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From Interoperability to Infrastructure

The OGC, ISO and many standards organizations have used "interoperability" as their key buzzword for some time. This is in spite of the fact that most spatial systems(GIS) can read one another's file formats, and in spite of the fact that the word is very hard to define. This makes me wonder whether the conversation should be so entirely focused on interoperability. I would argue that it should not. What is the alternative word and call to arms? I would argue that it is infrastructure – information infrastructure.

Of course, any focus on information infrastructure demands open standards. Imagine trying to build a water network if there were no standard pipe sizes, no standard fittings etc. It would be nearly impossible. Nonethless, imagine a world of plumbing standards that focused only on the vague objective of "this working with that", with such a conversation taking place largely outside the context of water systems, sewage systems etc. This would not be a fruitful direction. So open standards are needed, but we also need some infrastructure concepts to inform us as to what components are required (hence what sort of interfaces need to be defined), and to provide us a means or assigning priorities to those interface definitions. I am thus arguing not that we abandon the use of interoperability, but rather we have a balanced discussion employing interoperability and infrastructure.

To be fair, this conversation has started in the OGC, with the dicussion around SDI 1.0. So far, however, the discussion has been restricted to a small group of people, and focused on a two broad a range of issues. We would like to see the discussion of information infrastructures – their design, construction and deployment take center stage in the discussion.



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