IT vendors pursue GIS standards; users to benefit

Some major information technology companies have begun to develop products that will push the geospatial processing industry toward the establishment of standards and make geographic information systems (GIS) less expensive and more accessible for government and public users.

Oracle Corp. and GTE Corp. have recently focused their product development on geo-spatial processing. And Oracle together with six other GIS vendors plans to open the Spatial Data Options Solution Center this month to work on establishing GIS standards. Teaming with Oracle to form the center are Intergraph Corp. MapInfo Corp. Bentley SHL Autometric Inc. and Small World.

For Oracle the center will be a way "to get tighter integration with Oracle spatial technology and GIS applications " said Steve Cooperman director of spatial information systems at Oracle Government. "The [federal] government has spent hundreds of millions of dollars to integrate spatial data and to make an enterprise solution."

Geoprocessing standards are necessary if governments businesses and individual users are to tap into databases holding vast amounts of geographic information. So far however standards have been elusive limiting access to geospatial databases.

But with GIS vendors working together - and with the Open GIS Consortium a nonprofit group working with GIS buyers and producers to establish industrywide standards - Cooperman said a dialogue will move the industry toward a distributive GIS network.

Oracle took its first step in February when it unveiled its Universal Server a multimedia database product that makes it easier to incorporate geospatial data in systems.

The server also permits users to access geospatial data on the Internet.

"What Oracle is doing with the Universal Server is bringing all disparate data points into our server " Cooperman said. "That way it becomes mainstream to almost any application and flows seamlessly."

GTE Plans Search Engine

GTE also has recognized the potential for making geospatial data more accessible. Next year the company plans to unveil a product that will allow users to search for the specific geospatial data they need without downloading whole geospatial files which are typically many terabytes. But with GTE's search engine which will sit between a GIS and geospatial databases users can choose the specific data they need and avoid downloading an entire file.

The so-called middleware however has been "very difficult" to design according to a GTE Government Systems Corp. official working on the project. First standards must be used to transfer data to users and GTE has been working with the Open GIS Consortium to develop those.

Also searching geospatial data is more complicated than a simple search for text. Unlike text searches which are linear searches for geospatial data involve four dimensions: the X coordinate the Y coordinate elevation and time.

With the middleware equipment users will not be required to purchase proprietary systems to develop their own data and to store it reducing GIS equipment costs and training - a big advantage for the federal government which is a heavy GIS user.

"It will take machinery off their desks " the GTE official said.

David Schell president and chief executive officer of the Open GIS Consortium said these advancements will help the federal government establish the National Spatial Data Infrastructure (NSDI) which the National Performance Review set as a goal for government.

The NSDI which will link GIS databases nationwide will allow all levels of government to use geospatial data to set infrastructure social services and economic policies.

"Every county is going to have a map database to deal with infrastructure issues " Schell said. "Just think how many counties will be pinging networks to get map information.... That information will flow to networks like simple telephone calls."

To do that products such as these are required Schell said. "They're spatially enabling their products."

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