ESRI input to Open GIS Consortium Specs. (September 1997)

The Open GIS Consortium, Inc. (OGC) has just released its OpenGIS Simple Features Specifications to the public at

The three OpenGIS Simple Feature specifications enable programmers to write application software using interfaces that give applications open access to heterogeneous geographic data sources on three distributed computing platforms: Microsoft's OLE/COM, the Object Management Group's CORBA, and SQL. OGC, an international consortium of more than 100 corporations, agencies and universities, coordinates collaborative development of the OpenGIS Specification and collaborative business development to support full integration of geospatial data and geoprocessing resources into mainstream computing.

unholy alliance

Three proposals developed by ESRI in cooperation with a dozen other leading geographic information system (GIS) and information technology (IT) industry vendors were reviewed and accepted by key members of OGC at the group's August meeting in Cambridge, England. The unified proposals represent an unprecedented collaborative effort by ESRI along with IBM, Informix, Intergraph, MapInfo, Microsoft, Netscape, Oracle, and others to develop interoperability specifications for geoprocessing software interfaces and services. Open application programming interfaces (APIs) will service requests from other vendors' clients and support real-time network access to diverse geographic information on major distributed computing platforms. The initiative grew out of a Request for Proposals developed by members of OGC, a consortium of more than 100 corporations, government agencies, non-government organizations, and universities that support the full integration of geospatial data and geoprocessing resources into mainstream computing.

ESRI role

As members of the OGC Technical Committee, ESRI staff took an active role in working with other leading GIS vendors to reach an early consensus for a definition of the simple spatial features specification, which lays the foundation for future standard specifications, according to David Beddoe, ESRI's OGC representative. ESRI is the only company to participate technically in all three categories of proposals, noted Beddoe. The collaborative proposals, which relied substantially on ESRI technical designs, set the stage for the full integration of geoprocessing into widely available information technology.

ESRI played a key role in bringing together competing submissions for the SQL (ODBC) implementation strategies initiative, according to Jack Dangermond, president of ESRI. "We broke down the doors and worked together with competitors such as Intergraph and long-time partners such as IBM and Microsoft to share our technical designs," he said. "As a result, the whole industry will benefit from this extraordinary cooperation."


The collaborative SQL proposal, which reflects input from ESRI, IBM, Informix, MapInfo, and Oracle, offers several valid approaches for implementation across most mainstream computing scenarios," noted ESRI's Beddoe. "We are presenting them without favour for one over the other. Rather, the user can decide what is important given their infrastructure and staff knowledge." ESRI actively participated in the simple features submission for Microsoft's OLE/COM or DCOM platform. The proposal was put forth jointly by Intergraph, ESRI, and a number of other industry partners who have shown innovation in placing COM-standard products in the marketplace. Other members include Vision International (Autometric), Camber Corporation, Laser-Scan, MapInfo, and Smallworld Systems. Technical expertise and support were provided by Informix, Microsoft, and Oracle.

CORBA spec

ESRI was an active participant in the CORBA proposal jointly put forth by Bentley Systems, ESRI, Genasys II, Oracle, Sun Microsystems, and UCLA's Data Mining Laboratory. Technical support was provided by Netscape Communications. This well-publicized and in-use CORBA standard will serve many market segments seeking network-centered and object-based alternatives for distributed computing over enterprise networks and the Internet.

ESRI software may act as both "consumers" (clients) and "providers" (servers) of simple spatial features in the proposed OGC standards, noted Beddoe. Software such as ArcView GIS by ESRI will be "consumers" that can use OGC simple spatial features. Other software, such as ESRI's Spatial Database Engine (SDE), will be "providers" that can manufacture OGC simple spatial features. Many ESRI software programs will act as both a "consumer" and "provider" of these simple features.


Spatial interoperability is high on the "wish list" of the GIS community, according to Dangermond. "Data sharing will become easier for everyone, especially large businesses and government organizations that need to share vast amounts of spatial data from diverse sources," he said. "We want geospatial information to be a part of every computing environment." ESRI and other OGC member organizations are continuing to work together to set goals and outline strategies on topics such as the Internet, coverages definition (the next step beyond simple spatial features), and the formation of vertical special interest groups in areas such as defense, environment, finance, government, real estate, telecommunications, transportation, and utilities. More info from Lance McKee at the OGC (508) 655-5858 or

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