GSDI 10 – Despite best intentions, slow progress but a new outlook ?

For the last 15 years the Global Spatial Data Infrastructure Association (GSDI) have been working hard to co-ordinate national and local governments, NGO’s, international institutions and other organisations to develop local, national, regional and then hopefully one day a global GIS database along with the polices to access it. Last week I attended and made a presentation to the GSDI’s 10th Conference in Trinidad.

GSDI 10 Conference

With our planet finally becoming recognised as a life giving infrastructure itself to mankind, such attempts to develop better management tools cannot really be argued against, however despite the best intentions of all those involved success so far has been limited.

Although I presented on the potential of Geoweb search as new technological development that is relevant to the creation of SDI’s, almost everybody agrees the technical challenges remain the most solvable, it is the organisational issues which restrict the sharing of geodata, and the complexity and therefore cost of developing national and regional SDI’s which are limiting progress.

Perhaps part of the issue is that SDI’s often appear to be “Grand Designs”, the results of many years planning to produce truly comprehensive infrastructures ready to support any potential national or international need, perhaps a better model would be to take a more evolutionary approach developing systems built around the existing open standards (the OGC’s role has very important here) to solve particular domain or thematic problems, which could be consolidated to form an SDI at a later date. For example you could imagine an international systems designed to monitor sea level change as a result of Global Warming.

Although it would be fair to argue that this is the preferred route to developing SDI’s there are few practical examples in operation today.

The Grand Design approach does introduce an additional issue which is technology related, many of the current SDI projects are planned to deliver over decades, with technological developments continuing to move rapidly, it is difficult to plan to implement using a technology which will be obsolete years before the infrastructure goes live.., as it is today the best available standards as drafted by OGC are moving from basic http interfaces to the more web services friendly SOAP based interfaces, while the leading edge is looking to REST based interfaces.

For technical architects this is an almost impossible design choice.

So we need to move away from the “Grand Design” approach and build SDI’s organically and simply, perhaps making use of the new Global infrastructures that companies like Google and Microsoft have made available to bootstrap the technology, and deliver faster benefits and to make the case for more in depth infrastructures at a later date.

After all have not all GSM networks grown out to provide national coverage from initially covering the urban centres where the need was greatest ?

The delegates I spoke to at the conference remain committed to the importance of the task, and I think are open to taking different approaches, I was very impressed to see Chris and Justin from the Open Planning Project run an afternoon workshop on GeoServer which provided an interesting contrast to the ESRI workshop held in the morning, ESRI incidentally have done a great job supporting the GSDI Association since its early days.

Written and submitted from home, using my home 802.11 network.

4 comments

  1. Ed

    Hi Sean,

    “an almost impossible design choice” is any technology that will be implemented in 10 years time…

    As to REST vs SOAP, I think I agree with you in seeing the benefits of REST, however the mainstream GI is still focused on the “new” technology of SOAP based web services, and are mostly unfamiliar with REST.. still this will hopefully change with the next release of ArcGIS..

  2. Adam Sliwinski

    Technology changes. What news! πŸ˜‰ But the past and current pace of change seems to fuel a never ending process inside many SDI projects. Instead of adapting a growing set of evolutionarily developed SDI components to be in line with stable technological inventions, it seems to me that the Grand Designeurs decided to take a one huge step by specifying everything in all possible detail before implementation and deployment can start. Some tiny prototypes here and there are of course possible and desirable. But I fear that they will do so as long as there is a risk that the produced documents may eventually become obsolete because of innovation. If this is true, than one is sure as hell: An operational SDI will start to emerge when technology stops to change. Dont know when this will happen… Maybe the expected recession will give the technology industry a chance to stop changing? πŸ˜‰

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