Dr. Raj Singh
Director, Interoperability Programs
Open Geospatial Consortium, Inc. (OGC®)
TCP/IP, HTTP, HTML, XML, and a handful of other consensus-created, open standards provide the foundation for the international Internet and World Wide Web. Open information technology standards are software interfaces and encodings that are developed in an open consensus process and that are free for anyone to use. Open standards open up markets for large and small companies, and when the standards are global, the market opportunities are both global and local. This is true in the Information and Communications Technology (ICT) industry generally, and it is true in the geospatial technology industry in particular. This article describes how open standards developed in the Open Geospatial Consortium, Inc. (OGC®) benefit both local users and local providers of geospatial technology, around the world.
Benefits of open standards
Open, global standards support local solutions in a number of ways. They encourage competition because they lower barriers to market entry, barriers that would be much higher if proprietary interfaces and data formats were the only option. Because open standards encourage competition, software products improve and become more affordable. Once solution providers understand open interfaces and encodings that are supported by many different software products, they can integrate many different “best of breed” products and also build re-usable solution components. Such components can be applied in future projects and they can even be offered for sale on the Web, as software or as hosted Web services. Open standards also encourage open source development projects, which put additional pressure on proprietary software providers to pay closer attention to customer needs.
Standards-based technology innovation benefits the large software vendors as much as their users. Countries like India often have two choices when it comes to choosing a primary geospatial software vendor: Either select a foreign firm with a wide-ranging, robust feature set, or choose a native firm, who may not be able to offer the same level software, but will likely be more responsive to the needs of their home country. It often proves difficult to entice a large, foreign-based company to tailor their software base to Indian needs. But when a large user states its requirements in terms of open standards, it can expect that all the potential software vendors, who are implementing the global standards, will already be well along the path to meeting their requirements. The software vendor wins as it does not have to consider the cost of redesigning its software architecture to suit a relatively small number of customers.
Customers benefit from open standards because they can deploy solutions with less fear of making decisions that restrict their future options. As long as their previously acquired and custom-tailored systems can be upgraded with open interfaces that implement the open standards, they are able to continue to get a return on those earlier investments even as they add new components from other vendors. When products “plug and play,” it makes it easy for organizations to start small and experiment with different solutions. It also makes sense to imitate what is working somewhere else, and adapt that solution for local needs. Also, it is open standards that make Web services in general a particularly attractive way for customers to meet their information needs.
Thus, both vendors and users win when they adopt international standards.