30 Sep

Company Spotlight: Open Geospatial Consortium

By Jordan Brennan

The Open Geospatial Consortium (OGC) is the largest formal international consortium of geospatial organizations. More than 500 businesses, government agencies, research organizations, and universities contribute to OGC’s mission of making geospatial  information and services Findable, Accessible, Interoperable, and Reusable (FAIR). Dr. Nadine Alameh, CEO and President of OGC, sat down for an interview with the American Geographical Society to discuss OGC’s mission and hopes for the future, as well as lend some insight into OGC’s current initiatives.

The Open Geospatial Consortium was first established in 1994, and is looking forward to celebrating their 30th anniversary in 2024. When asked how OGC has structured geography into their mission, Nadine needed only three words: “Everything is geospatial.” Nadine explained to AGS that she, along with the Board of Directors, works to provide a neutral, trusted forum for collective problem solving, leveraging OGC’s global community of geospatial experts, standards, and best practices. 

The world we know today is constantly being flooded with information, and thus, we have more data than ever – geospatial data in particular. From satellites in space, to internet companies collecting consumer data, to newly discovered scientific mapping, we may have more data than we know what to do with. Our inundation with data wouldn’t be a bad thing, however, if everyone knew how to access it and use it. With the increasing prevalence of disasters such as floods, wildfires, etc., and a lack of knowledge on how to grasp the data policymakers need to address these issues, lives are being lost and the costliness of such disasters are on the rise. This is why, Nadine explains, that what OGC is doing is so crucial. Although we live in an increasingly technical and data-driven world, with so much data floating around, it is (1) not easy to find, (2) not readily accessible, and (3) not easily integrated with other data sources. Thus, OGC has been providing the much needed foundation to ensure data accessibility is fair, while acting as a large umbrella network to easily connect data coming from the many different aspects of life. 

In terms of OGC’s current initiatives, Nadine told AGS that while it’s difficult to pick a specific favorite they’ve worked on, she’s particularly fond of their innovations in cloud data and the accessibility of geospatial information data. Making it possible for a non-geospatial professional to access and pluck out the data they need for a project in any field, without being an expert or having special software, is infused into OGC’s mission. Nadine also highlighted OGC’s work towards building a coordinate reference system of outer space, which will have far reaching impacts on future trips to space and how astronauts navigate their way through it. OGC has also made positive contributions on the disaster front, including their 2021 Disaster Pilot, and this year’s Climate Resilience Pilot, which they hope will help to create a “guidebook,” or foundation, for fair climate services. 

Last year, OGC teamed up with the Locus Charter, which proposes that a wider, shared understanding of the risks and solutions relating to uses of geospatial location data can improve standards of practice and help protect both individuals and the public interest. As this partnership develops, the American Geographical Society and OGC are excited to do their part in ensuring that location data is ethically and responsibly sourced, used, and implemented. 

For an organization like OGC, it can be hard to pin down where exactly the biggest impact is being made. This is because, put simply, they’re impacting everything – and on the largest scale we’ve ever seen. If one was to define Open Geospatial Consortium, Nadine proposes, “A collective problem-solving community of geospatial experts.” Since their inception, OGC has been recognized for their implementation standards, which are used by software developers to build open interfaces and encodings into their products and services. Nadine feels, however, that these standards only represent the “what” of what OGC provides. Eventually, she would like for OGC to be recognized not only by their standards, but by their impact on solving societal issues. Her mission is for OGC to one day become the home of all things geospatial – a hub where people can go to find not only the latest technology, innovations, products, and services, but also future partners, investors, and customers.