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ISO/TC 211 for geographic information/geomatics

Henry Tom
Henry Tom
Co-Chair, ISO/TC 211 Advisory Group on Outreach
Email: [email protected]

ISO/TC 211 was formed in 1994 to develop an integrated set of geographic information standards. The first generation of twenty integrated data content standards has been completed. Currently, the second generation of ISO/TC 211 family of standards extends to imagery and location based services standards

While there are different definitions for the term interoperability – a very general definition for this discussion is, the ability to successfully understand and share disparate data, software, and hardware across a broad spectrum of organizations/users. ISO/TC 211 was formed in 1994 to develop an integrated set of geographic information standards. The first generation of twenty integrated data content standards has been completed. Currently, the second generation of ISO/TC 211 family of standards extends to imagery and location based services standards. The joint development for some of these standards has been occurred primarily through the Joint Advisory Group of ISO/TC 211 and the Open Geospatial Consortium (OGC). The OGC is a Class A Liaison member of ISO/TC211 and has a Cooperative Agreement with ISO/TC 211. ISO/TC 211 is comprised of over fifty national bodies, liaisons with 25 international professional organizations and twelve other standards committees.

ISO/TC 211 Scope
Broadly, standardization in the field of digital geographic information, is the ISO/TC211’s scope. This work aims to establish a structured set of standards for information concerning objects or phenomena that are directly or indirectly associated with a location relative to the Earth. These standards may specify, for geographic information, methods, tools and services for data management (including definition and description), acquiring, processing, analyzing, accessing, presenting and transferring such data in digital/electronic form between different users, systems and locations.

Role of ISO/TC 211 in advancing Interoperability
ISO/TC 211 promotes geospatial interoperability with the development of technical data content standards. One of the well-known ISO/TC 211 standards is ISO19115 Metadata Standard. This particular standard operates at any data level and provides “data about data”. It is a standard that can be implemented by users at all levels of an organization as well as between organizations. Its implementation is not predicated upon the existence of any software. There are vendors that do provide free software to implement the Metadata Standard.

Another well-known standard under development within ISO/TC 211 is ISO 19136 Geography Markup Language (GML). This standard allows for self-description and facilitates the interchange of data files. GML is an XML encoding that provides an open, vendor independent framework for the definition of geospatial application schema and objects and for data transport. Another useful ISO/TC 211 standard for achieving interoperability is ISO 19106 Profiles. There is also a registry standard, ISO 19135 Procedures for Registration of Geographic information Items (Figure 1).

Yet another ISO/TC 211 standard for advancing interoperability is ISO 19104 Terminology which provides definitions for the terms used in the ISO 191** family of standards. Terms have been harmonized within the ISO 191** family of standards. This is definitely a step towards “semantic interoperability” – which, according to Dr. Charles Roswell means that the potential users have a common understanding of the meaning of the data. It involves the development of standard mechanisms for imparting that understanding to those who are not members of the community that developed the data. ISO/TC 211 also convened an Advisory Group on Outreach. The mission of this group is to promote the awareness, adoption, and advocacy of ISO/TC 211 standards in user communities. Many of these users are members of international professional organizations that are Class A Liaisons to ISO/TC 211 (See Box). The ISO/TC 211 Advisory Group has been involved in various activities to promote the adoption, deployment and implementation of ISO/TC 211 standards. Recently, ISO/TC 211 established ISO/TC211 Focus Group on Data Providers.

United Nations (UN)
Various UN organizations have recognized the need for geographic information standards and wanted a close linkage to ISO/TC 211. ISO/TC 211 has approved the requests of four UN agencies to become Class A Liaisons. A primary strategy of the ISO/TC 211 Advisory Group on Outreach is the inclusion and internalization of ISO/TC 211 standards into UN requirements, missions, and activities over the long term. The basic nature of the ISO/TC 211 standards allows for the standardization of geographic information at a very fundamental level within various developing regions throughout the world. Several years ago, UN agencies formed the UN Geographic Information Working Group. There are over 20 UN member agencies, there is a Task Group for Interoperability, and standards form a major activity within this group.

Global Spatial Data Infrastructure (GSDI)
Standards constitute one of the four basic components of spatial data infrastructures. These four common components: standards, technology, data policy, and institutional framework are mutually inclusive and form the foundation of a spatial data infrastructure. Accordingly, standards are very important for the GSDI. The GSDI has the greatest potential for advancing interoperability internationally. Currently, the GSDI standards focus is on interface specifications and standards that advance interoperability between software systems (The GSDI Needs OGC Standards, GIM International: The Global Magazine for Geomatics, February, 2005, page19). The GSDI community also needs ISO/TC 211 data content standards such as the ISO Metadata standard for addressing fundamental data requirements for basic operations.

ISO/TC 211 Resources
The fundamental resources of ISO/TC 211 are reflected in the ISO standards and reports that are produced. Beyond that, ISO/TC 211 has a website that provides a standards newsletter that reports on standards activities, events, and a registry of conferences and related standards meetings. The website also provides the ISO/TC 211 scope, business plan, overview, published standards and reports, document register and fact-sheets for the standards. It also includes: resolutions, ballots, calendar, programme of work, presentations and articles, FAQs, links to ISO/TC 211 Liaisons and other useful links.

Beyond geospatial interoperability, the real challenge is enabling geospatial data/technology interoperability and to facilitate its seamless inclusion within the information technology and telecommunications communities. We are all looking forward to the day when geospatial data/technology are totally interoperable and embedded within the mass-market consumer realms of universally available products and services.

ISO/TC 211 Class A Liaisons
  • CEOS, Committee on Earth Observation Satellites
  • DGIWG, Digital Geographic Information Working Group
  • EPSG, European Petroleum Survey Group
  • FIG, International Federation of Surveyors
  • GSDI, Global Spatial Data Infrastructure
  • IAG, International Association of Geodesy
  • ICA, International Cartographic Association
  • ICAO, International Civil Aviation Organization
  • IEEE Geoscience and Remote Sensing Society
  • IHB, International Hydrographic Bureau
  • , International Steering Committee for Global Mapping
  • ISPRS, International Society for Photogrammetry and RS
  • JRC, Joint Research Centre, European Commission
  • OGC, Open Geospatial Consortium, Incorporated
  • PCGIAP, Permanent Committee on GIS Infrastructure for Asia and the Pacific
  • UN Economic Commission for Europe, Statistical Division
  • UN Food and Agriculture Organization
  • UNGEGN, United Nations Group of Experts on Geographical Names
  • UNGIWG, United Nations Geographic Information Working Group
  • WMO, World Meteorological Organization
  • PC IDEA, Permanent Committee on SDI for the Americas
  • SCAR, Scientific Committee on Antarctic ResearchPan American Institute of Geography and History