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Interoperability - Bonus or Necessity?

Wednesday, October 8th 2003
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Summary:

“The events of 9/11 and global issues such as tracking diseases, environmental concerns, and natural disasters have heightened awareness of the need to share data
across departments and organizations.At times, data sharing can even mean the difference between life and death.” Preetha Pulusani, President of Intergraph Mapping and Geospatial Solutions gives her take on the reason why interoperability means more than just sharing data.

Where were you when the recent blackout in the northeast hit? Were you trapped in an elevator that was going nowhere? Or sitting in an airport listening to the announcement that all planes had been grounded? Maybe you were just trying to get home in the dark.If you were not one of the thousands of people whose lives were interrupted by this single event, you may consider yourself fortunate indeed.

The Open GIS Consortium (OGC) has been pushing standards and interoperability to the geospatial community and IT industry for more than nine years.Many in the industry may be thinking, "This would be nice, but is it really necessary? We've gotten along fine without it until now." Events such as the widespread power blackout, local disasters, or certain routine problems clarify the necessity of interoperability. It has become a priority, not just something that would be convenient.

The events of 9/11 and global issues such as tracking diseases, environmental concerns, and natural disasters have heightened awareness of the need to share data across departments and organizations.At times, data sharing can even mean the difference between life and death.The conveniences we enjoy every day also require interoperability.What if tires were made by only one vendor and fit only one type of car? And life would be much more difficult if you couldn't plug your toaster and your coffeemaker into the same outlet.

During a crisis is not the time to discover that data is unusable because it is in the wrong format, or it can't be accessed with the software on hand.This possibility accents the need for standards and the increasingly important role they can play in our industry today.

OGC has led the development and implementation of OpenGIS Specifications that enable interoperable geoprocessing services, data, and applications.Interoperability and standards-based development are gaining recognition as key components to sharing information between the desktop and the Web, the desktop and the field, and organizations and industries.

Web services have grown in popularity and can be instrumental in moving the industry forward in easy data sharing.The Web Map Server (WMS), a way of communicating raster maps on the Web, is an OpenGIS specification adopted by OGC members and released to the public.Because the map is returned as a raster image, the only software necessary on the client side is the basic Web browser.WMS is only one of the many specifications from OGC that lay the groundwork for the geospatial industry to provide information to users when they need it.

The need to control the spread of diseases, such as Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and West Nile Virus, is another reason for open standards and easy data sharing.These worldwide epidemics have increased the urgency to link health issues and geodata.There is a need to identify specific areas in which the disease is concentrated, where the first cases were detected, and how many cases have been diagnosed.This type of shared information plays an important role in containing the epidemic and saving lives.China is only one of several countries using geospatial Web technology to profile diseases and assist in critical decisions that have a local and a global impact.

Susan Kalweit, Chief, Interagency Geospatial Preparedness Team emphasizes the necessity of interoperability and shared data in a recent article published in Directions Magazine.She states, "And where we stand right now in terms of that geospatial information, is that although there is a lot of geospatial information resident in our government, it's not all interoperable; it's not all shareable.And that is just unacceptable when you really have to be prepared...you have to be able to plan evacuation routes, such as where are the roads; and it's not just a question of 'where are the major roads' and 'how are you going to get in or out,' but where the population center is...and oh by the way, you don't want to move people into the hazard."

Of course a crisis or an epidemic are not the only reminders of the need for standards and interoperability.Virtually every aspect of daily living, such as environmental issues, utilities and transportation asset management, and many more everyday activities, require improvement of the way information is accessed.Interoperability is the key to developing such improvements, and industry organizations such as OGC are critical to the evolution of how we integrate geospatial information into our everyday lives.

The world is demanding reliable, accurate, accessible, and standardized data at its fingertips - whether it is for critical decision making or day-to-day management.The geospatial industry still faces many challenges to make this need a reality.We must demonstrate with powerful and collective action - from both the vendor and user community - that we can meet those challenges.


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