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University & Research
Since 1994, the OGC has provided an open forum for technology users and technology providers to influence new open standards. Researchers in universities and in government and private research centers have been among the visionaries in the OGC, maturing solutions to help spatially enable the information infrastructure. Government and industry players have seen the value of working with research organizations on standards development challenges, collaborating to assure that OGC standards support the rapid transfer of research results into broader application. Universities have also been motivated by the fact that OGC standards make geodata more useful in many academic areas related to climate change, deteriorating infrastructure, sustainable development, security threats and accelerating urbanization. Universities also participate in OGC because they recognize that knowledge of geospatial standards helps equip students for the job market.
The OGC consensus process offers research organizations many opportunities to form partnerships with and provide services to companies and government agencies. OGC standards have become an imperative in business and government, but some OGC standards and candidate standards and some new applications pose problems that require particular expertise and imagination. OGC Web Services enable "connecting the dots" in new ways between different kinds of information systems and different application domains. In many such cases, the strategic agendas of technology providers and users at the "bleeding edge" of technology are well served by institutes and university researchers who have the focus, intellectual energy and spirit of innovation to provide pre-market development services. In some cases, funding agencies see standards expertise as a requirement to accelerate practitioners' application of new knowledge or technology. Universities can also play a key role in, and profit from, start-up companies that bring new technologies to market.
The OGC's Sensor Web Enablement SWE effort is a good example of these benefits. SWE began as a NASA-funded university effort that was brought into the OGC where multiple university, government and private sector players have worked together developing the standards, bringing them through the member approval process, and finally deploying them in applications. Small businesses were started by researchers who helped develop the SWE standards. Major corporations embarked on important deployment projects, hiring individuals and companies who helped in SWE development. Important user domains, most notably the Ocean Observing community, have embraced SWE standards and are using the OGC process to extend the standards for their purposes. Similar market development has begun in other areas, including Building Information Models, semantics, geospatial rights management, grid computing and workflow management. In an area that ties many of these things together, the OGC is heading up architecture development for the Global Earth Observation System of Systems (GEOSS). Many universities are participating in this international effort, and as GEOSS materializes it will likely lead to many more opportunities and benefits for researchers.
Trends in technologies and standards
Despite technology market ups and downs, virtually all types of information and communication technology products and services continue to become increasingly capable and affordable. Meanwhile, vigorous consensus standards organizations like the OGC are providing the interoperability that enables these proliferating systems and components to be "converged," increasingly as decentralized "loosely coupled" services that interact and interoperate in an ad-hoc manner.
Opportunity lies in the boundless permutations, the possible combinations and chainings of systems and components that provide simulation and modeling, visualization, grid computing, geosemantics, data quality management, sensor webs, search, rights management, time series, security, building information models, workflow and other capabilities. Rampant technology convergence creates complicated new problems that manifest as opportunities for universities and research organizations focused on geospatial interoperability. In this environment, research organizations, even small university departments, can make important contributions. Often the opportunities emerge in the OGC Interoperability Program's testbeds, pilot projects and interoperability experiments, whose sponsors seek help in solving such problems by means of more highly evolved standards.
Trends in research funding and policy priorities
The research opportunities described above are driven by both commercial requirements and societal needs. Major public sector and private sector players are looking for research partners in areas such as urban planning, traffic management, environmental monitoring, real estate, emergency management, building information models, defense and civil protection, climate and Earth system studies, epidemiology, biodiversity and hydrology.
The financial crisis does not change the fact that companies need to refine their information technology strategies to stay competitive. And in many countries, including the US, there is a political and economic environment in which federal and national governments look favorably on cyberinfrastructure improvements that support a wide variety of science, technology, environmental, transportation, energy and security initiatives. In Europe, INSPIRE has advanced to the stage where funding is becoming available for geospatial projects of many kinds. The governments of China and India, too, recognize the value of geospatial data and technology in managing development and development's attendant environmental problems.
As more government and private sector offices begin producing and hosting data, and as the Web becomes the dominant delivery mechanism, Spatial Data Infrastructures (SDIs) become increasingly useful to enterprises and governments. The OGC's current work in sensor webs, rights management, workflow, service chaining, geosemantics and other areas will further support SDI development, leading to more opportunities for researchers to help companies and governments provide better service at lower cost by applying geospatial technologies.
Another policy trend to watch is "open access" in science. Dr. Harold Varmus, a new co-chair of the US President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST), advocates open access journals, open data and open source software. Research funders worldwide are faced with analyzing the benefits and difficulties of making geospatial data Web-discoverable and Web-accessible for multiple uses, including cross-disciplinary and longitudinal studies, validation of results and use by multiple agencies. The main difficulties could conceivably be overcome by standards - under development in the OGC - that facilitate management of geospatial rights, data quality and data provenance. The falling cost of Web hosting and the demand for maximizing return on investment in government programs create impetus for open access.
Trends in geospatial education
Traditional GIS training does little to prepare young researchers and practitioners for the challenges described above. Geospatial interoperability is not an established field: it has not yet built up a persistent body of knowledge, which is apparent in the lack of textbooks and course materials. Universities recognizing this dilemma formed the OGC University Working Group, and some initiatives for sharing course ideas and materials now exist. However, university departments in fields such as software engineering, artificial intelligence, spatial cognition and geomatics need to sort out their roles, as do geographers, geologists, climatologists, biologists, etc. The need for innovation and reform is evidenced by curriculum changes put in place in the last few years by many of the OGC's university members. The OGC and the OGC Interoperability Institute (OGCii) will continue to advocate for increased funding for geospatial interoperability research.
The members, staff and board of directors of the OGC encourage universities and other research organizations to consider participation in the OGC. Our goal is to continue to provide value to all our members, and the Consortium's mission is well served by the terrific synergies inherent in cooperation between our research, technology provider and technology user members.