The OGC: It’s Mission to Reach Out to Professionals it Affects the Most

By Joe Francica

We think the work the Open GIS Consortium (OGC) does is extremely important toward advancing geospatial technology in the context of interoperability and setting guidelines in data exchange, as well as establishing a forum for discourse among vendors who, at most times, have competing interests. The OGC was not formed to promote "standards" nor was it established to be a referee in aligning the GIS community behind certain, widely-used "de facto" file formats. It was established to provide our professional community legitimacy for without its guidance there would be divergent, perhaps chaotic coordination in the ability to share information among information systems vital to public-private transactions.

Yet, when we asked our readers in a recent survey if they were aware of the OGC and to comment on how relevant the OGC was to their everyday work, only 26% gave it a "4" or "5" on a scale of "1-5" (5 being the highest) with regard to relevance.The good news was that 78% were, at least aware of the OGC.So, we went to the OGC with these findings and asked for comment. Carl Reed, Specification Program Manager, had this to say:

"From 1994 until mid 2000, the OGC focused on 1.) Developing specifications that enable interoperability in the geospatial domain and 2.) Making the OGC Interoperability Program robust and self-sustaining. As you may know, the majority of new specifications are defined, implemented, and tested in the Interoperability Program.While we realized that a very real indicator of our success in the marketplace is the uptake of OpenGIS Specifications, we needed to have a core suite of specifications.By mid 2000 we had this core set of specifications either available (Catalog, WMS, GML, etc) or in progress (WFS, SLD, etc).

Therefore in 2001, we hired Mark Reichardt to be the Executive Director of the OGC Outreach and Community Adoption Program (OCAP).Until forming OCAP, in some respects, the OGC was like a two-legged stool.The incorporation of OCAP into our operational environment added the third leg.Under Mark's guidance, OCAP takes on many outreach activities, including: marketing, press releases, the OGC Newsletter, development of training materials, development of specification cookbooks, coordination of outreach activities with other organizations (such as GITA), and conference coordination.OCAP activities really picked up momentum in 2002 and now in 2003 we are beginning to see some of the results.

Three years ago when I presented at a conference session and asked how many people had heard of the OGC, a few hands would go up.Today when I ask that question, almost all hands go up.This is a major change.

Another indicator of our achieving more market momentum is the number of implementing products and applications.There are now hundreds of implementations of OpenGIS specifications - either by vendors, user organizations, or Open Source groups.We are now working hard to develop support materials for developers, such as training and reference documentation, in order to make implementations even easier and more cost effective.

In terms of your question regarding vendors and users, yes we work with many technology vendors.However, the majority of the interoperability requirements are being driven by OGC members who are from the user (or buyer) and integrator community.Many of these members feel strongly enough about solving an interoperability problem that they also provide funding to support interoperability initiatives.In this way, design and functional requirements are captured and used to define and/or enhance OpenGIS specifications. Technology users and technology providers work hand in hand to solve a problem for the benefit of the larger community.

In the past, the user community organizations involved in the OGC process have been Federal level (US and non-US) agencies and large systems integrator companies.There are obviously many other user domains of interest that use geospatial data and technology.We have been active only a few of these, mainly location services and more recently sensor webs and spatial data infrastructures.We have only begun to address outreach activities targeted at the requirements of local government, utilities, real property/land information, insurance, and so forth.With the ongoing work of the Critical Infrastructure Protection Initiative (CIPI), we are beginning to work more closely with non-Federal government organizations.We are also beginning to work more closely with the National Association of Counties (NACo) and the International City Manager Association (ICMA) in putting together joint outreach efforts to those organizations constituents.If you go to the OGC web site, you can get a list of our members.You will quickly see that perhaps 35 to 40% of our membership is from the user community and are not technology providers."

So, although many may not believe it is a significant factor in their daily work, the OGC is developing the guidelines for our industry to better work in an environment where competition among software and data vendors does not necessarily translate into the inability to share data and an incompatibility between information systems.

Published Thursday, April 17th, 2003

Written by Joe Francica

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