by Michael Goldberg

CIO 20/20 Honorees–Innovator’s Profile: David Schell of OpenGIS Consortium Inc.

Oct 01, 20022 mins


OpenGIS Consortium Inc.

David Schell wouldn’t call himself a technologist. He disdains bureaucracy. And he doesn’t have patience for sales pitches. But in his role as president of the nonprofit OpenGIS Consortium (OGC)?founded in 1993?Schell continuously assembles technologists, bureaucrats and IT vendors to advance the cause of geographic information systems, the technology that tells us where things are. Schell wrangles more than 230 member-groups from government, industry and academia in more than 25 countries spanning four continents.

OGC’s efforts have led to standard interfaces to describe geographic location coordinates and translate them into Web-ready code. One example: The British government’s Ordnance Survey uses the Geographic Markup Language version of XML (developed by OGC) as its mapping standard.

Sit with Schell, 61, in his Wayland, Mass., office (42.3586 north latitude, 71.3587 west longitude, according to a GIS locator), and you’ll see the self-confidence of a well-traveled, multifaceted individual who has studied both the Hebrew Bible and Egyptian hieroglyphics in the Middle East, served in the Air Force, attended Bob Dylan concerts, and programmed and serviced mainframes at IBM and Honeywell. In 1987, while customizing a workstation imaging app for NASA, Schell decided that making geographic information affordable, accessible and useful was a way to make a positive difference.

“The reason I was able to make progress,” he says, “is that we fuse together the people who have the problems of mapping with the people who have the IT skills from the modern computer industry.” OGC board members say Schell has also succeeded by putting technical experts, versus product partisans, in positions where they can drive industry standards.