What is the value of open and standardized data models?

Christoph Spörri
Christoph Spörri
CTO Switzerland
May 18, 2020

What is the value of open and standardized data models?

Open Source Software (OSS) and interfaces are a topic that is still in the focus of the software industry as well as authorities and administrations. The intention behind this is also to reduce possible dependencies on suppliers.

Interfaces should lead to a standardization of data exchange formats. Digitization has contributed to a great acceleration in this area, and today it is taken for granted in many areas that data can be exchanged easily.

However, all these interfaces also have an immense influence on the data models. Due to the continuous change of standards, constant adjustments to these models are necessary. This raises the question why these data models should not be published. This article aims to demonstrate the advantages of published data models.

The influence of a disclosure of a data schema is shown in the example Shape-File. This was introduced as an open specification by Esri Inc. in the early 90s. Due to its simple and open format, it has become a kind of a standard in the GIS environment over the years. Although this format has several technical limitations, it is still used today to exchange data between systems.

This approach is rarely used for data models. One reason, and probably the most important, is certainly that data models are seen as a central part of the intellectual value of a company. On the one hand, a lot of time and money is invested in the creation and maintenance. On the other hand, a lot of expertise is required to create meaningful and practicable models. For these reasons, a reluctant attitude of companies towards the disclosure of data models is quite understandable and comprehensible.

At the same time, the protection of a data model is difficult or impossible to implement, since data management is usually done in database systems such as SQL Server, PostgreSQL, etc., and thus the structure is disclosed anyways. So why not publish a data model from scratch?

A publication can have several advantages: 

  • Potential users can view the data model and assess how far it covers their needs. At the same time it is also recognizable whether the creator or the community has the necessary expertise (marketing effect).
  • Data models can be adapted for other countries and languages.
  • The possibility that the database model is jointly developed and maintained by the users can, as with open source software, result in synergy effects that generate added value for all users of the model.
  • At the same time, a rich software ecosystem can be created around the database model to provide additional functionality. This is comparable to the Open Data Initiative of the federal government, which is intended to use the data in new and innovative applications.
  • A public data model can also develop into a quasi-standard model, thus leading to further synergy effects.
  • With clear and accessible documentation of a data model, its use is clearly defined, increasing data quality and consistency.

Geocom (a VertiGIS company) believes that the advantages outweigh the disadvantages and that our commitment and investment makes sense for all parties. It is our goal to publish future data models that provide a general benefit, and to make them available to interested parties, e.g. via platforms like GitHub.


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