Mixed signals on standards

Most observers agree that establishing standards is crucial to future interoperability among different geographic information system databases and to the ability of government users to access geospatial data created by different sources. But not everyone is confident that widespread adherence to the standards will happen anytime soon.

The Open GIS Consortium Inc., an international group of more than 230 companies, government agencies and universities, is leading the interoperability effort. Open interfaces and protocols defined by the consortium's specifications will support interoperable solutions that organization officials say will "geo-enable" the Web, wireless and location-based services, and mainstream information technology.

All major vendors say they will comply with the consortium's specifications and will work to make sure their products are interoperable.

"There's a need for that, because if these systems don't interact then it's a self-limiting thing for the market," said Michael Domaratz, a cartographer in the U.S. Geological Survey's geography division. "And there's a realization on the user side that they need a certain amount of standardization to fit geo- spatial data to their business practices."

But it's a question of whether the vendors want it to happen, experts said.

David Sonnen, an analyst with IDC and a longtime observer of the GIS market, is skeptical. Promises of interoperability date back into the 1960s, he said, and he doesn't see anything in the current endeavors that promise much more.

"The vendors are competitors, and so there's no reason for them to be compatible," he said, "and even the users have value invested in their own approaches."

About the Author

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

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