Open GIS Consortium ratifies software interface standards

The Open GIS Consortium Inc. last month ratified software interface standards that will pave the way for products that could allow agencies to share mapping data more easily.

Vendors in coming months are expected to incorporate the new standards - written for simple geographic features in the OLE/COM CORBA and SQL operating environments - into new software products used for making and manipulating electronic maps as well as storing map data. The Open GIS Consortium is an industry group working toward the interoperability of systems that handle geographic information.

Envisioned in the standardization effort is the ability to query disparate geographic information system (GIS) databases and to create "seamless" electronic documents containing text live spreadsheets computer-aided design components and now maps.

"The only way [now] to compile that document is by a combination of manual and photographic techniques " said George Korte executive marketing manager for Intergraph Corp.'s federal GIS business. "With [open GIS] you have the same kind of ease of use that you have with [Microsoft] Word."

The ability to bring disparate geographic data and maps easily into one document that can run on a desktop should be a boon for federal workers who regularly deal with maps and who need to share information with other agencies that may use different mapping software. "That in itself is going to have great impact on federal users in that they can use everyday office automation tools and incorporate GIS into their day-to-day activities " said Dana Paxson federal marketing coordinator for Environmental Systems Research Institute Inc. "It's going to bring GIS to an even wider audience."

"It brings the information in a usable form to everybody's desktop " said Rich Michael the federal marketing director for Intergraph a company that has traditionally been an ESRI rival. Both companies are members of the Open GIS Consortium over recent years they have put aside their differences to help develop GIS standards said consortium director David Schell who explained that ESRI and Intergraph have been seen as "the Hatfields and the McCoys" of the GIS world. "And now they're holding hands at the party " he said.

The move toward software standards for sharing geographic data dovetails with a federal effort to standardize the content and labeling of geographic data. Both efforts are seen as promoting the easy sharing of geographic information while eliminating redundancies in the storage of geographic data.

"The high cost of collecting digital data [is] driving the need to share data " said Denise Perreca the executive secretary for the standards working group at the Federal Geographic Data Committee which is overseeing the development of a National Spatial Data Infrastructure.

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