Directions Magazine (DM):The Global Advisory Council (GAC) is positioned as a “blue ribbon” panel to advise the Open Geospatial Consortium (OGC) on education and member recruitment. What do you see as the short-term goals of the GAC on these two issues?
Steven Ramage (SR) [photo at right]: The members of the OGC Global Advisory Council have all been in the geospatial industry for a number of years and they all understand the issues around international geospatial standards; a number of members are also experts in their chosen fields. I have provided this background regarding the members because I think it is important to note the standing of the members, as well as their experience and expertise that can be shared with existing and potential standards developers and users.
Whilst the GAC is primarily in place to provide advice to the OGC membership, it also takes on a significant outreach and advocacy for the organization. Over the past few years both education and recruitment have continuously been on the agenda.
a) With regard to education. There are a vast amount of resources available for free via the OGC and other OGC member websites that require greater promotion and improved accessibility. This includes looking at translation of a lot of this material into languages other than English and identifying where more education and training materials are required to guide new users on how to use existing standards.
b) With regard to recruitment: The GAC seeks to promote the advantages of being associated with a global, consensus-driven organization that is tackling a wide range of geospatial data exchange issues through open standards. I use the term advantage, because it can only translate into benefits at the individual or organizational level when membership offers cost reductions, operational efficiencies, sharing of knowledge and know-how, market understanding, contributions to standards development and other key areas where the OGC is arguably the only industry body offering such a range of activities through its membership model.
DM: Are there other objectives of the GAC, a broader mission perhaps, that you see fitting within the growth initiatives of the OGC?
SR: The broader objectives of the GAC are to provide additional “eyes and ears” for the OGC to learn and understand more about geospatial activities outside of the traditional OGC market places of Europe and the United States of America, notably looking at areas previously not highly active in the OGC. Personally, I have spent the last several years working in the Middle East and Asia Pacific regions to promote open standards and provide updates on activities across the OGC. Other key areas for GAC members include developing nations and aligning activities through global bodies, such as the World Bank and the United Nations. There are also several technology areas where some GAC members are involved or have significant experience, which align with the growth initiatives of the OGC and where we can provide our input. This includes areas such as Internet of Things (IoT), the Semantic Web, Future or Smart Cities and the Sensor Web, essentially areas where location is becoming more pervasive, better understood and applicable for international geospatial standards.
DM: Where is the growth potential of the OGC internationally and what challenges do you see as obstacles to growth?
SR: My day-to-day working life involves working internationally and I think there are parallels with what I do daily and what the OGC is doing. Before we work with a country (at national level) we want our customers to have an understanding of the key issues, a willingness to resolve them, senior level political buy-in and the budget to support long-term investments. The OGC has very similar challenges around open geospatial standards development. The standards themselves are freely available, but the business value is accrued from participating in the standards development process, notably sharing approaches to solving technical issues around data exchange. In order to participate there has to be some level of investment, whether that includes physically attending meetings, reviewing documentation or simply tracking meeting outcomes and translating that back into activity and benefit for you or your department/organization. In my mind it is a business problem - what is the business value of working with the OGC and open geospatial standards? Or put another way, what happens if you do not?
DM: Are you concerned that the explosion of location technology, now reaching many more sectors of information technology outside the traditional mapping and GIS sector, might “de-focus” the OGC’s mission? How can the OGC remain focused on its mission to work within our community, as well as strategically establishing relationships with other standards organizations?
SR: When I was on staff at the OGC it was essentially anything that had a geospatial or location component that gained our attention and the same was true for many members. I would say that today the pervasiveness and ubiquity of location technology does the opposite for the OGC’s mission; it sharpens the focus and forces the consortium to actively determine if OGC standards can actually add value in a given domain or sector. This is not easy and the OGC may not get it 100% correct, however, the term “geospatial interoperability” is integral in the OGC mission and maybe this needs to be redefined.
The recent Ideas4OGC process was undertaken to help provide better focus and definition. This is the time when all the years of investment in partnership with other standards development organizations (SDOs) could really pay off, but at the same time there will be a whole new set of potential partners popping up as the market changes and some needs are not being met. It goes back to the areas I mentioned earlier and where the OGC really wants to go in the future; I hope that members of the Global Advisory Council can provide their views and support long-term decisions through engagement on some of the social, legal, economic, political and technological issues.
DM: In your role as managing director of Ordnance Survey International, where can you support the OGC to succeed internationally?
SR: I was invited to join Ordnance Survey in September 2012 to create Ordnance Survey International and develop our overseas business from a standing start. One of the first things I had to do was familiarize myself with the extensive use of OGC standards internally at Ordnance Survey, as well as through our partners and directly with our customers in Great Britain. (There are entire presentations on this topic!)
I have also worked to support two other activities at Ordnance Survey. One is the development of the Geospatial Standards Policy at Ordnance Survey. This involves reviewing the business reasons that determine which international standards we support and why, as well as the increased membership level from OGC Technical to OGC Principal Member. Both of these activities mean that I can explain the advantages of engaging in the OGC processes to our customers, namely other government bodies that we work with around the world, as well as actually how to use the standards.
Possibly one of the most useful roles I have been able to take on more recently is supporting the development of international standards activities through the United Nations initiative on Global Geospatial Information Management (UN-GGIM). As part of my OGC Global Advisory Council role, I have attended almost every UN-GGIM standards meeting in numerous countries around the world and presented the work that is underway through collaboration between the OGC, the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) Technical Committee 211 Geographic Information and the International Hydrographic Organization (IHO). All of these presentations are publicly available and indeed thousands of people have viewed them.
I think making use of social media channels such as YouTube, Twitter and LinkedIn is where you can make the biggest impact outside of traditional methods of “just speaking to people” and this is very much part of my international strategy for my current role and for supporting the development of organizations, such as the OGC.