December 15, 2003
Three Levels of Interoperability
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Susan Smith - Managing Editor

by Susan Smith - Managing Editor
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Message from the Editor

Welcome to GISWeekly! The subject of interoperability does not go out of style, probably because it is never quite resolved. This week we feature an interview with Peter Rieks of MapInfo, who is in charge of public sector market management for Europe. Peter discussed here the MapInfo viewpoint to the initiative recently announced by Laser-Scan, MapInfo, Autodesk and Intergraph, as well as other interoperability efforts the company is involved in.

GISWeekly examines select top news each week, picks out worthwhile reading from around the web, and special interest items you might not find elsewhere. This issue will feature Industry News, Alliances/Acquisitions, Announcements, New Products, Going on Around the Web, and Calendar.

GISWeekly welcomes letters and feedback from readers, so let us know what you think. Send your comments to me at

Best wishes,

Susan Smith, Managing Editor

Industry News

Three Levels of Interoperability

By Susan Smith

Since I've covered interoperability quite often in GISWeekly, vendors continue to write in to let me know about their products' interoperability progress. The subject does not go out of style, probably because it is never quite resolved. This week we feature an interview with Peter Rieks of MapInfo, who is in charge of public sector market management for Europe. Peter discussed here the MapInfo viewpoint to the initiative recently announced by Laser-Scan, MapInfo, Autodesk and Intergraph, as well as other interoperability efforts the company is involved in.

Is there a difference in the view of interoperability between the UK and the U.S., and perhaps other European countries?

We've recently seen a lot of activity within the European market, certainly here in the UK and also in the Nordic countries, which has been encouraged by various activities at European Commission level. The emphasis is on making GIS more compatible with modern IT infrastructure and IT services. The traditional GIS of the past was seen as the domain of the specialists - it was too heavy duty and difficult to work with. Since then, GIS has come a long way in terms of becoming open.

In the last six months, there's been a tremendous boost to interoperability in the UK and this has been promoted and even mandated by central government. Initiatives, which include implementations such as one-stop geoportals, are underpinned by standardization from the Open GIS Consortium of which MapInfo is a principal member as well as the ISO and W3C. Based on this, organizations from top to bottom and across the spectrum are engaged in making sure their systems are compatible and interoperable. It certainly is something that vendors in the UK and across Europe are very focused on. MapInfo is no different in that regard.

What features does IT platform interoperability include?

We are looking right now at interoperability on three levels - centralized spatial data management, web/application integration services and application connectivity services. The database vendor, Oracle, is beginning to accelerate beyond most relational databases, in terms of market acceptance for their integration of spatial datatypes and services. This is witnessed and promoted widely by the GIS community as a whole. It introduced a significant level of “openness” when it introduced Oracle Spatial some three years ago.

MapInfo is certainly no exception in our support of Oracle Spatial. It's an integral part of, and supported throughout, our product line. At this level, MapInfo, Intergraph, UK-based Laser-Scan and Autodesk have recently launched an initiative to address interoperability between different GIS client applications and their use of Oracle Spatial data. The fact that none of us own the format is one thing but we obviously are allowed to interpret how we use Oracle Spatial in different ways. Unfortunately that has caused some challenges for customers with different GIS applications.

The initiative has set out to agree on a set of commonalities between us and through interoperability and developer kits, we will address the differences between us in the short-term, by putting some triggers and functions in place in the database.

Laser-Scan's Topology capability is a common component for all of us and is needed in order to address the requirements of topologically “clean data”. This is something that Oracle really hasn't been addressing until their recent announcement of Oracle 10g.

Are there plans to provide that same functionality for things like Informix, and SQL Server and whatever else is out there at the moment?

Oracle stands out because of their pro-activeness in support for spatial data. To date, the other database vendors in the market have, for the most part, been relying on GIS vendors to enable their environments. This is true for vendors such as IBM/Informix and Microsoft. Unfortunately, GIS vendor specific solutions are perceived in the market as not being as 'open' and interoperable.

We all (vendors) grew up protecting our own file formats. We see Oracle Spatial as a key to open interoperability but there is another significant route to interoperability and that's happening at the web/application services level where OGC Web Mapping Service and GML are beginning to play a significant role. The new WMS capability of our flagship product, MapInfo Professional, is really beginning to make some inroads and we're seeing some interesting pilot applications, using the WMS capabilities on the server side as well for web implementations. In London, for example, an one-stop citizen portal is already providing access to a whole bunch of different databases and data layers from
different London Authorities, irrespective of what GIS was used to create the data. Here we're talking about interoperability at both the publishing or distribution level of data as well as the data storage or repository level. So we are seeing a lot of good things starting to happen.

INSPIRE, the Infrastructure for Spatial Information in Europe, a recent initiative launched by the European Commission and developed in collaboration with Member States and accession countries, seems to have won the interest of a lot of local government entities. A lesson can be learned from what we have seen happening in the Nordic region. In a very short space of time, a number of government entities have adopted the strategies set forth by organizations such as INSPIRE and adopted the OGC promoted WMS standard. So there's been major shift from just having web services available to being totally open, allowing lots of interdepartmental and interagency sharing of data seamlessly.

There's been a driver there to make sure we are compliant both on the server side as well as within our client applications, allowing our existing user base to tap into these new open, interoperable backend services.


Leica Geosystems announced its acquisition of Tritronics Pty Ltd, a leading supplier of integrated machine automation and site management solutions for the mining industry.

SANZ EarthWhere Spatial Data Provisioning software ranked in the top five tools of the National Imagery and Mapping Agency's (NIMA) Airborne Information Library Tools (AILT) Pathfinder assessment program. The assessment program was initiated in February 2003, and included tools from over 300 software vendors. Its focus was on software tools to assist in the storage and management of airborne imagery, a topic of broad interest for NIMA's stakeholders in support of national security.

Acxiom(R) Corporation (Nasdaq:
ACXM) announced that it had reached an agreement to acquire the Claritas Europe group of companies from VNU N.V., a global information and media company based in Haarlem, The Netherlands.

Spectrum Mapping, LLC has been awarded a second contract for LIDAR data collection and mapping in King County, Washington for the Endangered Species Act (ESA) and The Sensitive Areas Ordinance (SAO). Spectrum generated bare earth DEM's, first and last return raw data, and first and last return intensity data, to help King County's ESA/SAO response efforts. The first contract was Phase 1 - Western Lowlands and the latest contract is Phase 2 - Eastern Uplands.

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-- Susan Smith, Managing Editor.


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