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About Geospatial Standards


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:


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 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:

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)
Contact form:



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