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Trends in geospatial standards

Mark Reichardt
Mark Reichardt
President and CEO
Open Geospatial Consortium, Inc.
Email: [email protected]


number of trends in geospatial technology are either obvious or just becoming apparent and they all ride on the advancing geospatial standards infrastructure as well as the growing vision of a truly geospatial Web.

We see continuing movement towards integration of the sensed environment in a spatial/temporal context for improved situational awareness across many different disciplines. The ability to discover, access, fuse and apply information from myriad fixed and mobile sensors is poised to dramatically improve decision making across a range of disciplines and activities, from ocean science to weather, climate, environmental monitoring, emergency management and retail services, to name a few. OGC Web Services standards and OGC Sensor Web Enablement (SWE) standards are helping to facilitate this trend.

We envision enhanced emphasis on modelling and simulation, where some of the inputs are live sensor inputs and others are simulated inputs obtained from other processes. Because geoprocessing is often compute-intensive, we foresee an increasing use of network-distributed parallel processing, or ‘grid computing’, a technology domain where standards from the Open Grid Forum (OGF) will also be important.

We expect significant improvement in geosciences data sharing and knowledge sharing through interoperability enabled by standards. As an example of this broad global trend, OGC is a participating organisation in GEOSS (the Global Earth Observation System of Systems) ions.org/), leading pilot activities to mature a common interoperable architecture enabling nations and organisations to implement the policies necessary to allow access and sharing of Earth observation assets and the information captured by these assets.


Additionally, the consortium has recently chartered working groups to support a global dialogue among hydrologic and meteorological professionals seeking to apply open standards-based technologies and information as best practice to improve cooperation and information sharing within and across their disciplines. We have seen and will continue to see broader implementation of geospatial information and technologies — as well as open standards — across new communities of interest. For example, spatial technologies, information and OGC standards enable rapid mobilisation of capabilities to monitor and detect landslides and tsunamis. They help manage mining operations, monitor river flow, pollution and drought conditions; support urban planning; and support outdoor and indoor navigation for a range of business, government and personal uses.

In Korea, a vision of Ubiquitous Services and U-Cities city) drives considerable investment and innovation, and this is likely to converge with other similar activities around the world to form a trend. This vision combines mobile computing with augmented reality, that is, information about real world objects that is virtually overlaid on those objects in visual displays. Elements of the urban landscape, in other words, will become self-describing to anyone with a mobile Internet-connected device.

In an increasingly connected world, volunteered information will become more and more important. Crowdsourcing and other broad social capture of information will begin to dominate our decision cycles. Information created in this way will be increasingly important for government and business, and in fact may radically challenge traditional approaches to geospatial data generation and maintenance.

As Web services and ‘cloud computing’ become prevalent, persistent federation of services will become widespread. As wider use of standards enables more Web services to request services from other Web services (‘service chaining’), it make sense for communities of interest to form agreements and policies for establishing persistent networks of federated services. OGC envisions that a global network of services will evolve, available to developers and operational interests and operating under a common set of policies that encourage interoperability, service sharing etc. This will make sense in many contexts, such as SDI initiatives, open science and enterprises working with their value chain partners.


OGC embarked, early on, on the path of geospatial Web services. The 1999 OGC Web Map Service (WMS) Interface Standard got things started with a straightforward way for any kind of spatial data server to provide, via the Web, a simple georeferenced map image. Soon afterward, the OGC Geography Markup Language (GML) Encoding Standard was released, followed by many others. Advances in the OGC standards have closely followed advances in standards that provide foundational Web leading edge information technology solutions. But some foundational Web technologies have taken a long time to incubate, and thus some OGC technical committee working groups have been working for a long time on technology domains that are just beginning to see applications.

One such domain is the Geo Semantic Web. The Marine Metadata Interoperability Project (https://marinemetadata. org/node) is one effort that is making important advances in this area, leveraging semantics and ontologies to establish a structured common vocabulary for hundreds of separate marine information sources located throughout the world. The semantic Web is perhaps only in the early stages of becoming a trend, but it seems highly like that computers will increasingly be able to ‘understand’ information so that they can perform more of the tedious work involved in finding and combining information on the web, and sharing this information in a context the user understands.


Another area moving slowly but inexorably forward is geospatial rights management, which is the focus of the OGC Geo Rights Management Working Group (GeoRM WG). Open standards are being developed that provide such capabilities for a wide range of scenarios. Similarly, there will surely be a continued focus on security, because rights management requires access control so that sensitive information flows only to authorised users. Much of the current growth in information and communication technology markets involves the mobile Internet that has a strong and growing geospatial component.

Rights management is just one of our industry’s legal and policy challenges. With the rapidly increasing usage of geospatial information in all walks of life, there have been, and no doubt will continue to be, events that result in legal actions and policy changes that will too often be undertaken by legal and policy professionals unfamiliar with spatial information and technologies. We see a trend toward education to inform decision makers about geospatial issues. It is important for representatives of the geospatial community to work with policymakers and the legal community to raise awareness and make sure that geospatial technologies, standards and related infrastructure can support a broad range of policy and legal frameworks that will emerge worldwide.

OGC’s mission is to improve technical and information interoperability through standards, and help make information sharing a policy decision that is not fettered by technical limitations.

This is why OGC has established a Spatial Law and Policy Committee (SLPC) as part of its Board of Directors. SLPC’s goal is to build knowledge of legal and policy issues being addressed around the world, to understand these trends in the context of our work, and to inform and educate the OGC community, the legal and policy community of the implications of these trends.

We also foresee a major policy initiative that takes advantage of the interoperability created by OGC and complementary standards – to enable broad, collaborative use of distributed spatial resources. GEOSS, mentioned above, is a key exemplar – driving a common, interoperable architecture that will enable the world’s Earth observation resources to be coordinated, integrated and fused to provide capabilities more powerful than single sensors alone, and will allow nations to address a range of pressing regional and global challenges through a common architecture.

Despite the global economic crisis, information technology continues to advance at a rapid clip and geospatial technology is keeping pace. Through convergence of technologies enabled by the continuing advance of standards, many extraordinary trends are emerging, and the list of these is certainly not limited to those described above. Perhaps the mega-trend to note is that there will be increasingly tight connections between the one real world and countless increasingly connected digital worlds. This megatrend may not yet be apparent to most people, but we believe it is profoundly significant.