The MSC concludes that the NSDI needs to be improved if we are to succeed as a highly competitive nation. A great deal can be done to improve the infrastructure and recommendations are presented in Chapter 9 to do that.
In doing so, we admit that we have taken a federal perspective, caused by the fact that federal agencies fund the committee and hence get attention, and by the background of the committee members. We plan to address state, local, and private aspects more fully in a following report.
As previously stated, spatial information is in a period of transition between traditional paper records—mostly maps—and sophisticated digital data bases. These data bases will be increasingly important in a major paradigm shift in the next decade. Chapter 4 addresses issues associated with another step toward this new paradigm. In this chapter the MSC characterizes its vision of the new paradigm.
Briefly, this new paradigm enables the customer to specify, over a computer network, what kind of product is wanted rather than the present situation where sales of an existing product are advertised. Goods will be ordered and paid for electronically. A user will be able to drive down the street with a house you might purchase while sitting at a computer. Some are presently using services such as Prodigy© or Compuserve© to specify, for example, a subset of the Wall Street Journal to look at each evening in contrast to looking at the entire newspaper. Given these functions and many others that we cannot envision, we begin by describing the principles of and proposed enhancements to the NSDI.
IMPROVING THE NSDI
There are four critical principles that need to guide the development of the NSDI (after Dertouzos, 1991): availability, ease of use, flexibility, and a foundation for other activities.
The NSDI is a national strategy and is not designed to serve the interests of one level of government, one sector in society, or one geographical area. The data should be available through public networks that have maximum user capacity or other media (such as CD-ROM).
Ease of Use
Weiser (1991) notes that ''the most profound technologies are those that disappear. They weave themselves into the fabric of everyday life until they are indistinguishable from it." New generations of computer appliances and standard software will help to take the use of spatial data from the hands of the technical specialists. Accessing spatial data should become as easy as turning on a light switch: the complexity of networks, standards, and data base structures should be transparent to the user.
The NSDI cannot be dependent on the technology, data, or organizational structures of today; it must be able to anticipate and manage growth. It must cater to the needs of many different types of users and incorporate many types of data. If the potential dissemination of spatial data is to be realized, for example, then communication networks must be capable of handling a wide range of transmission speeds to accommodate everything from simple text to four dimensional animation.
Foundation for Other Activities
The infrastructure is not an end in itself but the means of realizing the value of spatial information. Its purpose is to foster and not to control new applications, services, and industries.
The components of the NSDI include the data bases (and metadata) and their sources, the spatial data networks and their users, the technology, the institutional arrangements, and the policies and standards required to coordinate all of the various parts (see Figure 3.1). The objective here is to sketch the NSDI components as background for the issues involved and development of a master plan.
Data Bases, Metadata, and Sources
Although many types of spatial data are now in digital format, conversion of the base data (e.g., topography and land tenure) has been costly and slow. In a national strategy, there is a need to identify priority data bases on the basis of a solid understanding of user requirements and the NSDI potential. Or as Dertouzos (1991) defines the problem:
". . .we, the designers and users of this information infrastructure, bear a serious responsibility: we must understand the value and role of information so that we may better channel our technological miracles into useful rather than frivolous, if not dangerous, directions."
Because the potential sources and users of the data will range from federal agencies to private local organizations, the priorities need to be determined in as wide an environment as possible and not controlled by one particular sector.
An important subcomponent will be the metadata and standard tools for geographical referencing. The development of directories incorporating these metadata is an important feature of a robust NSDI because it is necessary for all other applications. It is an achievable task in the short term, and nondigital or incomplete databases can be incorporated. Special tools for displaying and accessing geographically referenced information, such as electronic atlases, also will be important in the NSDI.
The networks are the highways linking data bases and users in the NSDI. This is not a vision of one coaxial cable running across America; in fact the networks are referred to as clouds, indicating a complex
configuration of communication media, data transmission schemes (e.g., packet switching), traffic control mechanisms, and gateways connecting different subnetworks (Cerf, 1991). For the NSDI, the objectives will include designing a network configuration that will provide flexibility (e.g., varying transmission speeds for different data formats), maximum national coverage and user accessibility, and the security and reliability required for various types of enquiries.
The NSDI network will be composed of many subsystems, including dedicated telephone lines, local area networks, integrated-services networks (ISDNs), and new communication systems designed to handle the increasing volumes of heterogeneous data. For example, Broadband ISDN is currently being investigated internationally by telephone companies as a means to provide a common network for all communication services and information, in contrast to the special networks now in use for different services such as voice, data, and video (Cerf, 1991).
The NSDI provides a conduit for data. There must be intelligent connections at each end, optimizing the management of the data bases at the source and maximizing the potential application of the data by users. In between there will be, for example, an array of common servers providing standardized information services to users, gateways and query languages regulating the data flow, and interfaces translating the data from one format at the source to another at the user's terminal.
Negroponte (1991) emphasizes that "the added intelligence at each node and at the ends of the network are what make the system work." One important trend will be new types of terminals (e.g., writing tablets and wall screens) that will be integrated into our lifestyles (Weiser, 1991). Other trends include open system architecture (Tapscott, 1991); a greater use of artificial intelligence in managing data, networks, and applications; and the use of groupware and easily transportable application software. As Tesler (1991) points out "software . . . will change more than any other element in the computing paradigm."
Whether the NSDI will be effective will depend more on institutional arrangements than on technology. Without coordination of many different
organizations and without leadership at the federal level, the NSDI will be reduced to a series of projects of limited value and lifespan. As has been demonstrated in previous ventures in spatial data sharing, organizational cooperation is the critical ingredient that will make or break the best devised plans.
The first steps will be to develop a common vision and to begin to build an organizational structure that can manage the construction and maintenance of the NSDI. Only then will it be possible to address the numerous legal, social, and financial issues that form the NSDI institutional environment.
Policies and Standards
Policies and standards are the heart of the NSDI and have an impact on all other components. Standards are the rules and common conventions that will allow data to pass from source to user. They will affect all levels of the infrastructure from technology and communication protocols to data content and use. Open system architecture will reduce the issues related to data exchange standards, but there are many other areas that will require agreement. In many cases standards will be set outside the NSDI by, for example, system vendors and network managers. Other standards, such as geographic referencing frameworks for data integration, must be specifically addressed in a spatial data context (e.g., Lee and McLaughlin, 1991).
Policies, whether formal or informal, establish the environment within which the NSDI will be developed and managed; they define the constraints and goals and somewhat delineate the means by which the goals will be achieved. There are numerous issues that need to be resolved, including the need for financial and political commitment. Some policies will be at the data and technical level and can largely be controlled by the organizations involved. Issues such as privacy and accountability need to be addressed within broader legal and political environments (e.g., Gore, 1991; Kozub, 1991).
The users are given separate mention here because, in the flurry of designing and implementing the NSDI, it will be easy to become immersed in the technology, concepts, and data. Users probably will be the most mentioned group and yet actually the least considered. Unless there are
user communities and unless the NSDI is changed to meet their needs (i.e., enables them to do something new or something they already do more easily or more cost efficiently), then the rationale for the NSDI falters (e.g., Weiser, 1991). That does not mean that all potential user groups or applications need to be identified, but it does mean that users be considered as part of the total infrastructure and that real rather than theoretical requirements are met.
A NEW STRATEGY
Given these principles and our findings, the MSC proposes a strategy for an enhanced NSDI. Table 8.1 outlines some of the key activities that should be included in such a plan.
There are several key activities that must be included in the NSDI. They are described briefly below but are not presented in a chronological or stage-by-stage manner because most activities will be both continuous and concurrent.
TABLE 8.1 Elements of a Strategy
• Obtain and maintain national commitment
• Evaluate requirements, constraints, and opportunities
• Evaluate the current status
• Determine priorities
• Develop coordination and organizational structures
• Assign roles and responsibilities
• Develop standards and policies
• Develop and monitor projects
• Identify and resolve the issues
Obtain and Maintain National Commitment
A continuing but strong commitment is needed at the outset. Commitment in terms of financing, policies, and resources must be obtained first at the federal level because it is a national strategy. However, it also will be important to convince policy makers and governments at other levels of the need for investment in the NSDI in the early organizational stages. Ongoing commitment will be as crucial as the initial enthusiasm. Although this will depend on economic, political, and other factors beyond the
control of the NSDI organizations, one objective of the NSDI should be to show tangible benefits in the early stages of development to demonstrate the feasibility and the value of the initiative.
Evaluate Requirements, Constraints, and Opportunities
The determination of the various requirements, constraints, and opportunities for an NSDI will involve on-going research with major investments in the initial stages. The research must cover local to global considerations and be concerned not only with data and technology requirements but also with the management and institutional needs and constraints.
Research needs to be done to evaluate the current status of inventories of data bases and sources, networks, and services together with their specific characteristics. In addition to providing a basis for determining priorities, if standardized and kept current, this inventory could be used to develop electronic directories. Once again, the evaluation should go beyond the technical and data level and look at organizations and other institutional concerns.
From the evaluations of the requirements and current status, the next step will be to determine priorities. These will include priority data bases to be included in the NSDI, priority issues that need to be resolved, and priority services that should be made available.
Develop Coordination Mechanisms and Organizational Structures
A wide range of options for coordinating bodies and structures to initiate and manage the NSDI development should be investigated. Included in this review should be examples from other countries that have national spatial data organizations, such as Australia, Canada, and Germany, as well as examples from other nationally based activities in the United States. The organizational structures should be able to evolve to accommodate the changing priorities and needs of the NSDI development.
Assign Roles and Responsibilities
The development of the NSDI will involve not only the public sector (e.g., departments and committees) and major private organizations (e.g., private network managers) but also academia and special organizations. The latter may, for example, represent special citizen interests, small businesses, vendors, and users such as environmental groups. One of the initial tasks within the organizational arrangements will be to define the role that all such parties will play and their specific responsibilities within the NSDI. At this stage the issue of private sector involvement must be addressed at a policy and management level.
Develop Standards and Policies
A continuation of current research and coordination initiatives, particularly at the federal level, this stage will be crucial in determining the data bases that can be part of the infrastructure and in developing the information marketplace.
Develop and Monitor Projects
Building the NSDI will involve projects designed for the NSDI specifically (e.g., a prototype spatial data network) and undertaken by external groups for other purposes (e.g., distributed networks in municipal or state governments). Internal projects will need coordination by the NSDI organizations; mechanisms will also be required to identify and monitor external projects to determine their impact on the NSDI.
Identify and Resolve Issues
A coordinated research strategy should be designed to identify and propose solutions to the policy, management, and technical issues. At the technical level, for example, one issue that should be addressed is the future requirements for standards (i.e., beyond SDTS). Research funds and resources will have to be identified at an early stage. The NSDI organizations will also be responsible for ensuring that the issues are resolved through policy, legislation, regulation, agreements, or other means.
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