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Geo-Information Connectivity

Monday, October 6th 2008
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OGC’s role goes beyond just a pure technical standards facilitator; OGC also participates in broader, high-level international discussions about requirements and the many “external” societal benefits brought by interoperability. This article, by Philippe Delclaux, Chief Technical Officer for Infoterra Global EADS/Astrium SAS, discusses OGC’s work with the European community.

In 1987, I was working at Spot Image Corporation, in the Washington, D.C. area, running Technical Operations and processing what we called "remotely sensed data" from the SPOT 1 satellite. We got an order from a large fast food company that was performing market studies to assess the best locations for building new restaurants. Very quickly, we came to the conclusion that we were not running a "Remote Sensing" business, but rather, we were turning into a "Geographic Information" provider.

Twenty-one years later, geographic information is something that has escaped from the select club of cartographers and specialists and invaded our daily lives. There are more and more "neo-geographers" familiar with virtual globes (Google Earth, Virtual Earth), geoportals and GPS navigation, and an ever-increasing volume of current information (like photos taken by our cameras) is now "stamped" with the related location, in addition to time and date.

The increasing pervasiveness of geographic information in our society relies upon several enablers:
  • the progress of processor technology and storage capacities (you can now hold in your hands the power that it used to take a "computer room" to hold)
  • the development of the Internet and of Web technologies
  • access to the GPS constellation
  • the availability of geographic data for everybody (maps, geo-referenced images of the earth, 3D city models, etc.)
  • the existence of standards which allow linking data and make systems easily interoperable
This last point is, in my opinion, a key element which requires strong commitments to make happen. And this is what OGC is about: a forum where the stakeholders willing to build geo-information connectivity gather and act to establish specifications by reaching consensus. The process is efficient, and the convergence to a published standard is fast, thanks to the Interoperability Program, which tests the draft versions in real operational conditions.

This is well recognized by the industry as well as by the institutional actors. The development of national spatial data infrastructures receives the full benefit of these standards which allow linking together already existing heterogeneous sources of geo-information to provide simple access to end users.

The European Union has clearly seen these benefits and has produced a "directive" called INSPIRE (to be turned into laws by the 27 EU Member States in the course of 2009). This directive will force the institutional providers of geographic data (mapping institutes, environmental agencies, etc.) to comply with standards for metadata, data and the modes of access. The European institutions expect, by facilitating the exchanges of such geo-information, to foster their use for the benefit of European citizens, reducing the costs and developing useful applications. Most of the standards which are being drafted in the frame of INSPIRE rely on OGC standards.

These INSPIRE standards will be adopted in the framework of GMES (Global Monitoring for Environment and Security), an initiative led by the European Commission which deals with collecting data (satellite data and in situ data) and developing downstream services in the fields of atmosphere and ocean monitoring, land management and risk management. The global dimension of these activities calls for the aggregation of local data, which indeed necessitates tools and standards to make that possible. This project, like the USGEO in the U.S., contributes also to the Global Earth Observation System of Systems (GEOSS), of which OGC is an active participating organization.

Europe is a good example of a fruitful terrain for the acceptance of geographic standards. The 27 nations have to face cross-border phenomena (e.g. pollution doesn't stop at country borders), and a common geographic approach is key to managing environmental issues. In addition, Europe's natural diversity (starting with different languages) has fostered the development of mechanisms to deal with diversity, and the actors are accustomed to building consensual solutions.

Considering humanity's current challenges (global warming, security, etc.), it is clear that the OGC helps by offering technical solutions. But the OGC's role goes far beyond a pure technical standards facilitator, when you consider the broad-ranging, high-level international discussions about requirements that take place in the OGC, and the many “external” societal benefits brought by OGC-enabled interoperability. This is why the Spot Image - Infoterra group of EADS/Astrium, which provides data, products and services in Earth Observation, is proud to participate - in addition to the business benefit it realizes from such involvement.

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