With GeoMaritime this week, it seemed appropriate to share my views on the process of validation and real world usage of GML based exchange products – S100 is shaping up to be the interoperability shot in the arm for the maritime industry, but it is just the start.

The IHO and S100

The International Hydrographic Organisation (IHO) is an intergovernmental consultative and technical organisation established in 1921 to support the safety of navigation, and to contribute to the protection of the marine environment. One of its primary roles is to establish and maintain appropriate standards to assist in the proper and efficient use of hydrographic data and information. In terms of S100, the Transfer Standard Maintenance and Applications Development Working Group (TSMAD DWG) was established over 10 years ago and is a subsidiary of the IHO Hydrographic Services and Standards Committee (HSSC).  The objective of the TSMAD is to:

a)     Maintain, develop and extend:

  1. the S-57 IHO transfer standard for digital hydrographic data;
  2. the S-100 IHO Geospatial Standard for Hydrographic Data;
  3. the S-101 IHO ENC Product Specification;

b)    To monitor the development of other related international standards.

S-100 is intended to support a wide variety of hydrographic-related digital data sources, products, and customers. This includes, but is not limited to, imagery and gridded data, 3-D and time-varying data (x, y, z, and time), and new applications that go beyond the scope of traditional hydrography into value added services such as voyage efficiency management and fleet management.

Conformance with the ISO/TC211 standards will enable the use of commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) software applications and provide basic interoperability at the open standards level, however, as has been discovered in other domains such as aviation, the adoption of open standards is just the start of a long journey towards true interoperability.  The need for usage profiles of exchange standards as well as domain specific extensions has been understood in the Defence and aviation domains, which over time, has resulted in varying vendor support and an ever increasingly complex landscape.  Understanding interoperability at the business process level and how the information provided within a digital product can be validated and actually used is a vital part of the process of verifying and improving a digital exchange product – overcoming the complexity.  The questions to ask the maritime community are: How do users and systems actually align with and make the most of this information?  How can the new digital product be validated, its integrity known and be made available to the system and end user in a form that can be understood?

Gaining Wide Stakeholder Engagement and Support

Digital information and intelligence products can only be judged as fit for purpose when they have been assessed as part of a real world business process – including domain specific use cases with software vendors, standards stakeholders as well as National and International domain bodies involved.  While there are clear benefits from basic standards interoperability through S100 utilising the ISO/TC211 family, this is not enough to provide the business process level interoperability and flexibility required for the added value services described previously.

At this point it might be apposite to draw some lessons and inspiration from the aviation domain.  Aviation information and intelligence products such as exchange models (AIXM, FIXM and WXXM) as well as GML usage profiles, extensions and business rules based information validation and interoperability test beds have all been used to prepare the ground and support the development of next generation air traffic management systems in Europe and the US.  OGC working groups such as the Aviation Domain Working Group (DWG) have facilitated and enabled a healthy constructive engagement process between the leading (sponsoring) stakeholders such as Eurocontrol and the FAA with academia and industry.  Not surprisingly, some of the problems in the aviation domain are similar to those in the maritime – increasing traffic and rising fuel costs provide a more challenging operating environment in both domains.  Adopting open standards for information exchange increases the likelihood of vendor support and therefore increases competition, reducing costs to the industry as well as adding opportunity for greater innovation.

Prototyping the future of Maritime Information and Intelligence Exchange

The lessons, processes adopted and methods exploited in the aviation domain to date represent an excellent opportunity that could be copied and exploited for S100 derived products in the maritime domain – the OGC Web Services initiatives have also been shown to provide a 3:1 ratio of research bang to sponsor provided buck.  The OGC Meteorology & Oceanography DWG, the TSMAD and government bodies such as the UK Hydrographic Office (UKHO) have an opportunity to get more involved and coordinate, run and sponsor respectively a OGC initiative thread (or adopt an equivalent model) to more efficiently realise the benefits of validated product designs, exchange patterns and real world usage of maritime digital information and intelligence.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Chartered Engineer with the IET and Principal Consultant with Snowflake Software Ltd, Alexis James Brooker is based in the UK, with extensive experience of technical project delivery, business development and consulting in the software and open standard web services domain. Alex’s current business development role spans the Defence and Maritime sectors of Snowflake’s business.

You can follow Alex on twitter @alexisbrooker or search for him on LinkedIn and G+