OGC’s 20th Anniversary - A Look Back at the Early Days

By Lance McKee

In its 20th year as a software standards organization, the OGC community is looking forward to celebrating with, and thanking, all who have contributed to its success. The celebrations will include gala dinners at three of this year's OGC Technical Committee meetings, to be held the third week of March in Arlington, Virginia (USA), then in June in Geneva, Switzerland, and finally in December in Tokyo, Japan. Member representatives, board members and staff will highlight the consortium's history, accomplishments and exciting current and future activities.

Although the OGC was incorporated in 1994, the story began in the 1980s, and I am proud and grateful to be able to look back to the very beginning.

In 1986, I had just moved from technical writing to marketing at a workstation company called Masscomp. Our marketing director, Steve Kirk, had learned that the Army Corps of Engineers had bought a number of our systems to develop and run GRASS, an open source GIS. Though first developed to manage tracts of land on U.S. Army bases, GRASS was becoming one of the first international open source software projects. David Schell, who would later found the OGC, was responsible for third-party software marketing, and he and Steve Kirk asked me to be the company's GIS marketing manager. Thus began my career in the geospatial industry.

I was disappointed when Masscomp merged in 1988 with another company, withdrew from the GIS market and began downsizing. I had been captivated by the idealism, ideas and commitment of the GRASS community leaders. So I was pleased, having been laid off and working as a consultant, when David asked me in 1990 to put in some hours with the newly formed Open GRASS Foundation (OGF), a charitable foundation dedicated to supporting the development, use and commercial applications of GRASS.

After a year or two, it became apparent that what the market really needed was an organization to develop open standards that would enable all brands of GIS systems to communicate. Because competing vendors all had their own proprietary formats and interfaces, users with different systems who wanted to share data had to go through tedious and error-prone format conversions. A core group in the GRASS community, along with a few vendors, conceived a technical solution. The concept was prototyped by Carl Reed and John Davidson of Genasys, who demonstrated that GenaMap and GRASS could work together through common APIs. Reed would later join the OGC as chief technology officer.

Under David Schell's leadership, the Open GRASS Foundation was converted to a standards development organization, the Open GIS Consortium, later renamed the Open Geospatial Consortium. The later name reflected not only the expanded scope that included earth imaging, location services, sensors, navigation and other technology domains, but also the important liaison work that the OGC had begun doing with other industry organizations that were seeking geospatial expertise and harmonization.

To appreciate the still-expanding scope of today's OGC, you need only look at the growing lists of OGC Domain Working Groups and Standards Working Groups. Here are just a few of their recent accomplishments:

  • The OGC Web Coverage Service Interface Standard and its new extensions (some already announced, others to be announced soon) represent revolutionary advancements in the world of Earth imaging. 
  • A soon-to-be-announced file format standard for feature data and tiled raster data (yes, the new standard is GeoPackage) gives location service app developers an easy way to accommodate intermittent network connectivity while also harnessing the power – and hiding the complexity – of powerful geospatial Web services.
  • The OGC Indoor Location Standards Working Group is seeking public comments on the candidate IndoorGML standard, which specifies a schema for the representation and exchange of indoor navigation network models.
  • Why should it be hard to use a browser to make spatial and temporal queries over distributed repositories of contents having geographic and time properties? The candidate OGC OpenSearch Geo and Time Extensions Encoding Standard (http://portal.opengeospatial.org/files/?artifact_id=35983) specifies how to enhance search engines and configure them to access similarly enhanced sensor data servers, so that users can query resource URLs through search combinations of time extents, geographic areas or location names, and likely keywords.

We'll be reporting monthly in Directions Magazine on these and other accomplishments over the next year. But if you're really curious and you want to spend some time with the creative people who are engaged in this work, come to the OGC Technical Committee meeting and birthday party being held in your part of the world this year!

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