Geospatial Information and Standards
An Interview with Mark Reichardt, President and CEO of the Open Geospatial Consortium
The intersection of location information and standards can improve access and information use to benefit everyone.
How would you describe geospatial information and its uses for those of us unfamiliar with it?
If you've ever used a paper map or an online mapping application, you've used geospatial information. Geospatial - location - information describes what is on, below or above the earth's surface at a particular point. Most information that we collect and maintain as individuals, and in business, government and research, has some aspect of location associated with it.
Think of a self-driving car. That car navigates using a geospatial database of streets and other transportation elements. The location of the vehicle with respect to the transportation network is established via GPS satellites orbiting overhead. The vehicle itself generates geospatial content from onboard LiDAR [light detection and ranging] and other sensors.
Geospatial information is produced and maintained by many organizations around the world: mapping agencies and environmental, transportation, housing and other agencies that produce authoritative geospatial data that support public programs. Using satellites, aircraft, drones and ground-based sensors, commercial organizations provide geospatial information about road networks, maritime vessels, precision farming, weather forecasts and more. Sensors installed worldwide to monitor city services, water resources, air quality, transportation flow, soil moisture, temperature, public safety, ocean conditions and other phenomena also are incredibly useful geospatial information sources. As more sensors and devices connect to the internet, this information will grow significantly.
Why are standards needed for geospatial information? How are these standards used?
Public and private sector organizations benefit from increased access to geospatial information, and standards help make increased access possible.
Our vision emphasizes a "world in which everyone benefits from the use of geospatial information and supporting technologies." OGC standards enable IT developers to make complex spatial information and services more accessible and useful with all kinds of applications by creating a level of plug-and-play interoperability. Standards enable the ability to use the same content for multiple purposes, thus reducing the overall cost of ownership and maintenance of geospatial data.
Because geospatial information is generated and maintained by many organizations and individuals, the global community uses a variety of different technology solutions to create, maintain, apply and distribute this information. Before open standards, the only way to make different geospatial information databases and associated technologies work together - or interoperate - was to invest in custom software development at significant cost, time and effort. The Open Geospatial Consortium, a not-for-profit and collaborative international forum, was created in 1994 to eliminate this problem by bringing the global geospatial industry together with the user community to identify, agree on and align open standards that enable "interoperability" across geospatial IT solutions, and to remove the dilemma of being locked in to a particular vendor or solution.
Overall, OGC standards enable many initiatives:
- Governments at all levels can better prepare for and respond to emergencies and disasters.
- Researchers benefit through the ability to integrate geospatial information from a number of scientific disciplines to address increasingly challenging issues such as improving predictions about the impact of climate change.
- Localities can monitor, predict and warn of flooding.
- Businesses can better plan for placement of retail outlets, identify new markets and deliver improved customer services at a lower cost. Delivery services can reduce their fuel consumption by optimizing delivery routes.
- Law enforcement can improve resource deployment by understanding the crime patterns by location and time.
- City managers can improve service delivery by training service providers in simulators before they begin their routes by visualizing cities as 3D models (OGC has developed the CityGML standard to support model creation).
- Citizens can determine the potential for their rooftops to support solar electricity generation.
- Realtors, businesses and developers can better plan, visualize and optimize their business objectives by leveraging 3D city models.
How does working with ASTM and other organizations benefit all those involved?
Key to our success is formal alliances and partnerships with standards development organizations and associations that work in related areas. OGC has over 30 formal alliances to connect our working groups to representatives from these organizations. This allows us all to achieve outcomes that could not be accomplished in isolation.
ASTM is an OGC partner; the organizations signed a memorandum of understanding in April to collaborate on standards and other tools. Our partnership with ASTM will be indispensable in advancing initiatives that can leverage the strong industrial and practical heritage of ASTM standards. For example, OGC members are working to add value to point cloud data and will integrate ASTM's data exchange standard (E2807) in this dialog and perhaps develop related best practices.
OGC has an excellent track record of productive alliances with SDOs. OGC standards enable complex transactions of data and facilitate understanding of the data. Our standards are being incorporated in many broader IT standards to assure the consistent handling of location across standards. We expect that ASTM will benefit from the inclusion of OGC standards and practices so that the "location" aspects of ASTM work are simplified and consistent. OGC knows that it will gain use cases and exemplar standards insight from a mature ASTM process that impacts many parts of our daily lives. Lastly, both organizations can take advantage of OGC's collaborative testbed process to prove concepts and develop solutions in a testing environment that focuses on real-world applications.
What is OGC's progress on interoperability – why is it important, what needs to happen in this area and what role do standards play in this work?
OGC has developed a solid framework of standards to support discovery, access, processing, application and sharing / distribution of geospatial information, and to enable different geospatial IT solutions to work together - to interoperate. In the past few years, OGC approved additional standards to enable information from sensors – observations from sensors fixed at a specific location as well as moving sensors - to be integrated with other geospatial data in a location and time context.
OGC is unique in the standards development organization community in that it augments its consensus process with a rapid prototyping and hands-on engineering process known as the Interoperability Program. The program emphasizes the testing, demonstration and validation of candidate standards in technology provider software up front, prior to more fully documenting a candidate standard or best practice. This approach tends to accelerate the pace and reduce the risks of standards development through early experimentation in the development process. Through the program, sponsored by interested agencies and organizations, user and industry cooperative interoperability testbeds, pilots and experiments are planned and conducted.
Today, thousands of products and services implement OGC standards to enable different technology offerings to plug and play. Organizations around the globe prescribe OGC standards in their policies to assure that geospatial information and technologies can interoperate when needed.
To illustrate: OGC has developed standards to enable the creation and maintenance of 3D city models, where each object in the model can be visualized in three dimensions, and can link to information about those objects from a variety of sources. These 3D models are interoperable with other data sources for smart city applications. We have also focused on indoor location, creating a standard known as IndoorGML that supports indoor navigation. This is key – given that outdoor location and navigation is commonplace, but people tend to spend the bulk of their time indoors.
Mark Reichardt is president and CEO of the Open Geospatial Consortium. Reichardt joined the OGC staff in 2000 as director of marketing and public sector programs; he became OGC president and member of its board of directors in 2004 and was appointed to his current position in 2008. He previously had been involved with geospatial information work in the U.S. government. Reichardt serves on the board of directors of Global Spatial Data Infrastructure Association and is a member of the National Academy of Sciences Mapping Science Committee.