Expanding the Boundaries of the Geospatial Standards World

By Sam Bacharach

Many different industries and professions revolve around buildings and physical infrastructure. Not only city planners, civil engineers, architects and builders, but also realtors, appraisers, tax officers, transportation officials, public safety officials, mortgage companies and others create and use information about the built environment. Like other industries and professions, they create and share digital data to reduce costs, improve workflows, and make new things possible.

But sharing data about the built environment is not easy. CAD-GIS integration is necessary but not sufficient. Building Information Models (BIM) and Industry Foundation Classes (IFC) "carry the semantic payloads" that enable the base data to have richer descriptions of the physical reality. Web services, 3D visualization and issues like digital rights management and security are also part of the complex standards picture.

The daunting task of creating harmonized, consensus-derived and open information technology standards that serve all infrastructure-related industries is moving forward because much is at stake. In the building and physical infrastructure industry, the same kinds of progress that help businesses implement communication and e-business solutions also save lives in disasters and enable more sustainable communities.

The OGC Technical Committee’s CAD-GIS Working Group is becoming an important focus for the convergence of the necessary standards. One reason is that major CAD and GIS software vendors like Autodesk, Bentley, Intergraph and ESRI are already at the table in the OGC’s consensus process. So are U.S. federal agencies, with much at stake in this standards convergence, including the Army Corps of Engineers, the General Services Administration, the Federal Geographic Data Committee, the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, and the Department of Homeland Security. Several European governments have also shown interest in the work. After a year of organizing, the Working Group is gaining momentum and is being led by Tim Case of Parsons Brinckerhoff, a global infrastructure services firm.

To support this work, the OGC has formed alliance partnerships through formal agreements with the International Alliance for Interoperability (IAI), the U.S. National Institute of Building Sciences (NIBS), and the Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards (OASIS). OGC staff and members communicate with many other organizations that have a stake in the outcomes. Some of these are the Geospatial Information and Technology Association (GITA), Mortgage Industry Standards Maintenance Organization (MISMO), and the Machinery Information Maintenance Open Standards Association (MIMOSA). The US National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) is becoming central to this discussion because, through its Manufacturing Engineering Laboratory (MEL), it has been working on AEC BIM issues for years, and is now working in the OGC’s OWS-4 testbed to help advance standards convergence.

Obviously, it is the participants and not the silent stakeholders who determine priorities. The door is open in the OGC for members to organize around their particular interests within the broad and seemingly unwieldy CAD-GIS space. Together with OGC Alliance partners as noted above, they agree on a roadmap and work together to devise use cases that address the overlap in their interests.

Not everything can be done at once. The OGC CAD-GIS Working Group is specifically focusing at this time on facility planning, emergency management, asset management and navigation. Specific data and services interoperability may be achieved with CityGML, complex geometric representations, Web Terrain Service and Web 3D Services specification activities.

The fourth OGC Web Services initiative (OWS-4), a major rapid-prototyping testbed, is also underway and includes a CAD-GIS-BIM integration thread. Paul Cote at the Harvard Graduate School of Design is the thread architect for a diverse group of leading vendors and other members from the U.S. and Europe. OWS-4 is likely to make important progress this year by integrating large and small scale infrastructure models within a distributed client-server environment.

This kind of formal and open collaboration will achieve the cross-industry communication that is necessary with the built environment. We saw record attendance and very full agendas in Edinburgh at the June OGC Technical and Planning Committee meetings. The OGC's membership is growing, as participants at all levels and domains recognize the value of participating in a well-managed standards process and the value of connecting with OGC standards. The OGC's core standards need to be made even more robust and flexible and their various derivative forms - profiles and application schemas - need to enter common discourse in the application domains where geospatial is necessary but not the main concern.

A few years ago, the OGC changed its name to make people think in terms of "geospatial" instead of "GIS," because "GIS" is only one of many geospatial technologies. We broadened our scope and our thinking to remove barriers that were preventing the full range of geospatial capabilities from being used in the larger information technology world. This move brought the work of OGC into contact with other standards efforts. The strands of the great twenty-first century interoperability cable are spinning together in ways that are hard to predict. Global industries are recognizing their need for standards, and global standards organizations are recognizing their need for close coordination, because different industries do not exist in isolation from each other, and neither do different digital technologies.


Published Friday, August 18th, 2006

Written by Sam Bacharach



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