OGC standards enable a new collaborative business model for providing imagery and imaging services

Contributed by: 
Edric Keighan, President & CEO, CubeWerx and Glenn Stowe, Product Manager, Cubewerx

For more than 20 years, the Open Geospatial Consortium (OGC) has been leaving its footprint on the rapidly-evolving Spatial Data Infrastructure market. OGC web services standards, derived from the needs of a large international community of geospatial practitioners, have become a catalyst for a new collaborative business model for delivering geospatial data and geoprocessing services.

The Internet has shown fantastic growth in resources and in its capacity to exchange and integrate data content. Image data providers, however, are increasingly challenged to cost-effectively publish larger volumes of imagery. We’ve seen rapid innovation in sophisticated image acquisition technologies for collecting ever larger volumes of high-resolution imagery. This, coupled with reduced budgets for acquiring that imagery, have severely impacted the ability of most image providers to publish the data they collect.

A new business model based on collaborative frameworks is changing this trend and may revolutionize how we access and exchange geospatial data. Collaboration based on open standards will have profound and positive economic impact on image providers, large and small. With collaborative publishing, each partner can maintain intellectual property rights to their imagery while sharing access based on secure access control rules implemented in their web services.

The combined pressures of organizations facing small budgets and big publishing problems have caused the emergence of an interesting business model: the Imagery Collaborative (IC). These collaboratives are groups of small to medium-sized organizations, governmental and non-governmental, getting together and cooperating to share the costs of collecting, maintaining, and publishing the data their customers require. Structured this way, the IC can afford the resources necessary to hire planes, task satellites and host the acquired imagery. Collaboratives may be global in scope or they may be focused around the needs of a single state, province, country, or even specific market segments. Research communities who share common goals are also excellent candidates for the formation of imagery collaboratives. All that is required is a will to cooperate and share content. This implies a large enough overlap in requirements so that collaboration makes sense.

The Saskatchewan Geospatial Imagery Collaborative (SGIC) (FlySask2.ca), is one example of a growing number of geospatial data and services collaboratives in Canada. As their web page explains:

SGIC is a partnership of organizations sharing knowledge and costs relating to acquisition and use of remotely sensed satellite and aerial photographic imagery for mutual and public benefit.

SGIC provides free public viewing access to its basic imagery sets through a Public Web Mapping Client and OGC-Standard Web Map Services (WMTS, WMS). SGIC members receive access to additional functions and high-resolution imagery through the Members-Only access point.

The partners in SGIC are taking advantage of OGC's open standards and the other National Spatial Data Infrastructure standards and agreements developed over the years by GeoConnections, the national partnership initiative led by Natural Resources Canada. SGIC's member list includes more than 30 organizations. Most are provincial and municipal government agencies, some are federal government organizations, NGOs and universities.

The three essential ingredients of such a collaborative model are 1) a common set of data service standards like those provided by the OGC to satisfy requirements of a diverse community of practitioners, 2) software products based on these standards, and 3) a Cloud infrastructure to reach a large audience at lower cost than what has been previously possible.

Benefits to image providers, their partners, and clients are the availability of more current imagery, more services and better solutions at much lower costs:

1) Publishing geospatial imagery (source data) at lower costs:

  • Costs associated with preparing, packaging and shipping geospatial data are considerably reduced or eliminated.

  • Effort and costs associated with purchasing equipment and preparing geospatial data for shipping are reduced or eliminated.

  • Management effort associated with the recovery of material costs for shipping geospatial data are reduced or eliminated.

  • Because single copies of data can be securely shared in a Cloud environment, costs incurred by all partners for replicating geospatial data from other data providers are considerably reduced or eliminated.

  • Data provider organizations offering their data for a price, or simply interested in off-loading the data transfer costs to clients, can use mechanisms similar to the “requestor-pays” model available from the Amazon AWS infrastructure. This allows Cloud providers to bill the requestor on behalf of the publisher. This mechanism also allows for both the monetized and free distribution of very large data-sets, traditionally bottle-necked by ftp servers.

  • In general with the Cloud, geospatial data can be exchanged at much lower costs.

2)    Deploying robust and efficient Imagery services at lower costs:

  • Using a Cloud infrastructure for deploying Geospatial services is relatively easy, but we recommend maintaining a focus on process efficiencies. There are risks in hiding current software inefficiencies behind the availability of large Cloud computing resources; this could have the negative effect of higher costs for data publishers and/or their partners and in some cases all users of the system.  

  • Partners pay only for the computer resources required to service their clients. They retain the flexibility to scale their systems up and down at any time.

  • Partners select OGC-compliant software products that have demonstrated a certain level of performance and scalability.

3)    Deploying innovative and collaborative geospatial solutions can be realized by using software products based on OGC standards. Benefits may include:

  • Ability to serve content by accessing a greater variety of imagery services from partner providers. Each partner can benefit from significant cost reductions by only serving their own data. This will have a positive economic impact for each imagery and service provider.

  • Additional cost reductions are realized by streamlining manual image production processes. For example, imagery can be directly pushed to a Cloud provider site by data collectors as soon as it has been collected and/or orthorectified.  Notifications can be sent to the data administrator and at the push of a button the map service can be kept up-to-date.

  • Additional benefits can be realized by deploying near real-time imagery services. Uploading a 300 MB image online to an imagery service at a Cloud provider site takes less than 2 minutes. It would take only 10 seconds to generate the required map tiles that would keep the OGC WMTS, WMS, WCS services up-to-date, regardless of the size of the image archive.

See Lisanne Powers "Collaboration part 3: The future of collaboration" in her January 8 2015 PCWorld blog post. The Cisco CEO's predictions about collaboration that she writes about have proven true in the geospatial world. The OGC is a collaboration forum in which many companies come together to help the industry provide what users need. Users are discovering that the open standards produced in OGC's collaboration forum provide them with a remarkable and welcome new set of collaboration opportunities.