Building national capacity through spatial standards policies

Feb 2012 | No Comment

Such policies have a “capacity multiplier” effect, because open standards facilitate data sharing and promote geospatial technology market development

Steven Ramage

Executive Director, Marketing and Communications
The Open Geospatial Consortium (OGC)

National capacity building is about building new capabilities and resources on a nation’s platform of existing capabilities and resources – human, scientific, economic, technological, educational, cultural, organizational, institutional, agricultural, industrial and so on. In both developed and developing nations, policy makers see information and communications technology (ICT) as a key element in their capacity building plans, because ICT connects people and expedites information flows and workflows in all of those domains.

Geospatial information flows are a particularly important factor in capacity building across those domains. This article focuses on how capacity building in the geospatial sector of the ICT domain depends on National Spatial Data Infrastructure (NSDI) policies that encourage the use of open geospatial standards. OGC standards and complementary standards from the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) Technical Committee 211 (ISO/TC 211 Geographic information/Geomatics) have become part of SDI “best practices” around the world.

The Global Spatial Data Infrastructure SDI Cookbook defines SDI as the “… collection of technologies, policies and institutional arrangements that facilitate the availability of and access to spatial data.” This definition (which predates the cookbook) is more than fifteen years old, and over the course of fifteen years much progress has been made toward the SDI vision of abundant, easily shared, easily used geospatial information.

Arguably the most progress has been made in the area of open technology standards that facilitate the practical availability of and access to spatial data. Policy and institutional arrangements are absolutely essential, but they are unworkable if technical obstacles to interoperability cannot be overcome. When a significant number of systems implement open standards so that users can use the Internet to easily publish, discover, access, assess and use diverse sources of data and services, then government policy makers can establish policies that reinforce the purchase and use of these standards-based systems. The resultant widespread use of interoperable systems makes it easier for public and private sector institutions to reach agreements about data sharing that are based on institutional needs rather than technical limitations. Widespread interoperability also opens up the market for geospatial data, software and services, which results in economic progress and increased capacity in the ICT sector and also in all the other sectors that benefit from ICT innovations.

Producers and users of geospatial resources are all part of a vast network of producers and users, and the value of their resources depends to a significant extent on how much of that network they can connect to. Some of these stakeholders eagerly implement open standards and even participate in standards development because the benefits are obvious to them. Most stakeholders, however, are not particularly aware of standards because their attention is focused on immediate tasks and a narrow circle of data sharing partners. Responsible policy makers have a broader view. They serve everyone well when they provide incentives for diverse stakeholders to upgrade to systems that implement open standards that expand the geospatial network.

SDI best practices – Enabling communities of interest

SDIs built on open standards “work together,” enabling information networks that benefit multiple communities of interest, each of which has special information requirements. Creating spatial information for specific purposes often depends on having access to more basic spatial information about such things as survey points, elevation, political boundaries and water bodies.

Open access to such basic data is one of the critical economic enablers of an SDI. In December 2011, in its most recent call for freely available public sector data, the European Commission announced an “Open Data Strategy for Europe which is expected to deliver a €40 billion boost to the EU’s economy each year. Europe’s public administrations are sitting on a goldmine of unrealized economic potential: the large volumes of information collected by numerous public authorities and services.”

Figure 1 below outlines a spatial data value chain. Each link in the chain represents ICT business creation and new jobs. The efficiencies that result from the value delivered – generally in the area of improved information flow — result in improvements in the production and delivery of many other public and private sector goods and services. This is capacity building.

Figure 1: A spatial data value chain (From “Information Marketplaces – The New Economics of Cities,” by Accenture, December 2011.)

Having open access, and in many cases free access, to public data is one part of an SDI, but much of this data’s economic value lies in its ability to support businesses that sell value-added data and services. Information flow among diverse stakeholders with diverse ICT systems depends on open standards for data and for interfaces and encodings. Speaking about the Open Data Strategy, Neelie Kroes, Vice President European Commission responsible for the Digital Agenda, explained that, “In all sectors, standards and standardisation drive competitiveness, promote innovation, and benefit consumers through competition. …In the ICT sector, having the right standard-setting procedures and interoperability rules creates the level playing field needed for all parts of the machine to fit together: devices, applications, data repositories, services and networks.”

Policy makers tasked with building national SDIs play an important role, because they are in a position to “nudge” stakeholders to purchase and deploy standards-based systems. Mandating open standards is almost always a better solution than mandating purchase from particular technology providers, because open standards encourage competition. Open standards also provide a way for users to extend the value of their legacy systems while choosing “best of breed” solutions for their current needs. At the same time, they are “future-proofing” their ITC assets because widely implemented open standards provide the best possible assurance that future products and technologies will interoperate with previously deployed products and technologies.

The Netherlands example

The Dutch Geo-Information and ICT Department of Rijkwaterstaat (the Ministry of Transport, Public Works and Water Management) has an SDI based on open standards. The Ministry’s responsibilities include traffic via roads, waterways, railways, and by air, and they are also responsible for clean water in the rivers, lakes, sea, and water tables. The Dutch National Mapping Agency Kadaster uses a GML-based application schema for data sharing. The Dutch Kadaster Topographical Service has demonstrated interoperability involving their TOP 10 GML schemas (also known as TOP10NL) and a number of commercial products.

In March 2011, geospatial standards were also added to the ‘comply or explain’ list of open standards of the Dutch Standardisation Board (College Standaardisatie, in Dutch). This means that all Dutch government organisations must now incorporate and implement these standards, where applicable.

Dutch geo-standards are managed by Geonovum, the National Spatial Data Infrastructure (NSDI) executive committee in the Netherlands. Geonovum is an OGC member.

The 3D Pilot NL, a network of over 65 private, public and scientific organizations, has collaborated to push 3D developments in the Netherlands. The pilot project established the groundwork for one of the world’s most comprehensive national 3D geo-information programs. The close integration between an existing information model for 2D geo-information and CityGML is a major step toward the practical use and re-use of 2D and 3D information. The objective of the 3D Pilot NL was to accelerate the use of 3D geo-information in the Netherlands. The pilot has demonstrated the added value of 3D geo-information compared to 2D geo-information in various use cases, including interactive airstream simulation, 3D cadaster, mutation detection and integrated planning and management of underground and aboveground municipal assets. Also, 3D information automatically generated from laser point data can serve many application domains. Such information about tree heights and sizes, new buildings, roofs, etc. can easily become part of an OGC CityGML model. Demonstrations of use cases can be found at (on YouTube).

The next phase of the 3D Pilot NL started in October 2011. This phase focuses on the development of tools and instruments to support the implementation of the 3D standard. This includes generating data at various levels of detail; describing standard procedures to generate such data; describing standard procedures to update and maintain the 3D data as part of existing (2D) information processes; and developing a 3D validation tool. In addition, special attention is being paid to aligning standards from the construction domain (Building Information Models) and the spatial data domain, at both national and international levels. Almost 120 participants have subscribed to participate in this next phase (

Below is a brief overview of other national open standards initiatives.


Germany –The GDI-DE, the German SDI, is based on OGC standards, as are the SDIs of the German federal states. The spatial portal site GeoPortal.rlp enables federal state agencies, municipal authorities and private companies to present their data and services. With more than 2000 layers from 70 OGC WMS services it is an excellent example of an implementation of the INSPIRE directive. CityGML began with urban modeling activities in Germany.

Great Britain – Ordnance Survey Great Britain initially became involved in OGC® standards about 10 years ago to structure and deliver their products more openly. In 2009 OS went live with a commercial service called ‘OS OnDemand’. It delivers 10 Ordnance Survey products through WMS and includes the large scale OS MasterMap® Topography Layer, which is in a raster format generated from the vector data store.

Norway – “Norge Digitalt” or in English, Digital Norway, is the Norwegian government’s initiative to build a national geographical infrastructure. Since 2005 more than 100 operational web map services, geoportal and other services have been in co-existence.

Spain – IDEC, the Geoportal of the Catalonia SDI, a project of the government of the autonomous region of Catalonia (Spain), offers services including the multilingual Catalog Server describing data available from over 80 providers. The viewer, a client that implements the OGC Web Map Server (WMS) Specification, allows users to access more than a dozen WMS servers from different providers who together provide about 200 layers of geodata. A 2007 study showed that the initial investment to set up the IDEC SDI was recovered in just 4 months.


Canada – The Canadian Geospatial Data Infrastructure (CGDI) has been developed by the Canadian government in partnership with the provinces, territories and the private sector. The CGDI is a distributed network of spatial data and processing resources that gives decision-makers access to online location-based information, offering valuable benefits to decision-makers in priority areas such as public safety, public health, Aboriginal community planning and environmental management.

USA – The partner agencies of the Federal Geographic Data Committee (FGDC) are developing a Geospatial Platform to more effectively provide place-based products and services to the American public. Many federal agencies and US states have or are building Web-centric SDIs that rely on OGC standards. The recently released “National Geospatial Advisory Council’s Local Government GIS Best Practices paper specifies areas in which OGC standards are essential.


Brazil – Brazil created a National Spatial Data Infrastructure (INDE) and the Interoperability Program of e-Government (e-PING). The legal framework of INDE (Decreto 6.666) establishes that the production of data and geospatial information must follow standards and regulations accredited by the National Commission on Cartography (CONCAR).

Chile – The Government of Chile, through the National System of Territorial Information Coordination (SNIT), fosters the use of technologies enabling the integration of geospatial information through Web services. The computer tools generated by the SNIT (“Geoportal of Chile” and “Geonodo”) and the diverse map services implemented in some public institutions support OGC Standards.


Abu Dhabi – The Abu Dhabi Systems and Information Centre has engaged most of the emirate’s government entities and federal entities within the Abu Dhabi NSDI (AD-SDI) to support sharing of geospatial information and services. ISO and OGC standards have been customized or profiled for use by the AD-SDI stakeholder community.


Australia – The Australian SDI is based on a framework of guidelines and policies developed by ANZLIC – the Australian and New Zealand Land Information Council. These emphasize open standards. The Australian SDI also comprises capabilities at state and territory level such as the Western Australian (WA) Government’s Shared Land Information Platform (SLIP), which forms the foundation of an information connection service that serves 19 WA government agencies and the New South Wales Government’s Spatial Information eXchange (SIX).

China – The China Ministry of Land and Resources is using applications based on the OGC Web Feature Service Standard (WFS – now also ISO 19142:2010) to build a country-level and province-level data exchange system that satisfies update requirements for land use data.

India – Through the India Geo-Portal, the NSDI program hosts ISO compliant metadata and web services that implement OGC standards for use in a variety of national development activities. The Geo-Portal uses OGC standards to help nodal agencies uplink their metadata, product-catalogue and other services through an SSO 128 bit encryption based secured communication. The state governments of India are also involved in SDI development.

The OGC India Forum met in Kolkata on March 14th 2011. India’s Executive Committee of the NSDI (EC NSDI) participated. There will be another meeting of the OGC India Forum on 9th February 2012 as part of the India Geospatial Forum being held at the in Gurgaon. This session will be held in conjunction with a special workshop on the business value of open standards.

Korea – In Korea’s “U-Cities” initiative, a ubiquitous city is an urban region in which all major information systems (residential, medical, business, governmental and the like) share data, and computers are built into the houses, streets and office buildings. OGC and ISO standards play a major role.


SDIs are a key contributor to economic, social and institutional capacity building, and open standards that enable technical interoperability are a key component of SDIs. Government policies that mandate open geospatial standards from the OGC, ISO/TC 211 and other standards organisations play a critical role in the development of national capabilities in geospatial data, software and services. Such policies have a “capacity multiplier” effect, because open standards facilitate data sharing and promote geospatial technology market development, while also reducing the cost of geospatial solutions that can improve capacity in other market domains.

My Coordinates
His Coordinates
Francois Erceau, A S Ganeshan, Dr Vinay Kumar Dadhwal
Mark your calendar
March 2012 TO October 2012

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