Defining National GIS Standards

Jul 2015 | No Comment
Ciloto Landslide Zone Case Study, West Java, Indonesia

Mukund Rao

Adjunct Faculty, National Institute of Advanced Studies (NIAS), Bangalore, India

VS Ramamurthy

Emeritus Professor, National Institute of Advanced Studies (NIAS), Bangalore, India

Baldev Raj

Director, National Institute of Advanced Studies (NIAS), Bangalore, India

Standards are fundamental requirement for any GIS to enable technologies – imaging, GIS, GPS and applications – thematic mapping, services and outputs etc to work together. Standards are important not only to facilitate data sharing and increase interoperability but also to bring a systematization and “automation” into the total process of mapping and GIS.

From a national perspective, National GIS must bring vast benefits to governance and also to the stakeholders (ministries/policymakers/ decision-makers/citizens) by bringing about the geographical depiction of the aspirations and needs of the people, analytics of the state of national resources and economy, disparity (gaps/ needs) in current state of development and bring forth decision-options that can be the basis of a “inclusive and scientific governance” – a unique Decision Support System (DSS) powered by upto-date image and map information with geotagged tables and developmental data.

National GIS implementation will fundamentally require:

• National GIS Standards – a suite of technical standards and protocols for National GIS that will allow easy GIS Asset organisation/maintenance, GIS services of Data and Applications on a standards-based GIS Portal

• An authoritative National Spatial Framework (NSF) as a nationwide, uniform GIS template.

• Capability in important GI technologies that the nation would have to develop/acquire, in the long run, for National GIS.

Globally, GI has emerged as a key determinant in shaping contemporary societies and supremacy of nations and has emerged as vital differentiators for DSS in diverse spheres such as governance, business endeavors and citizen centric activities. There is hardly any nation in the world that does not rely on GI for its planning, development and defence/security needs.

In today’s transforming world, nations that possess an advanced and progressive system of GIS would lead and chart ways in their own national and in the international arena far ahead of those that would use more traditional forms of information management. GIS technology is gaining critical importance in the international and multilateral frameworks – like, addressing crosscutting issues of environment, rivers/ drainage systems, borders, climate change and even in homeland security cooperation and in defence (particularly as defence equipment and systems are based on geospatial technology usage).

International scenario

A detailed view of GIS standardisation environment in the world has been studied. GIS Standardisation started in late 1980s when the earliest concept of a Spatial Data Infrastructure (SDI) was proposed in USA.

US has undertaken tremendous leading work on GIS standardisation and we feel that US looks at standardisation from a stand-point of a nation that already had well-organized, multisource digital map data, images and geo-tagged data available. Federal Geographic Data Committee (FGDC) is the key US interagency committee that promotes the coordinated development, use, sharing, and dissemination of geospatial data. The recent focus of FGDC has been on standardisation related to GIS applications and services – both, data and applications services and exchange of GIS data across “systems”. The USGS National Map is a national service from USGS that fully adopts and conforms to FGDC standards and is a visible example of use of GIS Standards.

• Europe-INSPIRE has excellent standards that define Metadata, Data Specifications, Network services, Data and Service sharing and Coordination and measures for monitoring & reporting. INSPIRE has focus is on Content Standardisation in a considerable way. Thus, INSPIRE defines what content should be included and what schema details are essential for each data element – these are well defined in INSPIRE.

• OGC standards are immensely popular and adopted by government and industry and bring about a high-level of focus on inter-operability and open-ness – though open standards are a different regime from OGC standards. OGC standards have been defined to systematize metadata, map services and web-services and host of applications services. Driven by the advanced GI eco-system in US and the intensive involvement of private sector, OGC standards are de-facto services and applications standardisation across government and industry and has brought the focus of inter-operability across GIS environment. OGC standards have been adopted by many nations and commercial data providers as part of their Spatial Data Infrastructures, and offer an effective mechanism for sharing geospatial information

• ISO/TC 211 is a standard technical committee formed within ISO, tasked with covering the areas of digital geographic information (such as used by geographic information systems) and geomatics. The work within ISO/TC211 is done in working groups, each with a specific focus. ISO standards are more driven by government agencies and are an effort to bring about a slowprocess of standards definition for imagery, geo-spatial services, quality and information management.

• China claims that they have made efforts in GIS standardisation but we have not been able to access, in spite of repeated contacts with SBSM and NASG and other agencies, the “standards documents” to be able to make a judgment on these. However, it appears from initial web-analysis of China-NASG, that they are progressing on a definitive path towards a nation-wide GIS and map data availability and services.

GIS Standardisation is viewed differently in different nations. This difference is emanating because the development of maturity of a GIS in nation is different. US has a long heritage of digital map data available from 1970s (Digital USGS maps and TIGER data and Street-Address data) and thus they have evolved much earlier on nation-wide content and updation. Thus, US focus is on data exchange/access and services. Europe has varying levels of maturity on Europe-wide GI content – and thus they also address GI content definition along-with access/exchange, services.

The following key parameters are identified for standards development:

• Content Standards – standards that define GIS content.

• Metadata Standards – that define the details of Metadata – data about GIS content.

• Schema/Data Dictionary/Data Models – defining the data dictionary and schema for each of the Content in the GIS.

• Spatial Framework – defining the geographical-envelope of the national frame based on precise boundaries and also including the internal spatial relationships of reference points that “pin” the data to precise locations on Earth in relative to the spatial frame of the boundary.

• Quality – defining quality parameters and value-limits for GIS content.

• Image – defining what images (and their parameters) form a part of the National GIS.

• GIS Services – defining standards for GIS data and application services on web platform.

• Mobile GIS Services – defining standards for GIS data and application services on mobile platform.

• Portal Standards – defining the standards for Portals and their Security

• Interoperability – defining the standards for inter-operability related to data and services.

Indian perspective

In India, GIS Standardisation efforts have been on-going from 1990s and these include:

• NNRMS, an inter-agency programme of the Department of Space (DOS), has published NNRMS Standards in 2005. NNRMS standards are quite comprehensive and cover the gamut of basic GIS elements – Image Standards, Thematic Mapping Standards, GIS Database Standards, Output Standards, Thematic Accuracy Standards. NNRMS Standards also has proposed a spatial framework.

• India’s National Spatial Data Infrastructure (NSDI) was defined in 2001 and the first major effort was made in defining common conventions and standards. NSDI Standards are limited to Metadata definition and SOI data exchange. Similarly, the NSDI Exchange Standards – which were extremely narrow-spectrum applicability for SOI DVD data have out-lived their relevance in present time-frame and we do not see any practical cases of NSDI Exchange Standard being practically applied anymore.

• Ministry of Urban Development (MUD) initiated the National Urban Information Systems programme in 2004 and in 2006 adapted, from NNRMS Standards, a set of customized NUIS Standards pertain to urban development – urban planning. The NUIS Standards have been applied for NUIS project 153 town and have some validity and robustness.

• NIC has also built upon the initial standard used for 2004 National GIS Pilot which was based on NNRMS Standard. NIC seems to have made their own variations and defined and adopted their own internal standards for their GIS Portal quite successfully. This shows that users do have customizing capabilities when they use commercial COTS GIS engines and can undertake a level of standards activity based on what the software provides.

• Karnataka state defined its Karnataka- GIS (K-GIS) vision in 2013. To demonstrate the K-GIS seamless and applications concept, Karnataka defined its own proto-type K-GIS standard as a logical extension to its own RS and GIS activity bust basing much of its definitions based on NNRMS Standards – thus its learnings also will be important when National GSI Standards is defined. Indian standards definition efforts have centered more around data generation (images/maps etc) and less on data services and applications. This, is because in Indian image and GIS data availability and accessibility has major gaps and not easily available for users – thus efforts are being repeated for organizing GIS data. There is no standard spatial framework on which maps/GIS is generated – data foundations are not uniform and in-compatible bringing data mis-match prominently.

Good definitions/description are lacking in India but they are a must for GIS Standards – as it brings extremely good and uniform understanding of the standards (we have seen that in Indian standards even a common feature “Landuse” is defined differently in different GIS and thus bring different understanding).

Analysis of GIS portals

National GIS Portal is envisaged as a national gateway for accessing all GIS services – GIS data, GIS applications and GIS Metadata. It is through the National GIS Portal that users will make smarter governance decisions, develop relationships and increase citizen engagement. As a part of looking at National GIS Service Standards, various GIS portals of the world were evaluated and assessed – to determine a “bar” that needs to be set for functionality, excellence and quality for National GIS Portal. Below is a summary of the evaluations:

• The NATIONAL MAP 2.0 Portal of United States Geological Survey (USGS) provides a “window” to US spatial data along with satellite images and has robust capabilities of GIS services – viewing and querying. USGS National Map doesn’t really offer specific GIS applications – especially as it is mainly a map viewer. The most important aspect of the USGS Portal is the rich data content for the whole of US. The Portal facilitates building queries among spatial data as well as attributes data.

• Google Earth is the most widely used image and map Portal to view earth’s surface and other planet’s data. Google offers 1m images all over India and even 0.30m images in certain areas. Apart from images, GoogleEarth offers basic layers of road, railines and large volume of POI data. Ease of use is the strongest point of GoogleEarth as even common citizen and government agencies depend upon Google Earth. Design is very robust and the Portal is high-performing.

• Bhuvan is a “portal” of National Remote Sensing Centre (NRSC) for displaying IRS images and thematic maps – providing a “window” into the spatial data holdings of NRSC and NNRMS projects. Bhuvan has “lots of data” – mainly coming from NNRMS project outputs from 2002 onwards – this makes it more a “GIS data-bank” or a digital map REPOSITORY of NNRMS projects. Bhuvan services are just visualization tools and Bhuvan does not have integrative/applications and decision-support capability – even basic GIS querying capability is lacking. Design of Bhuvan and its user-interface needs considerable improvements – as it is too “complex” and not uniform functionally – thus making it very difficult for users to understand and use the Portal for regular decisions. Reliability of the content and displays has major gaps – performance is quite slow and also non-uniform across modules.

• India-NSDI Portal is supposed to facilitate search on India’s map/ image metadata holdings – one of the earliest portals aiming to provide spatial information metadata services. A basic India administrative hierarchy is encapsulated in the Portal – but there is hardly any Metadata populated – though the schema and structure of NSDI Metadata Standards has been encapsulated. NSDI portal does not have any GIS applications and integrative capabilities. Performance is very slow and reliability of data is a major gap. MapmyIndia Portal is first private map Portal in India – through which it provides “visual window” of nation-wide basic map data holdings and large amount of POI data that are constantly updated. Locationbased address geo-coding has been successfully provided in many cities in the Portal. The Portal offers specialised location/navigation services and also commercial services. MapmyIndia has good basic GIS data that is wellupdated BUT does not offer any GIS applications/integrative capabilities.

• G2G GIS Portal has been developed by Karnataka State Remote Sensing Application Centre (KSRSAC) through which it provides access to its large state-wide image/map data access with tools for “displays and basic queries”. The Portal has 51+ 1:50k content AND alls of these are seamless to the state of Karnataka – BUT are of different time-lines (coming from different RS and GIS projects of KSRSAC). G2G Portal does not have applications/integrative decision-support capabilities.

• Surveykshan is a Geoportal of, Survey of India which is responsible for all geodetic, geophysical and topographical surveys and maps within India. Surveykshan displays Survey of India’s Digital OSM maps in WMS format, which is at present available for 22 states of India. The Portal is quite poor in performance and reliability and continuity of data – which are not GIS_Ready. GIS Applications for decision-support is not available.

• NICMAPS is a “portal” of National Information Centre (NIC) through which it provides “visual display” of GIS data from NIC and map data from Survey of India (SOI) and other agencies alongwith non-spatial data holding of NIC. NICMAPS provides a “window” to full-coverage Indian spatial data along with satellite images. NICMAPS does not support any application on the portal but has advance services like Locators, Swipe & Spotlight, Elevation profile and so on. The portal is quite stable and data available on it is quite robust.

Perspectives for national GIS portal

some of the observations from analysis of the GIS Portals, in the context of National GIS, include:

Content is what “makes or breaks” a GIS Portal and thus the GIS Portal must have high-quality, verified and scrutinized and upto-date GIS Content – and the mantra needs to be “keep Content that is GIS-ready, uniform, good quality, current, seamless and standardized”. In the Indian context, we observe that none of the GIS Portals have content that conforms to what should be in National GIS. In our analysis, National GIS cannot be a “collection of whatever map/ image data is available” – a systematic GIS Asset needs to be designed with layer/image definitions, feature definitions, schema definitions – which are seamless across the nation uniformly, standardized as per a National GIS Standard and constantly updated as per an update cycle.

Metadata is an important element of any Portal – that helps understand the data about the data. In our analysis, Metadata is poor across all GIS Portals that we have studied and analysed except the USGS National Map Portal that contains Layer Metadata as per FGDC Standards. In our assessment, National GIS must organise Metadata systematically – in fact, it can be the easiest to organise and systematically populate at the first step – thereby allowing users to immediately know what data is available in National GIS and allow for efficient search.

Data Dictionary: A data dictionary is a collection of descriptions of the GIS feature objects or items in a GIS data model for the benefit of users, application developers and others who need to refer to them – basically, identifying each GIS feature and its relationship to other objects. Efforts at making a good data dictionary is yet to be put and visible in the Indian Portals. National GIS needs a welldesigned Data Dictionary that will be the foundation of all data development, exchange and integrated analysis.

Quality of GIS content is extremely important for a GIS Portal to be authoritative and useful for applications. There are typically three types of consistency that is important for GIS portals – point in time consistency, ensuring that all GIS content and its data model are uniform at a specific point in time; transaction consistency, consistency of a piece of GIS content across a GIS Portal operation and application consistency, transaction consistency between various GIS Applications and processes across the Portals. The importance of ensuring data consistency is to maintain the integrity of the GIS content available on the Portal. This is lacking in most Indian GIS Portals. Unless care is taken to define quality standards, measure quality of data and ingest only data of highest quality, National GIS will fail in its objective to be that one-source authoritative data.

Image inclusion is important for GIS portals – not just satellite images, aerial images or UAS images BUT any image that can be geo-tagged has to be an important element of the National GIS content. From a satellite image perspective, GoogleEarth is best as it provides highest resolution image across the country; Bhuvan has reliable IRS image inclusion BUT they are mostly of resolutions around 2.5m and coarser. In both these portals, latest images are not available and mostly ~5+ years old images are seen. Fusion of images over maps is critical and important – only google Earth allows for this in a limited content. Bhuvan does not have this fusion capability that is extremely important for decisionmaking. Images – be they from satellites/air-platforms/ground, are the fundamentals of National GIS Portal. Robust image management techniques and fusion techniques are important. Worldover satellite images are reaching sub-metre levels operationally and with global coverage – why is it that Indian IRS systems, even today, are still “struggling” at metre-level resolutions for operational availability? In late 1990s, India was the world’s leading country with highest resolution civilian satellite of 5.8m PAN – but in 2015, India seems to have trailed behind in the world as far as state-of-art in high-resolution image operational availability is concerned. Should governance or Decision Support in India suffer because of the non-availability of high-quality/ resolution satellite images – which, today is anyway available all over the world from non-Indian commercial satellites? In fact, National GIS must demand for high quality and highresolution images and drive ISRO to plan and provide best quality/resolution satellite images in an operational manner – comparable, if not superior, to what is available in the world?

• GIS Services is the heart of any GIS portal. The more services that are offered the better characterized is the GIS portal. GIS services should include GIS Data Services (that is 2-way on-line GIS data service – access to actual GIS-Ready data and ability to upload GIS-ready data to Portal) and GIS Applications Services (that is providing variety of GIS applications and modelling capability of display, query, integrative modelling, geo-correlation analysis, geoanalytics, routing applications, predictive applications, simulative applications etc; allowing variety of GIS Apps to be publishable). Just data visualization and display cannot make a good GIS Portal. In our assessment, we hardly see Decision Support capabilities of any of these Indian GIS portals. National GIS must have well-designed and robust National GIS services – both, GIS Data Services that allow access and download of GIS-Ready data and GIS Application services for different users (agriculture/urban/rural/governance/ citizens……) which needs to be a set of decision-tools packaged into a GIS Application Decision Support module.

• Mobile GIS Services are basically the availability of mobile apps for GIS Portals by way of which GIS data and Apps can be easily accessed on mobile and hand-held devices. GoogleEarth, MapmyIndia have excellent mobile services capability – these are quite robust and widely used. Other Indian Portals “claim” mobile-services but there are basically low-performing data visualization.

• Interoperability is related to producing GIS portal results in standard compatible web browsers, GIS engines, operating systems and devices and are based on the latest web standards. In the GIS domain, OGC has defined a set of inter-operability GIS Apps standards that must forma base for all Portal interoperability. Most of the Indian Portals are poor in inter-operability and need robust standards adoption.

National GIS standards

National GIS will require a quantum jump from the existing philosophies, approaches and design, content and technologies, development and operations that have been adopted in India – leading ahead quickly into an operational GIS Decision Support capability in next 2-3 years BUT also excelling the national capability in GIS activities for next 10-15 years, at the least. In our view, fresh and new efforts to organize National GIS Asset/Application Services/Portal will be is best step forward.

NIAS has identified the following categories of Standards for National GIS:

• National GIS Content Standard – which basically includes what content needs to be included in National GIS.

• National GIS Database Standard (including Quality) – which defines the details of GIS database related standards for the National GIS and includes data quality parameters

• National GIS Services Standard – basically outlining Data, Applications and Portal services.

The National GIS Content Standards needs to include ~84 features, including 43 essential and 41 additional content for National-GIS – grouped into 17 categories. It would be important to have a National GIS Content Thesaurus – that defines the class-categories and enables a common understanding and also links the categories to the purpose and use of the classification system. Naming Convention for National GIS content so that the name is easily understandable typology. Coding schemes for National GIS content must follow the source coding schemes.

28 parameters of a National GIS Database Standard and their values have been identified for a systematic GIS database to be organised to power National GIS.

As part of the National GIS Services Standard, details of National GIS Metadata Standards, National GIS Portal standards, National GIS catalog standard, National GIS map services standard, National GIS map tiling services standard, National GIS feature services standard, National GIS portal encoding standard, National GIS exchange standard, National GIS web coverage services standard, Georss simple standard, National GIS sms ingest standard and National GIS Applications standard have been provided.

National Spatial Framework

The National Spatial Framework (NSF) is a critical and essential element to develop an authoritative and reliable National GIS Asset. Without a NSF, inconsistency in GIS data will be very high. In our study of GIS data of different Indian Portals (as well as foreign) we have seen the in-consistency in data in large measures – for example, Bhuvan administrative boundaries do not match with Surveykshan administrative boundaries; Bhuvan’s 1:50k wasteland do not match with 1:10k landuse; NICGIS has its own roads that do not match with Bhuvan roads; MapmyIndia points-ofinterest data do not match with Bhuvan points; …..and so on are many examples.

In National GIS, content will come from any of these 4 basic sources – each having its own referencing systems:

• satellite image – the satellite image is on a “pixel-frame” with a Earth-reference coordinate system super-imposed.

• Topographic frame – defined by geographic frame of SOI OSM maps – thus derivative maps using the OSM frame carry-forward the geographic referencing.

• Administrative frame – villages/taluk/ district/state/nation on which all administrative data and governance are associated. This does not have an inherent geographic referencing.

• Ground surveys (using instrument like GPS/TS and Smartphones etc) – by which lat-long coordinates of the instrument positioning devices (commonly using positioning satellites – GPS, Glonass or in future IRNSS) providing geo-referencing.

The 84 features of National GIS Content that have been identified are based on one of the above four basic frames – thus they carry the characteristic of the basic frame in the GIS. The issue is to cross-correlate and geo-reference these 4 basic frames – so that across the 84 features a common geo-referencing is achieved – allowing easy super-position/ overlay and integrated analysis. This will, more importantly, also ensure groundmatch of features – so that location, distances, area etc are well maintained.

The key is to develop a NSF where a “one-time effort” is made to standardize the reference of satellite-image based coordinates; SOI OSM based coordinates and GPS/TS based coordinates. For this one time exercise, it would be essential to use a SOI topographic map’s geographic frame for precise national boundary (this is presently available on 1:50k); the bestaccurate Indian administrative boundary frame (state/district/taluk boundaries – this is available in 1:50k SOI OSM maps); the best-resolution satellite-image for India (which is corrected using GCPs – would be good to use ~1m images as they are available) and “fuse-integrate” these 3 together to create the basic foundation frame – so that this foundation can easily assimilate the features coming out from satellite images or features of SOI OSMs and the administrative frame. It would be essential to use a set of Ground Control Points (precision measured coordinates in this frame) that can be super-imposed on the precision Indian boundary layer and create cross-referencing to satellite images and for local referencing – thus also ensuring in the GIS that a “tight pinning-down” of the frame to Indian land-mass. Integrating village boundaries will be easy into the taluk boundaries (of the administrative boundary frame) and thus creating a seamless village layer for the country. When any local survey is done, the GCP frame will provide a cross-referencing to the survey points to the NSF – thus the data will “sit properly”.

NSF must become the basic georeferencing frame for any GIS data ingest into National GIS BUT more importantly ensure that all GIS data are co-registered. NSF must be a basic freelyavailable product form national GIS.

NSF can also be the foundation of a very quickly organised National Spatial Foundation Dataset (NSFD) – a minimalistic template product from national GIS.

Way-forward for National GIS

The National GIS Standards needs to be compliant with intern ational ISO TC211 processes – especially as India is already committed to ISO standardisation efforts through the Bureau of Indian Standards (ISO is a multi-lateral body for standardisation and India is represented by BIS). A Expert Standing Committee can be tasked to help National-GIS to review, update the National GIS Standards from time-to-time.

A concerted effort needs to be taken to make aware, promote, encourage and generate/organise these GIS Standards, NSF and GIS Process documents and also encourage for using these to be able to integrate into the common platform of the National GIS. All government/ enterprise and other private agencies would comply with these standards and NSF so that practices within their own processes will be able to contribute to and benefit from National GIS.

National GIS implementation will require India to acquire technological capability in key areas of geo-spatial technology –a suite of technologies have been identified for India. National GIS must also assess futuristic applications that would be “demanded” from the nation and also develop the broader GI ecosystem in India in next 10-15 years.

The full report, is available on http://

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