Geospatial group demonstrates industry standards

In a significant step toward integrating the incompatible and disparate geospatial databases worldwide, a geospatial industry group demonstrated Sept. 10 how industry standards nearing completion will enable someone to tap into numerous databases via the Internet to create a multilayered digital map.

The Open GIS Consortium Inc. is a nonprofit membership organization addressing the lack of interoperability among systems that process geo-referenced data, and between those systems and mainstream computing systems. The OGC showed during its Web Mapping Testbed (WMT) demonstration how it will be possible, for example, to access data from map servers located in North America, Europe and Australia to create a map of a hurricane poised to strike Mobile, Ala. The demonstration included features such as focusing on certain areas, zooming capabilities and strike probabilities.

The ability to access and integrate geospatial data to make such a map has eluded geospatial technologists for years because much of the mapping data is stored in incompatible software languages and stored on different platforms. The ability to integrate data through the use of standards would vastly improve research that depends on maps, and it also would cut expenses because governments would no longer have to duplicate collection of data.

The development of universal standards for geospatial data transmission would exponentially increase the use of the information worldwide for numerous functions, including national security, environmental management and crime mapping, said Thomas Kalil, special assistant to the president for economic policy for the National Economic Council at the White House.

"The ability to manage and make sense of the information will be the challenge of the 21st century," Kalil said. "Open standards and interoperability are crucial to making a market take off...and there's opportunity to integrate geospatial information and geospatial processing with the World Wide Web."

Kalil also called for the technology to become "usable for regular citizens who are constantly dealing with the complexity of federal organizations, not to mention state and local" governments.

Kurt Buehler, vice president and chief operating officer at OGC, said the group had made progress in standards development, and the standards could be in place by December. "It's just a matter of putting our noses to the grindstone and doing it," he said. "We'll push, and if the users pull, we'll get there quicker."

Lance McKee, vice president of corporate communication for OGC, said state and local government agencies will benefit from the mapping data being online and easily accessible. "The producers of the data can put it online, not like now where it's on tapes or CD-ROMs," he said. "Especially at the state and local level where there's no money for GIS work stations, citizens doing research or even the occasional user can access the spatial data."

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