OGC History (abbreviated)

Early success of GIS led to a problem no vendor could solve alone

By the mid-1980s, geographic information system (GIS) software was heavily used in the natural resources and defense domains, especially within government agencies. Other market sectors, such as state and local government, civil engineering, transportation and business marketing were seriously exploring the technology. The future looked bright, but there were frustrations brewing among users.

Users liked the power and potential of the new mapping and spatial analysis tools. However, the expensive software's limited extensibility and flexibility and inability to share geospatial data between systems caused severe frustration. Users were forced to use inefficient, time consuming and error-prone data transfer methods.

While several commercial GIS products were available, for a variety of reasons related to funding, some agencies developed their own GIS software. Late in the 1970s, the US Fish and Wildlife Service contracted for the development of MOSS (Map Overlay and Statistical System), an open source vector GIS that was used in many U.S. Department of Interior agencies and in a number of state and local governments. In the early 1980s, a raster GIS, GRASS (Geographic Resources Analysis Support System), was developed at the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers' Construction Engineering Research Laboratory (CERL). The Corps of Engineers, U.S. Department of Agriculture Soil Conservation Service, and National Park Service standardized on GRASS and it was used in universities around the world. GRASS took advantage of the openness of the UNIX environment and the internet and became one of the first global open source software projects. Coordinated by CERL, developers from around the world contributed code. GRASS was successfully integrated with other public domain spatial, statistical and imaging analysis packages.


A major setback leads to an ultimately successful path.

The Corps, despite receiving a congressional award for its GRASS initiative, had to transition the project to the private sector because of other considerations. Leaders of the GRASS community, led by multiple public sector agencies, needed support from the private sector for the software to effectively support users in government, industry, and academia. In 1992, the GRASS user community formed a non-profit organization -- the Open GRASS Foundation (OGF) -- chartered to stimulate private sector support for GRASS and create a consensus-based membership process for management of GRASS community affairs.

With the demand for more software choices, better and faster integration,and a speedier procurement process, the GRASS group focused on the issue of cooperative planning and facilitation of interoperable geoprocessing. Instead of focusing solely on open source software, the group aimed to create a process that might (1) make more commercial as well as non-commercial geoprocessing choices available in the marketplace, (2) act as a sounding board for the user community to articulate its requirements to the developer community, and (3) speed up procurement by aligning the needs of the users with the product plans of the vendors. GRASS, though free, modular, and maintained in a process driven by user input, did not provide a full interoperability solution. It had an open data format, but that was not sufficient to enable interoperability with other software packages. The OpenGIS Project, which preceded the formal launch of the Open GIS Consortium, Inc. (OGC) in 1994 (now the Open Geospatial Consortium), defined (with the participation of the principal MOSS developers) a vision of diverse geoprocessing systems communicating directly over networks by means of a set of open interfaces based on the "Open Geodata Interoperability Specification" (OGIS).

OGC was founded with eight charter members at the time of its first Board of Directors meeting on September 25, 1994. These members were Camber Corporation, University of Arkansas - CAST, Center for Environmental Design Research at the University of California – Berkeley, Intergraph Corporation, PCI Remote Sensing, QUBA, USACERL (US Army Corps of Engineers Construction Engineering Research Laboratory), and USDA Soil Conservation Service. Intergraph was OGC's first commercial Principal Member.

From 1994 to 2013, the membership has grown from 20 to more than 475 government, academic, and private sector organizations. Traditional GIS vendors are involved, along with technology integrators, data providers, and companies at the cutting edge of location services.

Liaisons with other standards, professional and educational organizations have been established and maintained.

OGC has always been a worldwide organization, concerned with global outreach and education as much as with standards development. Though founded in the US, the OGC now has more members in the US than in North and South America.

In the early years, OGC engaged the major GIS companies and some major user agencies in a consensus process to define and agree to the details of the OpenGIS Abstract Specification. OGC has continued to make progress, from the OGC Standards Program's first approved implementation standard in 1997 and the first OGC Interoperability Program testbed (Web Mapping Testbed) in 1999 to today's broad array of standards and initiatives. More than thirty-five approved OGC implementation standards are now freely available to address the challenges that were identified at OGC's founding and many other challenges that have been identified since then. The real measure of OGC's success is that these standards, which collectively comprise a platform for interoperability, have been implemented in hundreds of commercial and open source geoprocessing products and are being implemented in communities and organizations around the world. Today OGC standards are key elements in the geospatial communication interfaces, encodings and best practices for sensor webs, location services, Earth imaging networks, climate models, disaster management programs and national spatial data infrastructures around the world. To ensure consistency across the Internet and Web ecosystem, the OGC has alliance partnerships with many other standards development organizations and industry associations, who work closely with the OGC on a wide range of topics such as Indoor/Outdoor location integration, sensor fusion, urban modeling, location based marketing, aviation, meteorology, the Internet of Things, Points of Interest and the Semantic Web.

Click here for a more detailed history of OGC.