The OGC Process: How the Pieces Fit Together

From the outside the OGC may look like a whirlwind of activity. And, it is. But underlying all the committees, working groups, test beds and other OGC activities is a member-approved process that encourages collaboration among and between OGC members to define, document, and implement open standards that solve geospatial interoperability problems. The OGC exists to enable a fast, effective, inclusive, user-driven process to develop, test, demonstrate, and promote the use of geospatial information and services by using OGC® standards.

The OGC process is described below. To learn about the various ways in which non-members can participate, see our "OGC invites input" page.

The Beginning

The first step in the process is identifying an interoperability problem. OGC members identify specific interoperability problems: "We can't share maps on the Web." "We can't deliver data to different systems easily." "We don't have a common language to speak about our geospatial data or our services." "We can't find and pull together data from our automated sensors."

These problems come from industry, government and academia and span many, many topics. Through the OGC process, these issues are discussed and prioritized.

Crafting a Solution

Once an interoperability problem is identified, the members work together to define requirements for a new interface standard or enhancements to an existing OGC standard. These requirements drive how the membership will ultimately design an interface or encoding that solves the interoperability problem. There are several formal OGC processes that can be used.

One is for individual members or teams of members to work on their own and introduce candidate standards via the OGC Request for Comment (RFC) process. Another is to advance the solution as part of an Interoperability Program (IP) initiative. These initiatives feature a hands-on approach where technology is thrown into a "sandbox" (test bed or pilot initiative) where members rapidly prototype their ideas to come up with draft standards, implement technologies that use them, and/or validate the quality of their solutions in formal demonstrations. The third way is to open a work item focused on the interoperability problem within Working Groups that operate as part of OGC's Technical Committee, part of the Standards Program (SP). This approach is theoretical and deliberate, and relies on high-level discussion and document writing. The results of the first two processes, RFC and IP, end up in the SP too, as that is where the consensus process is applied to all candidate standards.

Interoperability initiatives – testbeds, pilot projects and interoperability experiments – mix large companies with small ones and bring together players from many different countries. The participants typically bring a variety of technologies and experiences, which contribute the whole. As draft standards are matured within the Interoperability Program, if the intent is to adopt them as OGC standards, they are brought into the OGC Standards Program where OGC's consensus process is used to advance draft standards toward formal adoption

Evaluating a Proposed Standard

No matter which process is used to define and document a candidate standard, all OGC members and ultimately the general public have a chance to comment on it, provide input, and suggest changes. Typically, OGC members work hard to harmonize that input. Members collaborate to insure all comments are considered and integrated into a final product: a draft standard that can be put to a formal member vote.

That work tends to pay off; nearly all of the candidate standards that make it to a vote are unanimously approved and become approved standards. That's not because members twist each other's arms in the vote, but because all of the issues have been dealt with beforehand. Once a standard is approved, it's made publicly available without cost on the OGC website.

Implementing Standards

Standards are simply engineering documents that describe how the OGC membership has agreed to solve an interoperability problem. Until these standards are made available in software products (commercial or otherwise), they do not solve the problem identified at the beginning of the process. That's why OGC doesn't end its work with an approved standard.

OGC's Marketing and Communications Program takes additional steps to help educate technology developers and those who use geospatial products about the benefits of products that use OGC standards. The goal is to encourage developers to include the standards in their products and software buyers to select products that do so.