IONIC’s Response to Sonnen Article

By Dr. Christopher Tucker

Attend OGC Meetings
By: Christopher Tucker, President and CEO, IONIC Enterprise

I am glad to see that Mr.Sonnen has moderated the tone of his article since earlier drafts. It is interesting that he has removed claims of control by "single-vendor interests" which anyone even remotely involved with the Open GIS Consortium (OGC) knows are patently untrue. And, I am glad Mr.Sonnen added several deferential comments admitting that his determinations on OGC might just be wrong. However, in this final version of his article he continues to use unsubstantiated claims, unattributed quotes, and misrepresents real world situations under the guise of evidence. Most unfortunate, Mr.Sonnen continues to demonstrate his lack of understanding of the importance of "OGC Compliance" to the worldwide geo-spatial user community. I will focus my comments on this last point.

Despite what many marketing organizations might tell us, it is extremely rare that enterprise customers have a single vendor geo-spatial infrastructure, and there has always been a need for "interoperability" across various vendor "stovepipes". As a former OGC sponsor for the US Intelligence Community (a community which truly needs OpenGIS interoperability) and as someone who has a wide variety of government and corporate customers, I can attest to this reality. In response to this situation, over 250 organizational members (including geo-spatial software vendors, data providers, system integrators, standards bodies, and governmental units) have collaborated through the Open GIS Consortium to enable GIS users to enjoy fully-interoperable, multi-vendor, best-of-breed spatial data infrastructure solutions.

Central to this community-wide initiative is the issue of OGC Compliance, which is stringently defined and formally evaluated by a set of testing tools that have been developed by all OGC members and approved by the OGC Technical Committee and Planning Committee. Mr.Sonnen would have us believe that there is no need for such compliance tests, and that any vendor should be able to claim compliance to standards, even if their claims are simply not true. He argues that they should be able to claim "interoperability" even though they do not adhere to the interoperability specifications that are relevant to their industry, and which they support as members of a consensus based process - for instance, OpenGIS interoperability specifications. His argument hinges on the notion that market power (since there is not such thing as ubiquity) generally leads smaller vendors to support the data formats and interfaces of dominant vendors. What Mr.Sonnen chooses not to emphasize is the poor position in which this puts enterprise customers, combating vendor stove-pipes, wading through complex and problematic API to API integrations, needlessly replicating and converting data and suffering through aimless licensing dilemmas. Strangely, Mr.Sonnen gives his approval to this situation. This is exactly the problem that member organizations came together to combat through the OpenGIS Consortium.

Mr.Sonnen appears to need a primer on geo-spatial interoperability. Just as http:// and xml are the dial tone of the World Wide Web, the Open GIS Consortium's WMS, WFS, WCS, WRS, ISO9115 and GML specifications offer the dial tone of the Spatial Web. While many talk about interoperability and the wonders of various acronyms like WSDL, SOAP, UDDI, ebXML and more - the 250+ members of the OGC have examined these technologies and come together to incorporate them within the dial tone of the Spatial Web through a set of OpenGIS web services interfaces that enable run-time binding between services. This means that anyone can dynamically add an OpenGIS web service to their application at the push of a button. This is not possible without "compliance" to these consensus derived specifications. Imagine a world where one vendor used http:// and another used httz://. Anyone could write glue-code to bridge these two worlds. But, that is not what interoperability is about. True geo-spatial interoperability is about all vendors complying with the standard interoperability specifications to which they have committed in a consensus process - that is, OpenGIS specifications and the OGC process.

If only Mr.Sonnen had actually attended Open GIS Consortium meetings recently, he might not make such misguided arguments about the value of OGC compliance. He also might better understand that OpenGIS specifications have become widely implemented by vendors (including ESRI, Intergraph, Autodesk, MapInfo, Laser-Scan, Microsoft, Oracle, IONIC and more), each of which have made even more substantial customer commitments to the OpenGIS specification baseline. And, Mr.Sonnen might see that the Open GIS Consortium process and OpenGIS interoperability do not impede any one vendor. Rather, they enable vendors to better serve enterprise customers that suffer from vendor stovepipes with geo-spatial interoperability strategies for their enterprise. If Mr.Sonnen actually attended OGC meetings and participated in this open, consensus-driven process, he might find that most of his concerns are ill-founded. Lastly, if Mr.Sonnen attended OGC meetings might find that they are a more constructive forum for venting his concerns than casting aspersions in a trade periodical.

I invite Mr.Sonnen to show up to OpenGIS Technical Committee meetings on a regular basis so that he can better inform his published remarks. As it currently stands, Mr.Sonnen's article is off base.

IONIC is the world leader in interoperable location-based services, Web-mapping, distributed geo-processing and g-commerce. IONIC is an active member of OGC and ISO TC211, with the biggest team of specialists dedicated to interoperable geo-spatial products in the world, and extensive expertise in the development of Java components for innovative, flexible and interoperable distributed applications. IONIC is committed to providing fully interoperable, enterprise-class products for the publishing, discovery, access, integration, and application of spatial data in support of core enterprise business functions.

Published Thursday, November 6th, 2003

Written by Dr. Christopher Tucker

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