The study focused on geospatial standards developed by the OGC, the US Federal Geographic Data Committee and the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) Technical Committee 211.

The results of the ROI initiative can be seen in detailed charts and tables in the study (http://www.egy.org/files/ROI_Study.pdf). These results revealed a significant improvement in functionality and decrease in cost when using open standards as opposed to proprietary standards. The project, using open standards, saved NASA 26.2% of project costs compared to the project that relied on a proprietary standard. It was stated that for every $100m spent on proprietary standards, the same results could have been achieved for $75m using open standards.

The study also reported that open standards-based projects:

  • Have lower maintenance and operation costs
  • Have greater first-time system planning and development costs, but future projects using the same standards will have significantly reduced planning and development costs.

Standards make the distribution of geospatial information easier and more understandable – not just for government technologists, managers, and decision support analysts, but also for all stakeholders, including industry partners.

Contact details and credits
This article was written in collaboration with Steven Ramage. For further information contact sramage@opengeospatial.org and view the OGC website, http://www.opengeospatial.org