FAQs - OGC's Purpose and Structure

  1. What is the Open Geospatial Consortium?
  2. What does OGC do?
  3. What problem is OGC attempting to solve?
  4. What are some difficult activities that OpenGIS Specifications will make easy?
  5. Why is the OGC necessary?
  6. Does OGC promote free software and free data?
  7. What are the roles of the OGC Board of Directors, Planning Committee and Technical Committee?
  8. Why does OGC often use the words "geospatial" instead of "geographic," "geoprocessing" instead of "GIS," and "services" instead of "software?"
  9. Why should an individual take Individual Membership in the OGC?
  10. What does "OGC compliant" mean?
  11. What is the OGC's position on "Open Data"?
  12. What CAN an OGC member do and what MUST an OGC member do"?
  13. Where is the list OGC related acronyms?
  14. What do “implement”, "comply" and  “conform” mean in the context of an "OGC compliant product?"
  15. How do I change the contact(s) on a compliant product? 


A: OGC is a consortium of companies, NGOs, research organizations, agencies and universities with a common vision in which everyone benefits from geographic information and services made available across any network, application, or platform. OGC is organized as a tax-exempt "membership corporation," as defined in section 501(c)(6) of the US tax code. The mission of the OGC is to promote the development and use of advanced open systems standards and techniques in the area of geoprocessing and related information technologies. OGC is supported by Consortium membership fees and, to a lesser extent, development partnerships and publicly funded cooperative programs.

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A: OGC manages a global consensus process that results in approved interface and encoding standards that enable interoperability among and between diverse geospatial data stores, services, and applications. In the OGC, geospatial technology users work with technology providers. Our membership is international and includes universities, Federal government agencies, local government agencies, earth imaging vendors, content providers, database software vendors, integrators, computing platform vendors and other technology providers. OGC facilitates their reaching agreement on OGC standards for interfaces, encodings, schemas and architectures. Systems implementing OGC standards can interoperate, whether those systems are running on the same computer or the same network or are distributed across the globe. OGC standards provide essential infrastructure for the Spatial Web, a network of geospatial resources that is thoroughly integrated into the Web.

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  1. The need to share and reuse geospatial content in order to decrease costs (avoid redundant data collection), get more or better information, and increase the value of legacy data holdings.
  2. The need to choose the best tool for the job, and to reduce technology and procurement risk (i.e., the need to avoid being locked in to one vendor).
  3. The need for more people with less training to benefit from using geospatial content in more applications: That is, the need to leverage investments in software and content.

These three classes of user needs suggest the following more specific needs:

  1. The need for users to have access to geospatial content without copying and converting whole data sets. This includes:
    • The need for passing data and instructions between different vendor software platforms. 
    • The need to easily use geospatial content available in various data models, formats and coordinate systems. 
    • The need to visually integrate map displays from different data servers. 
    • The need to find and evaluate content and services held in other locations. 
    • The need to understand and overcome the differences between different content models.
  2. The need to have the pieces of a solution work together. This includes:
    • The need to add or replace a capability in a current system, regardless of vendor, with minimal integration costs, and have it work seamlessly.
    • The need to understand the interoperability requirements of application domains and define architecture profiles and application design strategies for each.
    • The need to integrate geoprocessing Web services with mainstream Web services, and to develop "loosely coupled systems" using network-resident services.
  3. The need to enable geoprocessing in the World Wide Web's open architecture. This includes:
    • The need to follow common best practices, to create 'reusable' content and components. Once users have geoprocessing, they want their systems to work together. Once their systems work together with other systems on the open network, new opportunities/needs arise that require a standards foundation:
    • The need to organize and fuse geospatial content with related text and on video, audio, and other media.
    • The need to access and process on-line sensor observations from multiple sources.
    • The need for Location Based Services that are portable across devices, networks, and providers.
    • The need to apply different symbology to the same content for different applications.
    • The need to take advantage of grid computing for geoprocessing applications.
    • The need for standards supporting e-commerce in spatial data and services.

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  • Geospatial content should be easy to find, without regard to its physical location.
  • Once found, geospatial content (and services) should be easy to access or acquire.
  • Geospatial content from different sources should be easy to integrate, combine, or use in spatial analyses, even when sources contain dissimilar types of data (raster, vector, coverage, etc.) or data with disparate feature-name schemas.
  • Geospatial content from different sources should be easy to register, superimpose, and render for display.
  • Special displays and visualizations, for specific audiences and purposes, should be easy to generate, even when many sources and types of content are involved.
  • It should be easy, without expensive integration efforts, to incorporate into enterprise information systems geoprocessing resources from many software and content providers.

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Standardization is the reason for the success of the Internet, the World Wide Web, e-Commerce, and the emerging wireless revolution. The reason is simple: our world is going through a communications revolution on top of a computing revolution. Communication means "transmitting or exchanging through a common system of symbols, signs or behavior." Standardization means "agreeing on a common system." Someone needs to set standards to help people publish, discover, display, and use digital geospatial data. It serves both providers and users of geospatial technology to have an international, open, inclusive standards-setting process.

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It is important not to confuse "open source" with "open standards." They are entirely different. The special licenses that govern use and sale of open source software exist not to ensure profits to the software`s owner, but to ensure that the software`s source code remains in the public domain (free to all), though companies are allowed to sell products that include some or all of the source code. Open source software is usually developed not by a single company but by a distributed, informal team of developers. Open source software developers use OGC standards for the same reasons commercial developers use them: to make their products interoperate with others.

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The OGC Planning Committee is composed mainly of Principal and Strategic Member representatives. The Planning Committee provides guidelines and a management structure for OGC's Technical Committee and Interoperability Program. The Planning Committee is charged with business planning for OGC as well as management of the consortium's technology release process and strategic member programs. The OGC Planning Committee approves special negotiated memberships and committee participation.

The Technical Committee (TC) is where the formal standards consensus process occurs. The Technical Committee is comprised of a number of working groups (WGs). These WGs provide a forum for discussion of key interoperability issue areas, discussion and review of specifications, and presentations on key technology areas relevant to solving geospatial interoperability issues. The primary service of the TC is the processing and adoption of OpenGIS Specifications (which are often drafted in OGC testbeds). The TC is also responsible for the maintenance and revision of OGC's adopted specifications. The Technical Committee is organized to focus on both general and domain-specific specification development.

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  • "Geographic" is the right word for graphic presentation -- maps -- of features and phenomena on or near the Earth's surface. "Geospatial" (or "spatial") also refers to data about Earth features and phenomena, but the data are not necessarily graphically presented. Many geoprocessing applications do not involve a human-readable map on a display.
  • "GIS" (Geographic Information System) is just one of many technologies used to create, manage, store, analyze and display geospatial data. "Geoprocessing" is more inclusive, referring to GIS and also to systems for Earth imaging, navigation, facilities management, digital cartography, Location Based Services, spatial database operations, and surveying and mapping. OGC addresses all of these.
  • "Service" refers to a processing task that is invoked by a client software component and executed by a server software component, usually across a network. Much of the current work in OGC involves geoprocessing via the IT industry's Web Services standards framework. The OGC standards that make this possible are referred to as "OGC Web Services".

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An "OGC compliant" software product has passed an OGC compliance test under direct OGC supervision and the product vendor has paid a trademark license fee to OGC. The vendor then has the right to use the “Certified OGC Compliant” service mark shown in Figure 1. Vendors may not legally claim that a product is “OGC compliant” unless the product has passed a compliance test under OGC supervision and the license fee has been paid.

A vendor can implement an OGC standard in a software product, test their implementation to their satisfaction using the online OGC compliance test, and then legally claim that their product implements that standard. Such products are "OGC implementing products".

Many vendors have implemented OGC standards in their products and many of these products are “OGC compliant” as defined above. To help buyers, most vendors offering OGC compliant products and vendors offering OGC implementing products register their products on the OGC “Implementing” page (http://www.opengeospatial.org/resource/products).

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The OGC embraces open data as well as other models for data distribution and access. The OGC standards framework must support a broad range of policy positions on the access to and distribution of geospatial data, and we are supportive of all models for open access, licensed data, secure distribution, etc. Policies on access and distribution of geospatial and other forms of data are constantly in flux. The OGC standards framework is intended to allow flexibility such that data sets restricted for distribution for reasons of security, pricing and/or licensing can be opened up for free access at another time. Changing market forces and organizational policies determine the rules for data access and distribution. Open standards, including those of the OGC, support the full range of business models, and a common open standards framework is vital to the overall geospatial data marketplace.


The Benefits of OGC Membership page describes what OGC members can do to benefit from membership, and the Membership Levels & Fees page describes the options available at various OGC membership levels.

To gain the full value of membership, all members should do the following:

  1. Attend at least one quarterly Technical Committee (and in some cases Planning Commitee) meeting per year.
  2. Register interested organizational staff on the OGC Portal.
  3. Identify all Domain Working Groups and Standards Working Groups of interest and subscribe to those groups' listservs.
  4. Vote in the Working Groups.
  5. Pay the annual fee on time to avoid interruption of service.
  6. Voice ideas and concerns about standards and related documents that may be of concern to the member.
  7. Understand OGC Policies & Procedures and contact OGC staff with any unanswered questions about process.

To gain the full value of membership, members at the Technical Committee level and above should also

  1. Exercise their vote in the Technical Committee and Planning Committee as appropriate.
  2. Submit a voting proxy if no member representative plans to attend a TC/PC meeting.

To gain the full value of membership, members at the Principal level and above should also take advantage of their ability to offer Individual and Associate one-year memberships to universities, research organizations and commercial provider organizations to support these entities' participation in OGC-related activities.


A: Here is the list of OGC-related acronyms.

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A: We will provide first definitions, then recommendations, and finally links:

Implement: When we say that a product implements an OGC standard, we mean that an organization has developed a software product and claims to fulfill the requirements defined in the standard. The product may or may not pass the test. The developer may register the product at OGC's implementation products public database.

Conform: The OGC Compliance Program uses as its foundation ISO 19105:2000 Geographic information - Conformance and testing. Section 3.8 defines conformance as fulfillment of specified requirements. For OGC this means that: 1) a specific software product has passed the test that evaluates the fulfillment of requirements of a standard and 2) the developer organization has acquired the license to use OGC certification marks.

Compliance: Same as Conformance.


  • It is better to say that a product "complies with an OGC standard" than to say the product "conforms to an OGC standard".
  • If an organization doesn’t have the OGC mark for a particular software product and particular OGC standard, the organization can say that their product "implements an OGC standard".

Additional Resources:

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A: The new contact should create an account in the implementation database at http://www.opengeospatial.org/resource/products/registration and then notify compliance [at] opengeospatial.org of the change.  We’ll take care of the rest.

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