About Geospatial Standards


Background

As the use of geographic information becomes more widespread, the geospatial community is looking toward the institution of standards to guide the production of accurate, accessible and affordable data. However, the use of community-wide standards is sometimes controversial. Short-term costs may be incurred, benefits may appear hazy and organizations may be reluctant to change long-standing ways of doing business. In the long-run, however, standards cut costs, reduce repetitious data collection and make inter-organizational communication far easier.

Cost-effective computing systems and access to current, reliable information depend on the ability to transfer, evaluate, and document data resources and system capabilities. Standards enable these functions. Without standards, many necessary activities and tasks would be difficult, time-consuming or unproductive.

Standards: Already a Common Necessity

Standards are so common and necessary that they are often not noticed, even when they affect familiar areas of our lives, for example:

  • Cash cards: Automatic teller machine standards allow people to use a single card to obtain cash in the local currency around the world.
  • Road signs: National standards for road signs keep drivers and pedestrians safe.
  • Safety gear: Manufacturers follow voluntary standards in producing bicycle helmets and other safety gear that guarantee the products will perform as expected.
  • Geographic information: A federal standard, the Content Standard for Digital Geospatial Metadata, helps GIS developers describe the data they create, increasing the data's value by making them easier to share.

 

Adoption and compliance

Developing standards involves creating consensus among diverse, diffuse groups. Organizations with a significant investment in one way of doing business will promote their solution, but standards are useful only if they are adopted by a wide variety of organizations. Adopting standards is as much a public relations challenge as a technical one. Information about the existence, implementation, and benefits of standards must be widely available. The work of the Standards Committee of the Minnesota Governor's Council on Geographic Information focuses on understanding how standards are created and making information about important new standards readily available.
 

Costs of Using Standards

The costs of complying with standards can include:

  • Purchasing new software or equipment
  • Modifying applications or procedures
  • Developing training programs
  • Replacing existing data

With careful planning and incremental implementation, however, many of the costs of standards can be minimized. New equipment is usually unnecessary; the need to modify applications and procedures and develop training programs can be limited by sharing data profiles and determining what portion of a standard applies; and standards that require replacing existing data can often be adopted on a "from this day forward" basis in the capturing of new data.
 

Costs of Not Using Standards

The need for standards is not always apparent in a narrow cost-benefit analysis, but the costs of not using standards can be great. An inability to share data or communicate with other organizations because systems or formats differ wastes time, effort and money. Typical problems include the need to coordinate incompatible data and recollect existing data for each functional system and for each generation of a system.
 

What Can You Do to Make Standards Work?

  1. Move existing data and systems into compliance incrementally, as you upgrade or create new data.
     
  2. Use existing standards whenever possible so you can learn from others, save time and avoid mistakes.
     
  3. Tell vendors what you want. Many times, standards are most easily implemented when vendors include them as part of their package. Vendors generally respond if enough customers request that standards be included.
     
  4. Get involved with state and national standards efforts to help ensure that new standards will meet your needs and be easy for you and others to use.

 

Organizations Working to Develop Standards:

Federal Geographic Data Committee (FGDC)
703-648-5514
703-648-5755 (fax)
Contact form: www.fgdc.gov/contact-info
www.fgdc.gov