Web-based coastal mapping and sensor systems depend on open standards



Sam Bacharach, Executive Director, Outreach and Community Adoption Program, Open Geospatial Consortium, Inc. Herndon, VA, USA



With demand for safer and more efficient ports and terminals and for sustainable development along the world’s coasts, there is an increasing need for better, more up-to-date and detailed location based information. These needs are driving requirements for information production, information sharing and interoperability between and among different information communities.

Interoperability and data sharing become much easier as standards organisations analyse the requirements specific to the ports application domain and develop open standards and as technology providers implement these standards in their products and services.

As these standards or profiles of existing standards are defined, implemented, and deployed, the end users have less need to know the technical details about the sophisticated technical ‘plug and play’ that enables them to get the information they need when and where they need it. However, the user organisations still need to be specific in procurement language about the standards and the profiles of standards they want bidding vendors to provide.

Geospatial interoperability was the last link

A wide range of organisations produce and use information about ocean dynamics, ocean resources and hazards, the ocean floor, littoral and coastal flood zones, ocean traffic, weather and climate, and structures and operations within and around ports and terminals. All of these information sources have location elements.
Therefore, these organisations’ information systems must support geospatial interoperability and functionality.

In the past, geospatial capabilities fell into certain distinct categories defined by particular kinds of hi-tech information systems that often didn’t communicate or  ‘interoperate’ well. In most cases, it was difficult and expensive to combine and share information between different types of systems – Geographic Information Systems (GIS), Earth observation systems, Automated Mapping and Facilities Management (AM/FM) systems, Global Positioning System (GPS) receivers, digital seismic survey equipment and echo sounders, total stations, digital navigation systems, and sensors.

And within these categories, different vendors’ systems didn’t work well together.

In the late 1990s, geospatial technology companies and their customers determined that the Internet and Web provided a platform for connecting heterogeneous  systems. The Web works because it is based on open standards – TCP/IP, HTML, HTTP, XML and many others – that developers can use to build systems that integrate and communicate with other systems on the Web.

All of these open standards are ‘extensible’, so other open standards can be built on top of them. Geospatial technology stakeholders have worked together in the  Open Geospatial Consortium (OGC) and other open membership standards organisations to build Webbased geospatial standards. These standards have come into their own in the last few years, transforming the geospatial market just as Internet and Web standards transformed the larger ICT market. Some examples now follow.

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