Gaining acceptance by leadership

Gaining acceptance by leadership

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What has been the response in terms of adopting the standards laid down by OGC or becoming members of OGC etc. from South Asia, South East Asia, Middle East and Africa?
David Schell
President
Open Geospatial Consortium Inc.

1. What has been the response in terms of adopting the standards laid down by OGC or becoming members of OGC etc. from South Asia, South East Asia, Middle East and Africa?

Over the past year, on our public website of products that implement OGC Standards there have been registrations from Australia, Iran, Japan, Malaysia, South Africa and Turkey, in addition to registrations from countries in other regions. Japan, with three new registrations, had the most new product registrations in the regions you mention.

In these regions, Japan, India and Korea have shown the strongest participation in the OGC, with 11, 6 and 3 members, respectively. In the past year, we have gained new members in India, Israel, Japan and Malaysia, as well as Australia. We are in communication with universities and agencies in China and fully expect to have some Chinese members in the next year. The numbers in these regions are steadily growing.

Also relevant to your question is that Asia Pacific countries contribute about 10 percent of our Web traffic.

In Africa, the sdi-ea effort http://sdi-ea.blogspot.com/ is moving forward, and the SDI-Africa newsletter , is providing a means for sharing information about OGC adoption activities.

Through Web browser searches it can be seen that even in most countries that have no OGC members there is adoption of the standards.

2. Are there any hurdles in educating the geospatial stakeholders to adopt standards not just in their profile but also in their operations/projects in this region?

Experience has shown that the first objective in any country is to gain acceptance by the leadership. If government agencies in a country have leaders with experience in geospatial technologies there will be progress. Siva Kumar is on the OGC Board of Directors, and it has been very helpful to have his support in India. The question is always whether there is an enlightened group of people in decision making positions who can work their local political process to make progressive decisions.

We have found no barriers to acceptance in India. India stands out for its thoroughly modern ability to value technology and innovation and work profitably with the standards adoption process.

The differences between countries, in terms of their stance toward ICT standards, are very great. Some political institutions aren’t compatible with the kind of internationalist scientific and consensus process activities that characterize organizations like the OGC. Not all countries are happy to send their experts to meetings around the world. Sometimes, the problem is that organizations have to pay for membership, which is, unfortunately, necessary to keep the process alive. Making an investment in standards brings great returns, but participation is sometimes seen as too expensive.

3. What role do you see for regional agencies managing SDI in increasing the usage and awareness of data standards in their country or region?

Regional agencies might manage SDI within a region of a country or a region of a continent. In either case, regional agencies are capable of educating people about the return on investment in standards development and adoption, and they are positioned to bring different agencies within a region together in coordination activities. These agencies can serve as schoolhouses and validation agents. They are most successful if they have global affiliations or knowledge that lead them to make the best use of global standards, in particular those of ISO TC/211, OGC, and the Web standards organizations. As large and small companies in India have realized, standards are actually repositories of a huge amount of free intellectual property, and they open doors to huge markets. One benefit for agencies, of course, is increased interoperability with agencies in other regions. Another benefit is that they can purchase products and services from a larger set of knowledgeable vendors.

4. Even today, many of the leading software vendors have their proprietary data formats, which are closed. Comment.

It makes perfect sense for a geospatial software vendor to use proprietary, optimized data formats internally in their software. However, when it comes to participating in client/server interactions with other systems, the systems need to implement standards-based interfaces and encodings. The OGC’s Geography Markup Language (GML) plays an important role here, because many software vendors have agreed that GML is best for system to system communication of geospatial content. It can be used as a storage format, it can be interpreted and displayed by non-proprietary software, it works well in the Web context, it can be read by humans or software, and it has many other advantages. But GML definitely is not intended to replace all data formats used internally by proprietary software.

The old idea of customers being forced to use a vendor’s proprietary data standard is passé, a relic of old market characteristics. There are some traditional formats that are still widely used. But that’s an artifact of an old way of doing business.

5. How far does reading and writing back into a standard file format as was demonstrated in one of the GML relays last year [27th Jan 2006, New Delhi] serve the objective of OGC?

The GML relays, which are organized by our members, demonstrate that correct implementation of OGC standards enables diverse software systems to interact successfully in client/server transactions. Most often, this involves Web services and the OpenGIS Web Feature Server Implementation Specification, but SQL and OLE/COM can also provide the medium for these transactions. In a relay exercise, the intermediate step of writing to a file is simply a way of demonstrating that the systems are properly generating and interpreting GML code.

6. What is the relationship which OGC shares with ISO?

The OGC has had a long and productive Class A Liaison with ISO Committee 211 (TC211) Geomatics. ISO is a “de jure” standards development organization in which the world’s nations are represented, and the OGC is a not-for-profit member-funded standards development organization. The two organizations have established very effective ways of sharing their work and harmonizing their standards in the areas where their work programs overlap. Among other valuable developments, this cooperation has resulted in approval of the OpenGIS Specifications for Simple Features and Web Map Server (WMS) and also the 19111 Update on Spatial Reference Systems (SRS) as ISO standards. The Geography Markup Language (GML) version 3.2.1 has just been approved as an International Standard. The Web Feature Service (WFS) and Feature Encoding (FE) are at various stages in a process that will result in these OGC standards becoming ISO standards.

7. ISO, too, has data standards for the geospatial domain. Do you recommend geospatial professionals follow both the ISO and OGC standards?

ISO TC/211 does not have any content models. The closest is 19115–Metadata, which itself is an abstract model. But, yes, both should be used. They are compatible, and some ISO standards, such as 19115, document global consensus in technical areas that are not part of the OGC’s work program. ISO standards are meant to be more abstract whereas OGC standards are meant to be implementation standards that are grounded in the ISO models.

8. Has any country adopted standards laid out by the OGC, for its geospatial data products through regulation/legislation? If not, do you see any likelihood of the same in near future?

Yes, many have, but most often it is simply through “agreement to adopt” after thorough discussion among stakeholders, rather than through regulation or legislation.

In Europe, INSPIRE calls for the use of OGC standards. The Canadian Geospatial Data Infrastructure, a responsibility and resource shared by multiple agencies, is based on OGC standards throughout. In Great Britain, the Ordnance Survey’s OS MasterMap supports distribution as GML. The US Census lists TigerGML as a future Census Bureau product, the US national data portal (The National Map) is based on OGC standards, and OGC standards are written into the US Federal Enterprise Architecture. There is widespread adoption of OGC standards in Australia. GML is specified in electronic-Government Interoperability Framework (e-GIF) best practices in the UK, New Zealand, Denmark and Hong Kong. There are many others, and the list keeps growing.

9. Geospatial is an enabling technology. It finds usage in many vertical segments like electricity, water, highways etc. But in the vertical segments, there are issues of seamless flow of data between different vendors. [Some of these issues were highlighted in our June issue of GIS Development]. What measures are you taking or do you propose to take in order to have better coordination in terms of data flow between industry players of vertical segments and geospatial domain players?

The major “horizontal” vendors have all already implemented one or more OGC standards in open interfaces that could alleviate many of these problems. Many vertical segment software vendors have built their applications on these horizontal vendors’ platforms, and they can easily pass this interoperability capability through to their customers. Independent vertical segment software vendors who have not yet implemented OGC standards in their interfaces can do so, and they will if their customers insist. The standards are available free on the OGC website, they are well documented, and our member list is full of large and small consulting companies that can provide expertise if that is necessary.

The OGC’s role in current efforts to integrate Computer Aided Design (CAD), geospatial technologies and Building Information Models (BIM) provides, perhaps, an example of what you are talking about. CAD and GIS are quite different technologies. Individual vendors offering products in both domains have provided a degree of integration between the two, but now, with coordination between standards groups, it is becoming possible for vendors to provide vendor-to-vendor interoperability in applications that involve both technologies.

Having said that, I should note that not all of the problems you mention can be addressed with the current standards. Our existing standards are sometimes revised to meet new requirements, and new standards are in various stages of development and adoption by the OGC members. As always, we invite vendors, agencies and corporate users of geospatial software to join OGC, get to know the players, and become familiar with those threads of OGC technical activity that are most relevant to their needs.

10. What is common denominator amongst the countries where the OGC data standards is being used widely?

I mentioned earlier that the question is always whether there is an enlightened group of people in decision making positions who can work their local political process to make progressive decisions. I should add that it is necessary for a country to have a sufficient number of people who are trained in geospatial technologies and information technology in general, and who have access to adequate infrastructure: electricity, computers, broadband connections, etc. Knowledge of English is helpful, but Japan, Korea and other countries have shown that successful implementation and widespread adoption are quite possible with other languages and alphabets.

11. Corollary to above, what factor in a given country or region becomes the deterrent in adopting geospatial data standards?

Insufficient support by leaders and insufficient IT infrastructure and lack of funding are the main deterrents to adoption of standards.

12. What has been the benefit of adopting OGC standards for the industry, users and NMOs? Can we expect short term returns/benefits through data standards for the industry?

There are many benefits to adopting OGC standards, and many are realized immediately when an open system goes online. OGC standards are not data standards, as data standards are traditionally defined. I’ll answer the OGC standards part of your question first, and then I’ll address data standards.

I would start by saying that in the OGC, vendors, integrators and platform providers build interoperability interfaces far faster than is possible with traditional system integration contracting. And the benefits are shared globally.

Vendors benefit because they save money through shared interface development, they can sell to much larger markets, and their products fit into solutions more easily.

Users benefit because software becomes reusable, instead of obsolete. That is, users can leverage existing investments in legacy content and applications. This is often cited as the single greatest benefit from complying with standards or helping to establish them. Standards help users maximize the return on their current and future technology investments, while reducing the time and cost of integration. Standards make it easier to adapt to the rapidly changing information technology world, policy changes, and new and emerging requirements.

The use of standards also provides a fulcrum to leverage IT investments and create liquidity. Put another way, a critical benefit of using standards is revenue enhancement, in addition to direct cost savings. Standards provide a platform for realizing opportunities that would otherwise remain hidden. On the Web, any resource increases in value with the number of users who can use it. This is a key fact for NMOs to keep in mind. To realize these benefits, agencies around the world are adopting procurement language that calls for OGC standards in geospatial software products being considered for purchase and deployment. I refer your readers to the 2006 “Geospatial Interoperability Return on Investment Study” ) commissioned by the US National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). It documents quite conclusively the benefits of open systems.

If by data standards you mean vendor proprietary formats, there are no short term returns or benefits for the industry. The industry needs to move ahead towards full adoption of open, consensus-derived standards. If by data standards you mean stakeholder agreements regarding data schemas, yes, there are short term and long term returns and benefits, in terms of more effective data sharing.