Mapping group preps data sharing pilots

The Open GIS Consortium Inc. (OGC) plans to begin work this fall on the first pilot projects under its Critical Infrastructure Protection Initiative (CIPI), which eventually could pave the way for much broader sharing of geographic information system data across all levels of government and industry within the next few years.

The consortium intends to develop a network through which different jurisdictions can share geospatial information related to systems of vital interest to national security.

The U.S. government has identified eight critical infrastructure areas — telecommunications, water resources, oil and gas, government, transportation, emergency response, electric power and health services — and the first CIPI pilot projects will focus on making the sharing of transportation-related GIS data easier, said Jeffrey Harrison, director of the OGC Interoperability Program.

"We'll be testing the technical standards for interoperability, also to identify where the gaps in our knowledge are," he said. "The standards are a good starting point, but we know there will be gaps. We'll be able to feed that information back into our development work, and then also look at what policies and other issues need to be addressed."

OGC put out a "call for communities" to participate and has received more than 50 replies so far from state and federal agencies, local governments and universities. The consortium will publish a formal request for proposals early next month, with the projects due to begin in late September or early October.

The key to this project is developing a way to enable organizations to share geospatial data even if they are using different GIS products. The use of GIS data has been limited because systems were hardware-intensive and based around the proprietary needs of high-end workstation vendors. Data was tied to formats imposed by these proprietary systems and could not be used easily by other vendors' products.

As the price of hardware dropped, data consequently became more valuable. Most vendors now realize that their futures are tied to how they can manipulate GIS data — whether provided by their own systems or others — and deliver that to their customers in forms they can work with.

According to Ignacio Guerrero, vice president of mapping and GIS solutions at Intergraph Corp., the interoperability of GIS systems and data is crucial if his company is to add value to products for its users. Government officials think the same way.

The Office of Homeland Security has called GIS data an essential resource in efforts to improve the ability to respond to emergencies, and officials are expected to highlight the need for an interoperable network that will allow interactive sharing of such critical data among all levels of government in an upcoming strategy document, sources said.

The Office of Management and Budget, meanwhile, has formed the Geospatial One-Stop Project to provide one-stop access to government geospatial data resources.

Harrison expects that OGC will be able to run two CIPI pilot projects this year. The rate at which others will go forward depends on sponsorship and the level of participation by communities.

Most of the basic resources to build such an interoperable network already exist, Harrison said. Once established, it will likely be self-organizing and grow organically "much as the Web itself has grown." A fundamental network could be in place "within the next three to five years." n

Robinson is a freelance journalist based in Portland, Ore. He can be reached at


Thinking big

The Open GIS Consortium Inc.'s (OGC) goal is to develop a distributed network of critical infrastructure information and resources that will build on existing and emerging commercial software products, said Jeffrey Harrison, director of the OGC Interoperability Program.

The network of clients and servers will be constructed in stages "much like the highway system was," he said, with an interstate backbone built first around nodes established by government agencies. Local resources, such as map servers, will be added later. The aim is to provide an initial set of geographic information system data that will act as a network "dial tone" and plug in more information and services as needed.

The pilot projects will test various interfaces that could be used to establish "plug-and-play" capabilities among currently incompatible GIS products. OGC has developed a number of new standards, which support Web-based sharing and use of geospatial information, and the pilot projects will use those and other industry standards.

About the Author

Brian Robinson is a freelance writer based in Portland, Ore.


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