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Archive for November, 2011

South Africa hosted the 33rd ISO TC/211 in Pretoria in November this year. While it was wonderful to host this award winning committee, discussions with members of the South African geomatics community highlighted the reality of standards implementation in our country.

The work of ISO/TC 211, which is responsible for the ISO geographic information series of standards, is carried out by representatives from various organisations, international professional bodies and businesses. Our own Dr. Serena Coetzee (University of Pretoria) and Antony Cooper (CSIR) are actively involved in the work of ISO/TC 211 and do South Africa proud. However, the work of the ISO/TC 211 is viewed by some members of the South African geospatial community as being utopian and oblivious to the realities on the ground.

Sharing their experiences of standard implementation, GIS community members explained that some South African GIS departments are struggling to get the basics of GIS right and are unable to deal with the fancy footwork required of some ISO standards. There are stringent requirements to capture metadata for certain standards and this conflicts with the need to get the actual job at hand done. Furthermore, government departments are allocated budgets to provide deliverables and capturing metadata can get in the way of providing these deliverables.

In addition, there is the issue of who pays to implement standards. Some government departments and municipalities do not budget for the implementation of standards; their workflow being focused on project completion. These bodies are also under pressure to complete projects in order to ensure that funding is provided for the next financial year. When work falls behind schedule, as can often happen, the first thing to fall by the wayside are standards.

In standards-driven organisations such as Eskom, there are also issues with standards. Despite there being top-level support for standards implementation and use as well as budgets and time allocated for this as part of the work flow, these organisations still have to deal with individuals failing to follow prescribed standards.

Olaf Magnus Østensen, chair of  ISO/TC 211, acknowledges that the work of standards operating bodies is not being taken up as much as they would like. He added that standards are state of the art technology and require a certain level of competence and capacity for effective utilisation. Other members of the committee also acknowledge that some standards are not necessarily user-friendly.

Countering this, Antony Cooper suggested that more practitioners need to get involved in standards development as this will help to ensure that practical, useful standards are developed and that they are tested early in the development cycle. He also added that people need to understand the contextual framework of standards as this will help to determine which standards are useful to them.

At the end of the day though, it is clear that standards are beneficial – they reduce costs, improve efficiency and ensure quality data. However, where possible, standards need be more accessible and increased guidance during the implementation process is required.

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