OGC’s Mandate

By Dr. Robert Moses

Editor's Note: OGC has been remarkably successful.Today, the Web is the dominant distributed computing platform, and OGC's OpenGIS® Specifications for interfaces (like the OpenGIS Web Map Server Specification) and XML Schemas (like the Geography Markup Language) are the foundation for the "Spatial Web." Just as all Web sites must implement html, all Web sites serving spatial data or spatial processing services must implement OpenGIS Specifications if they are to be part of the open Spatial Web.It begins with simple Web mapping: Today there are many sites offering automatic overlay of maps portraying data from multiple different servers on other sites.Every major vendors' map servers and map viewing clients support this.Simple Web mapping leads to OGC Web Services, which comprise the geoprocessing layer of the Web Services architecture being developed by W3C and other consortia.In a few years, the network will be your computer and the geoprocessing software services you need will be provided by a variety of servers on the Web.

OGC's Mandate

The OGC, the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) and the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) exemplify the best in information technology standard setting.They run open consensus processes to create specifications that enable global communication between software systems.The processes at work in these organizations are designed to avoid domination by any single vendor, community, or country.Competitors work toward consensus in these organizations to build an infrastructure that serves them all and that serves their users.

No doubt, each of the biggest vendors in our market would love to "set the standard" and provide the kind of interoperability through market domination that Microsoft has provided for the past 15 years in the area of operating systems.But after two or three decades of competition, none of these GIS vendors has achieved the 80% market share necessary to squeeze out all competitors by exploiting their user's need to share information with other users.Unfortunately for everyone, as a result of "hyper-competition," the market has been stunted by users' difficulties in sharing spatial information and integrating spatial information into other applications.But over time, each vendor came to see that the best way to get a bigger piece of pie was to, yes, continue the struggle for market share, but also to expand the pie, that is, to join OGC to enable the market to grow.Standards help markets grow because they make it cheaper, easier and more worthwhile for customers to get into the game, so the overall number of customers increases. We see that happening now in the geospatial technology market.

For smaller vendors, standards are particularly beneficial.Every small vendor aims to provide some special features and benefits that are lacking in the larger vendors' products, and most small vendors can't support the full range of features offered by the larger vendors.Many small vendors thus tie their fortunes to a large vendor's fortunes by becoming "third party" or "complementary product" developers.In some cases, and certainly in the case of OpenGIS Specifications, standards enable such developers to become third party developers to multiple larger partners, with little or no requirement to maintain a separate set of software interfaces for each partner, and with less requirement to maintain close technology or business ties to the larger vendor.

Standards are also beneficial to integrators.Integrators who build solutions using one major software suite often see that pieces from another vendor's software suite would best meet their client's needs, but the lack of open interfaces makes a multi-vendor solution impractical.Those bad old days are gone.With open interfaces, vendors can bring together "best-of-breed" components and provide clients with better, less expensive solutions.They can also "wrap" legacy systems with interfaces to make them part of the new solution and extend their useful lifetime.

OGC's mandate is strengthened by evolution in procurement policies. Governments around the world want to 1) create opportunities for "SMEs" (small and medium sized enterprises), 2) reduce their IT costs and 3) improve cross-jurisdictional information sharing.They also want to spur innovation, which advances when vendors compete and which stalls when many users can't buy something new because they are locked in to an old system.In Canada, open, neutral, interoperability standards enable Federal departments to cost effectively and efficiently carry out their geospatial mandates.GeoConnections/NRCan has endorsed OpenGIS Specifications for use in development of the Canadian Geospatial Data Infrastructure.In the US, the new Federal Enterprise Architecture (FEA) that has been developed and is being promoted by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and also the OMB Circular A-119, "Federal Participation in the Development and Use of Voluntary Consensus Standards and in Conformity Assessment Activities" support the much older Executive Order 12906, which calls for the establishment of the National Spatial Data Infrastructure.

The concentrated mixing of technical talent and user perspectives in OGC meetings definitely advances innovation.Specifications in new areas like Sensor Web Enablement [http://ip.opengis.org/ows2/] and Open Location Services open wonderful opportunities for innovative products.Very important to the developers of these products is the fact that the standards platform is non-proprietary and it is positioned to become global.

For some years, telephone calls have been placed between people in any two countries, railroad cars have rolled between countries on standard tracks, and car owners in every country have been buying tires that fit their foreign cars.Now, finally, GIS and remote sensing software vendors are making it possible for people to easily find, access and process digital geospatial data.The process by which this happens in OGC is rewarding in many ways, and I encourage you to get your organization involved.

Published Thursday, July 3rd, 2003

Written by Dr. Robert Moses

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