The Strategic Power of OGC Standards

By Dr. Christopher Tucker

Photogrammetry, spatial modeling, remote sensing, 3D/4D simulation, geospatial collaboration, feature extraction, location services, imagery analysis and exploitation; for many, it is unclear how these disciplines and domains relate to Open Geospatial Consortium (OGC) Web Services standards. To help illustrate how OGC standards remove the barriers to information flow that have traditionally bound these disciplines and domains, consider the recent strategic decisions by Leica Geosystems Geospatial Imaging. They demonstrate how an organization can evolve its policies and strategies based on changing standards and the IT landscape.

OGC Sets the Standard
Globally, the OGC has over 350 member organizations, including all of the major players in geospatial technologies, such as Leica Geosystems, Intergraph, MapInfo , Autodesk, ESRI, Oracle and PCI Geomatics, as well as leaders in Web services, such as Google and Microsoft. Additionally, the OGC membership includes major system integrators such as SAIC, Lockheed Martin, BAE, Northrop Grumman, Raytheon, SRA International, etc., nearly every U.S. federal agency, and government and NGO agencies from six different continents. Most of these organizations have been working together in the OGC for over a decade. As a result of this commitment, OGC Web Service standards, along with a few key ISO standards, are the dominant standards used for deploying geospatially enabled Web services.

Web services are applications running on a computer connecting to a remote Web service via a URL. The user of the application can benefit from the processing that the Web service provides. If the remote Web service is meant to be "open" and available to a variety of applications, it needs to describe its capabilities and provide a standard way for an application or another server to communicate with it. ISO provides a standard (ISO19119) that specifies the form of an "XML capabilities document" that describes the capabilities of geospatial Web services. OGC Web Services standards provide most of the other details - common interfaces, encodings and best practices - that enable applications and geospatial Web services to communicate and interoperate.

Standards Provide the "Common Language"
Recently, Leica Geosystems Geospatial Imaging announced the acquisitions of Acquis, ER Mapper and IONIC. Earlier, Leica Geosystems acquired ERDAS. Each of these strategic acquisitions has provided the company with new technology, but the acquisitions would have had much less value if the technologies and products couldn't be made to work together.

In acquiring these companies, Leica Geosystems faced the same problem its customers face. Companies in any industry need to make technologies and products work together when they seek to integrate information systems from different divisions or subsidiaries, or when they purchase new software that must be made to work with diverse systems already in use within the company. A decade ago, such integration typically required expensive, time-consuming software development. The interfaces between system components often had to be created anew for each job and maintained separately for each customer. Today, the Web - and standards - have made this kind of work much easier.

The new paradigm is called "service oriented architecture" (SOA). Through OGC standards, different geospatial software systems and system components can work together over a network, usually the Internet. SOA refers to information systems in which network resident resources communicate and interoperate by means of agreed standards. When two systems implement the same OGC standard, they can work together immediately, with no integration. Legacy systems not originally designed for SOA can, without too much effort, be provided with new interfaces that implement the standards, so the legacy systems, too, can provide Web services in an open environment.

Leica Geosystems' implementation of OGC standards in its various product families enables those products to work together across its product line. In addition, through these products, Leica Geosystems customers can work easily in an SOA environment with other vendors' products that implement OGC standards, and can easily publish data sources as OGC Web services, including Oracle Spatial, ArcSDE (on Oracle or SQL Server), PostgreSQL/PostGIS, ODBC/JDBC sources, Shapefiles and more.

Without standardization, an enterprise's applications operate independently, segmenting geospatial data and limiting organizations to only authoring within a single software package. Through vendors' implementations of OGC standards in products, organizations are empowered to author, manage, connect and deliver geospatial information internally and externally through a wide variety of applications. Interoperability among diverse products provides customers with increased value and versatility, and it provides vendors with more strategic options.

The Future: More Policy/Technology Co-evolution
Within the OGC, the Technical Committee's Standards Working Groups are currently working on a variety of topics important to our customers, including, among other things, standard ways of managing geospatial data rights, preserving geospatial data, distributing geoprocessing, working with sensor webs, and integrating geospatial content into Building Information Models. The OGC is playing an important role in the international effort to build the Global Earth Observation System of Systems (GEOSS), which will lead to advances in using the growing streams of Earth data to address critical problems such as global warming and natural disasters. And our collaboration with other standards organizations is resulting in increased consistency in the way geospatial issues are addressed across the Information and Communications Technology (ICT) spectrum.

The OGC's past work has affected ICT stakeholders, and the OGC's current and future work will do so, as well. The strategies and policies of agencies, developers, integrators, wireless carriers, insurance companies and many other kinds of organizations will evolve in response to new standards. Leica Geosystems, particularly through one of its recent acquisitions, IONIC, has participated in the evolution of geospatial SOA standards in the OGC, and through this closeness to the process was able to devise a strategy for success

Our industry continues to evolve, with every year bringing remarkable new developments. With Google, Oracle and Microsoft all participating in the OGC at a high level, there can be no doubt that "spatial" has become a recognized part of the ICT foundation. "Spatial" is evolving, and organizations that want to take advantage of this evolution will need to evolve their strategies and policies to accommodate, or better yet, anticipate the change. Participating in the OGC process not only allows your organization to anticipate change, but even to become a change agent, spatially enabling our world.

Published Saturday, February 9th, 2008

Written by Dr. Christopher Tucker

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