Customer-driven Interoperability

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Welcome to GISWeekly! Customer-driven interoperability has come to the forefront this week as five prominent vendors announced a new initiative to achieve interoperability between their GIS products. See our Industry News for the full story.

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Industry News

Customer-driven Interoperability

Customer-driven interoperability has come to the forefront this week as five prominent vendors announced a new initiative to achieve improved interoperability between their GIS products. Laser-Scan, Autodesk, Intergraph, MapInfo, and Oracle, all members of the OpenGIS Consortium (OGC), put their heads together to attempt to give customers a “mix and match” capability with their technologies, making access to seamless data possible via Oracle Spatial relational database. Many organizations have separate departments that require a range of GIS applications. In addition, more and more businesses require their systems and applications to be interoperable in order to reduce costs and facilitate smarter working. Obviously those clients that have spearheaded this type of interoperability are already invested in Oracle. According to the interoperability initiators, Oracle Spatial is well suited for this joint initiative because it offers data interoperability across applications, regardless of which tools applications, or Web services are used for access.

Here is what some of the participants had to say:

How do you see this being any different than what the OGC has in place or what you're doing with them on your own?

Duncan Guthrie, Sales and Marketing Director for Laser-Scan:
We certainly made OGC aware of what we're doing. There are a couple of clients that have expressed the interest in interoperability for the text and point data such as orientation that they didn't have currently. So that prompted us to get in contact with each other to discuss what the clients want to do - why don't we get together and satisfy client need? That's where it stemmed from originally.

We produced what we call the Interoperability Kit that [each vendor] has developed independently and we've obviously made sure that they work with each other. However, this is not a club--it's just a common thing where we're saying let's do something for the client, and test that the kits work, then put them out in the marketplace as open source. So really any other GIS vendor that wants to have a look at this and say this is a good idea, and wants to create their own interoperability kit, they can do that. We heavily endorse any GIS vendor coming and doing exactly that. That's what the market is really asking for.

Each vendor will have their own Interoperability Kits so that when the client comes into the database, Autodesk can read anything created in MapInfo, MapInfo can read information created by Intergraph.

Pierre Lemire, CTO, Autodesk ISD:
As Autodesk moves to the solution business, we are becoming more customer and community centric. This is an initiative that addresses immediate interoperability needs and will help us to better solve customer problems related to multi-vendor implementations. In this particular case, Oracle Spatial was at the center. The Open GIS consortium, purposely vendor neutral, would never support an activity that focuses on only one database vendor. All the members of the initiative are strong supporters of the consortium and we all respect the independency of the consortium. In fact, we did not think it would be appropriate to bring this issue to the consortium without doing preliminary “hands-on” work. We all recognize the tremendous value for the industry of having a single place where university, systems integrators, software and hardware vendors can all talk openly and achieve consensus on specifications. But when our customers are asking multiple vendors at the same time for better support of text with Oracle Spatial, we need to fix it before the new specification is discussed, revised and accepted. The impact of this work will definitively benefit the consortium and the specifications as it will bring even more customer feedback in the future.

Tom Myers, Product Manager, MapInfo:
The goals of this initiative are completely in line with our efforts as a principal member of the OGC. That is, making data exchange simple, transparent and open. This work has been driven by customers looking to build multi-vendor systems built on Oracle technology. Without the standardization of certain data type descriptions at the database layer we understand that customers may need to make additional investments in their solutions to make their applications interoperate. This was clearly an opportunity for us to improve our customers' experience, work cooperatively with one another in the near term through the development of interoperability kits, and moving forward, work within the OGC framework to reach agreement on data type specifications.

Steve Reed, Director, Strategic Alliances, Intergraph Mapping and Geospatial Solutions:
This is consistent with and builds on what OGC has achieved. This initiative enables customers to achieve enterprise interoperability by using open tools to share information in a mixed vendor environment. Because the initial work for this initiative was started by customer-driven needs it did not go through the formal OGC process. However, the next logical step is to fold this into the OGC process.

Are you looking at this as a short term solution only or will it evolve into a long term solution?
Duncan Guthrie, Sales and Marketing Director for Laser-Scan:
We all have a heavy involvement with OGC and this is the first step. This is a short term goal to satisfy a client's need. This is very good for OGC, and we want to make what we have done here, in terms of standardizing a format, part of OGC. So it sort of works alongside and accelerates what OGC's trying to achieve. It's sort of the first rung of the ladder and very much the intention that this gets rolled into OGC's standards.

It will evolve, as it solves a problem that some clients have at the moment and the kits enable any other organizations to do exactly the same. We don't want this to be anything outside of OGC; it's really working into the whole OGC scenario now, so it's not separate. It's a common goal that we're all working towards. The kits as they stand should encourage other organizations to advance what they want to do in interoperability. It's about creating the best tool for the job.

Instead of having to use a software product simply because that's what another department is doing, we can rule that out and the clients can begin to use what they want to use. It is very important that we push this into the OGC community.

How will this initiative impact specifications of the future?
Tom Myers, Product Manager, MapInfo:
Our hope is that this effort fosters similar participation and cooperation within the market and that this will lead to the introduction of specifications within the OGC consensus process. MapInfo, in cooperation with Intergraph, Autodesk and Laser-Scan, are committed to these next steps.

Steve Reed, Director, Strategic Alliances, Intergraph Mapping and Geospatial Solutions:
By moving this process forward though OGC there will be significant value added to the already significant OGC specifications.

How difficult is it to incorporate vendor/customer influence into the development of specifications?
Vendor agreement on specifications is an important part to this process. With phase 1 achievement of this initiative Intergraph, Autodesk, MapInfo, Laser-Scan and Oracle have proven they can work together effectively and in a cooperative environment to develop solutions to customers' interoperability issues. Each vendor in this initiative wants to expand this effort into the OGC process as a next logical step.

The goal was to provide interoperability on the Oracle Spatial platform. Oracle, through their SDO_GEOMETRY objects, already provides an extensive set of geometry types that can be shared between most vendors today. Additional interoperability formats were introduced where required with standard Oracle data structures used to store these formats. These formats will be published so that all vendors can use them if they are interested in interoperability.

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