Technology Implementation Guides for Smarter Cities

By Josh Lieberman and Simon Chester

Josh Lieberman is a system architect and interoperability engineer focusing on geospatial computing and spatial data science. He is a senior researcher at the Harvard Center for Geographic Analysis and also serves as an architect and initiative manager for the OGC Innovation Program as well as a member of the OGC Architecture Board.

Simon Chester is the Communication Coordinator at OGC.

May 29, 2018 | Governance, Technology | 1 comment

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Cities are innovating, companies are pivoting, and start-ups are growing. Like you, every urban practitioner has a remarkable story of insight and challenge from the past year.

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Considering the rapid, even relentless, pace of innovation and advances in the Information and Communications Technologies (ICT) of cities, how can cities – especially those with restricted budgets – plan for, maintain, and reap the desired benefits now and into future?

Just like with IT, widespread deployment of smart cities technologies can be accomplished more effectively, and with less cost, when an implementer can apply a shared ‘collective understanding’ based on proven, reusable design patterns.

The risks to municipal governance of not achieving functionality and fitness-of-purpose can be reduced through agile, rapid, and incentive-based prototyping, demonstrations, and deployments of the new technology, ironing out the problems and refining the technology before it’s put in place.

Standards-based approaches to system engineering and development save money, minimize time to mobilize new solutions, and reduce program and lifecycle risk, simply because much of the work has already been done – and proven effective – by others with similar goals.

Combine the two approaches by implementing refined, standards-based technologies, and a city will reduce its technology risk while saving money.

This is why the Open Geospatial Consortium (OGC), with support from the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS), is currently leading a process to create a Smart City Interoperability Reference Architecture (SCIRA). SCIRA will provide free deployment guides and reusable patterns that municipalities can use to plan, acquire, and implement standards-based, cost-effective, vendor-agnostic, and future-proof smart city IT systems and networks using technologies such as Internet of Things (IoT), Sensor Webs, and Geospatial Information.

SCIRA defines interoperability requirements based on a system-of-systems approach for information technology in smart city deployments, meaning that municipalities are able to build up smart cities little by little, project by project, safe in the knowledge that future expansions will work with, build upon, and gain value from the systems that they’re implementing today.

The SCIRA Deployment Guides aim to provide plain-language guidance on implementing the architecture, and will address a range of smart city functional areas, such as transportation and connectivity. Crucially, the guides will come in different forms for the different audiences relevant to smart city capability development, including City Managers, City IT Managers, City innovators, DevOps Facilitators, and commercial providers.

A key emphasis of SCIRA will be to enhance community resilience in the face of human- or nature-caused emergencies and catastrophes, and to aid in the DHS First Responders Group’s mission to “identify, validate, and facilitate the fulfillment of [first responders’] needs through the use of existing and emerging technologies, knowledge products, and standards.”


Open Standards, Open Options

Crucial to creating ‘future proof’ smart cities will be the incorporation of open interface and content standards in its solutions. When a solution is implemented using open standards, all it takes for any future project to be compatible is for it to be designed around open standards, too – which is a requirement achievable by any reputable vendor. By using open standards, even competing technology providers can create solutions that ‘just work’ with each other. This means that municipalities using open standards in their IT infrastructure are free to choose the most appropriate solution to derive value from their existing systems, rather than having to return to a single provider every time, commision potentially expensive data transformation systems, or – at worst – start anew and render an old system obsolete.

For example, if a city implements city-wide video feeds for monitoring transport flow and congestion, and then later wants to monitor pedestrian movement, there’s a good chance that if proprietary formats were used in the initial monitoring system, the data will remain ‘siloed’ within that system. This would likely require the city to return to the original provider to purchase pedestrian monitoring software (if they sell it), or else install another set of cameras from another technology provider, with another separate back end to process the data, and then yet another system to join it all together.

If, however, the video cameras are creating data in an open format, then any other analysis apps can just ‘tap in’ to that data feed – saving the city the cost of new hardware and increased data transport costs. This isn’t just for video, but for any sensor or data collection device – from smart trash cans and lamp posts, to air quality and water level monitors, and beyond.

One recent example of an OGC Innovation Program initiative in the smart cities space is its successful Future Cities Pilot (FCP) Project. Phase 1 of FCP demonstrated how the use of geospatial and 3D building information data together can provide stakeholders with information, knowledge, and insight that enhances financial, environmental, and social outcomes for a city’s citizens. Phase 2 of FCP, currently underway, is aimed at improving the automation in the flow of data, as well as addressing a number of related interoperability challenges.

OGC also successfully completed an Incident Management Information Sharing Internet of Things Pilot Project (IMIS IoT Pilot) in 2016. The IMIS IoT Pilot produced initial specifications, profiles, best practices, and demonstration designs for connecting sensors and response information systems in a just-in-time fashion to aid in the management of a range of different incidents.

Additionally, the OGC Innovation Program is currently running an Underground Project that will lead to improved public safety, project delivery, and urban resilience from a secure 3D repository of urban underground infrastructure. An Underground Concept Development Study (CDS) paved the way for an Underground Pilot with a data content model known as the Model for Underground Data Definition and Integration (MUDDI). The MUDDI is the starting point for a Workshop and Pilot, and will lead to verified, standards-based interoperability for ‘smarter’ underground projects in cities around the world.

There are many other organizations developing IT architecture guidance and standards for use in smart city deployments. As part of the SCIRA project, OGC is closely monitoring these developments and participating in the most promising ones. Part of the work of SCIRA will be to reconcile all of the many existing standards relevant to smart cities.

In particular, the SCIRA architecture will consider developments by leading Standards Development Organizations (SDOs) involved in smart city activities, such as ISO/IEC JTC 1/WG 11 – Smart Cities; ITU-T SG20 – IoT and its applications including Smart Cities and Communities (SC&C); DIN; BSI-PAS; as well as existing frameworks from OGC, such as Sensor Web Enablement (SWE). Additionally, OGC will partner and coordinate with other organizations to identify relevant Smart City approaches for inclusion in the SCIRA, including: IEEE Smart Cities; the TM Forum; the US National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST); ISE’s Geospatial Interoperability Reference Architecture (GIRA); the Smart Cities Council; and the EU H2020 ESPRESSO program (SystEmic Standardization apPRoach to Enable Smart citieS and cOmmunities) that is in support of the European Innovation Partnership for Smart Cities and Communities (EIP SCC).


Steps to SCIRA

The first step to developing the Smart City Interoperability Reference Architecture began with an OGC Concept Development Study (CDS). As part of the SCIRA CDS, A Stakeholder Concerns Workshop was held on May 1-2 at the Center for Innovative Technology (CIT) in Herndon, VA. The event was jointly organized by OGC’s SCIRA initiative and the The Smart City IoT Innovation (SCITI) lab of the Center for Innovative Technology (CIT).

The Stakeholder Concerns Workshop is a key activity to understanding municipal needs and constraints for use in creating reusable patterns and practices that cities can use to achieve and sustain smart city benefits in infrastructure resilience, public safety, improved governance, and quality of life for all residents.

The workshop was organized as a series of conversations to both ‘teach and learn’ from each other. Participants, including City Managers, City IT Managers, DevOps teams, and Municipal Innovation Leaders, were invited to share their experiences with smart city deployments, including successes and lessons learned. Through a combination of presentations and breakout sessions, the workshop identified the requirements, constraints, and measures of success for smart city innovation that were most important to city stakeholders – particularly from a perspective of repeatable innovation, deployment, and operations. Summaries of the findings and breakout sessions will be used to inform the next phases of SCIRA development.

Following the Stakeholder Concerns Workshop, an Architecture Viewpoints Workshop will be held with municipal leaders, first responders, and select stakeholders. The Architecture Viewpoints Workshop will serve to gather input from participants on the draft SCIRA architecture, including initial contents of each viewpoint as well as its value to municipal planning for Smart City development.


The SCIRA process will work closely with stakeholders throughout the process to ensure that it’s proven useful and effective.


Beginning Q3 2018, the SCIRA CDS will conduct an Innovation Challenge where participants will be challenged to find creative uses for municipal datasets that would make cities smarter and/or safer. The idea behind the Innovation Challenges is to have a fresh set of eyes create some innovative uses of data that weren’t considered by the architects of SCIRA. The ideas generated in the Innovation Challenges will then be used to update the SCIRA.

After the Innovation Challenges have run, a Deployment Guides Workshop will create the first versions of the deployment guides, consistent with the architecture up to that point in time. The guides will then be made available for immediate use by municipal IT decision-makers and DevOps staff. To remain in-step with technology trends, and to make sure that the guides are as beneficial as possible, they will continue to be refined over time. The Deployment Guides Workshop will occur in October 2018.


Refining SCIRA through Pilots

To best test and refine the architecture and deployment guides, OGC’s Innovation Program will run a SCIRA Pilot. Starting from Q4 2018, the OGC Pilot will run across multiple cities and will refine elements of the architecture through implementation and testing in functional, ‘real world’ smart city applications.

This process of iterative refinement and interactive development will result in a reference architecture that is both feasible and effective for smaller municipalities to adopt. Further, the Pilots and deployment guides will reduce the risk that the reference architecture becomes simply ‘shelfware.’ The pilots will create prototype applications that help reduce risks and illuminate opportunities for key parts of the architecture, while the deployment guides will provide for key Smart City staff useful, practical, and actionable direction that is consistent with the reference architecture.

Smart city technology has the potential to simultaneously create efficiencies in governance while providing benefits in infrastructure resilience, public safety, and quality of life for all residents. Implementing new technology always comes with risks; OGC’s SCIRA aims to minimize those risks, and further the spread of beneficial technologies, by providing a freely usable, easily accessible, and proven-working model that will help municipalities of almost any size develop their strategies to achieve a future-proof and budget-friendly smart city implementation.


If you’re interested in contributing to the July SCIRA workshop, or any other subsequent SCIRA activities, please let OGC know how and what you wish to contribute by contacting More information on SCIRA, including the ability to sign up to a regular newsletter, is available on the SCIRA webpage.


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1 Comment

  1. Greetings from Philippines! We are eager how we can build partnership with OGC in the sphere of rural-urban linkage. We have about 2216 Agrarian Reform Communities across the country. We look at the future of these communities as part of the emerging new sites towards Smart Cities without having to compromise sustainable development.

    If we can have the maiden institutional talk through with the Department of Agrarian Reform and with the other relevant agencies in the National Convergence Initiative towards Sustainable Development.

    We want to build partnership with OGC and hope a pilot project in the domain of land governance, agriculture, environment.


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