Innovations and Standards

Contributed by: 
George Percivall

OGC, as a standards developing organization, provides a stable baseline for innovation. It could be perceived that innovation and standards are opposing ideas; in reality, the two ideas work together to prevent the extremes of stagnation and chaos: standards bring order to chaotic implementations of new ideas, additionally providing a baseline for new innovation to flourish. That innovation, in turn, feeds the creation of new and updated standards. One of the first computer scientists, Herbert Simon, in The Architecture of Complexity coined the heuristic that “complex systems will evolve much more rapidly if there are stable intermediate forms than if there are not.” Standards are those stable intermediate forms necessary for innovation and evolution.

This blog highlights several recent innovations in OGC processes: Changes in the OGC Innovation Program; Community Standards in the OGC Standards Program; and Geospatial Trends Tracking by the OGC Architecture Board. Further discussion of innovation in an agile environment will be the topic of a blog in the very near future by Dr. Luis Bermudez, the new Executive Director of OGC’s Innovation Program.

In 2014, the OGC Planning Committee adopted an ‘Innovation Statement’ that laid out how OGC must maintain its current standards while simultaneously addressing the evolution in technology and markets. While ensuring harmonization in OGC standards, OGC must simultaneously respond to the Christensen’s Innovators Dilemma. The OGC identified several actions to implement its Innovation Statement:

  • Extend or adapt the present baseline of OGC standards;
  • Recognize that new standards may overlap with or diverge from existing standards, along with guidance to evaluate among options;
  • Develop harmonization techniques (brokers, facades) for interoperability.

To frame a discussion about innovation and standards, consider this view of open standards development as developed by Mark Reichardt, OGC President:

Open Standards Development

  1. Based on competition in the marketplace, over time a specification emerges as a de facto standard in the market. The specification may be publicly available but it is owned and controlled by an entity as a ‘proprietary standard’ (e.g. Microsoft’s Word .doc).
  2. As the market develops, the owner of a proprietary standard may see value in ‘opening up’ their specification by assigning the intellectual property to a Standards Developing Organization (SDO). KML, as licensed to OGC by Google, is an example of what OGC now calls the Community Standards process.
  3. As an alternative to development by a single organization, a group of organizations may collectively identify the need for a standard and develop a specification in anticipation of its widespread use. The OGC WMS as developed in the OGC Innovation Program is an example of an ‘anticipatory standard’

Based on this framework, examples of the OGC process for innovation are described next.

The OGC Innovation Program, previously known as the Interoperability Program, provides a collaborative agile process for advancing new anticipatory standards. The first Innovation Program initiative was in 1999, when the Web Mapping Testbed took place and helped to develop the most popular OGC standard: the Web Map Service (WMS). Since 1999, another 95 initiatives have brought together sponsors and technology implementers to solve problems, produce prototypes, develop demonstrations, and write engineering reports that anticipate the needs of the sponsors and the marketplace.

The OGC Standards Program is now processing the first OGC Community Standards. This new process welcomes innovative specifications developed outside of the OGC. The process allows for a commonly-used specification, along with its intellectual property, to come in to OGC as a snapshot of that specification. The snapshot is then voted to become an OGC Community Standard. The process not only recognizes that innovation occurs in many communities, but also provides the visibility for future evolution of standards and provides a stable baseline of externally-developed standards for use in the OGC process.

To anticipate innovation, the OGC Architecture Board (OAB) has taken on a part of the OGC Innovation Statement by defining a process to track geospatial technology trends. The OAB monitors trends to identify technology gaps or issues related to the OGC baseline. The OAB Technology Trends process is used to establish innovation topics for several OGC activities: Future Directions sessions in the Technical Committee; Location Powers emerging technology summits; and prospective topics for initiatives in the OGC Innovation Program.

OGC has been developing innovative standards for over 20 years, but we have more to learn. Several excerpts from The Innovators book by Walter Isaacson provide a historical perspective on technology innovation on which OGC can build:

  1. The digital age may seem revolutionary, but it was based on expanding ideas handed down from previous generations.
  2. Innovation comes from teams more often than from lightbulb moments of lone geniuses.
  3. Most of the successful innovators and entrepreneurs had one thing in common: they were product people. They cared about, and deeply understood, the engineering and design.

We invite you to participate in the advancement of geospatial technologies based on open standards. Your contribution to OGC Innovation Initiatives by sponsoring new ideas or helping develop solutions and prototypes will save lives and make this world a better place.

If you have a question or comment on OGC’s approach to innovation, contact George Percivall, OGC CTO and Chief Engineer. gpercivall at ogc dot org.

Co-authors of this blog post include: Luis Bermudez, Scott Simmons and Terry Idol.