“Smart City as a System”

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The Imperative: Lack of commonly agreed understanding on how to build smart cities is known to be one of the main obstacles hindering the worldwide coordination and cooperation in implementation of smart cities. But how to achieve such an understanding? System-Level Standardisation with System Approach is the way to expedite Smart Cities and achieve a comprehensive understanding…

Why Smart City as a System is important?

All Smart Cities programmes and projects pursue many common goals including sustainable development, better efficiency, resilience, safety and wider support for citizen’s engagement and participation. However, each individual city tends to follow its own approach in smart cities programmes and projects. It is not surprising that the numerous technology activists are very vocal on various Smart Cities forums even though cities cannot be reduced to just big data and IoT.

It seems that around Smart Cities there are many wonderful information and communication technologies, high levels of enthusiasm from software vendors, strong support from top leadership, obvious benefits for a significant amount of the planet’s population and no shortage of funding. But, all of these together are not sufficient yet.

The current implementation practices of smart cities are rather disjointed, namely:

  • Smart Cities programmes and projects are, primarily, local initiatives;
  • Smart Cities programmes and projects are considered as technology projects;
  • Numerous Smart Cities interest groups are, primarily, clubs;
  • Efforts for the development of a common vision are insufficient, and
  • Typical financing patterns do not promote a common vision, namely the government is funding (to some extent) some cities, which engage technological companies, and the government is funding some technological companies, which engage cities.

As a result, there is no agreed basis for efficient and effective cooperation and coordination between different Smart Cities programmes and projects. There is a lot of duplication of work, developed solutions are not reusable, and the same mistakes are repeated.

To address such negative phenomena, the IEC came up with a new approach to standardisation – systems-level standardisation that provides the context for the traditional product-level standardisation. The systems-level standardisation aims to achieve synergy between uniformity (availability of standard products) and diversity (ability to combine standard and customised products to address unique needs).

How Smart City as a System helps your Smart City programmes and projects

The systems-level standardisation which is carried out by the IEC Systems Committee “Smart Cities” will offer to Smart City programmes and projects a coherent set of commonly agreed and fully traceable deliverables, namely:

  • Reference Model (actually, terminology and, ideally, an ontology) to enable various stakeholders to communicate and collaborate effectively and efficiently.
  • Reference Architecture of a Smart City as a system to enable various Smart Cities programmes and projects to compare their implementations, and find both common and unique needs and solutions.
  • A coherent set of use cases (how various actors interact with the Smart City as a system) to be sure that the reference architecture addresses various stakeholders’ concerns in a good, right and successful way.
  • collection of existing and new standards for implementation of common capabilities of Smart Cities to reuse and share the work.

A particular city can easily adjust those deliverables to its unique needs and speed up its implementation by:

  • Accessing knowledge from world-wide experts;
  • Adjusting the reference architecture to its unique needs;
  • Using proven best practices, and
  • Re-using some standard building blocks (services, applications, processes, etc.) from other programmes and projects.

From the systems point of view, the Smart Cities vision can be illustrated by the following figure (CUBE stands for City Unified Business Execution). Using the Smart Cities reference architecture as an implementation framework, various stakeholders coordinate and collaborate on standard building blocks to expedite the implementation of a variety of Smart cities.

WHAT is the Smart Cities Reference Architecture

Any Smart City is an uber-complex, socio-technical system of cyber-physical systems (e.g. IoT devices and applications) with the following characteristics:

  • Huge volume of digital data and information
  • Software-intensive (“software is eating the world”)
  • Distributed and decentralized
  • Great influence on our society (including economy)
  • Ability to interact with the physical world
  • Seemingly mutually contradictory requirements

The Smart Cities reference architecture explains to any stakeholder how future implementations (which are based on the reference architecture) can address his/her concerns and change his/her personal, professional and social life for the better.

The Smart Cities reference architecture explicitly links various stakeholders’ needs (or high-level requirements) with the principles of reference architecture to provide end-to-end traceability.

The Smart Cities reference architecture brings a methodological and practical guidance on how to achieve the essential characteristics of your Smart City such as security, privacy, low cost of operations, reduced time to market, etc.

The Smart Cities reference architecture provides a common methodology for architecting systems of systems thus enabling different people in similar situations to find similar solutions or propose innovations that can benefit many cities.

In accordance with ISO/IEC/IEEE 42010, the Smart Cities reference architecture is described via several aligned viewpoints. Each viewpoint is a formalised description of some aspects of the Smart Cities reference architecture. Each viewpoint is a tool for various stakeholders to better understand, manage and implement Smart Cities programmes and projects. Some of the many viewpoints of the Smart Cities reference architecture are described below.

Motivation viewpoint

The motivation viewpoint is about linking various stakeholders (persons, groups of persons and organisations), their roles in Smart Cities (beneficiaries, regulators, etc.) and their concerns. Any City governance agency and all other stakeholders can use this viewpoint to build and to monitor an objective understanding of various and contradictory concerns around their city.

The Big Picture:

The big picture viewpoint is an idealised decomposition of the city’s functionality into several areas. This viewpoint is necessary to establish a common-agreed view on Smart Cities as a system.

Taken from the Descriptive Framework for Cities and Communities being standardised by ISO TC 268

Capability Map

The Smart Cities capability map lists all capabilities (abilities to do something) of Smart Cities. Any City governance organ can use this viewpoint to

  • Analyse a comprehensive and well-structured set of capabilities
  • Benchmark the particular city via the maturity levels of its capabilities (also known as “heat map”)
  • Take an informed decision about each capability (dependant on the unique situation of the particular city) either

# To implement it at a particular level of maturity

# To obtain it from business-to-business partners (outsource or insource)

   # To obtain it from commodity markets

   # To ignore it for now

  # To develop an implementation plan and monitor its implementation

Platform-based Implementation

The Smart Cities platform-based implementation viewpoint explains how to achieve collaboration and coordination among many Smart Cities programmes and projects. This viewpoint uses the “platform-enabled agile solutions” architecture pattern, which is based on the following considerations:

  • The platform must standardise and simplify essential capabilities of a system. For any capabilities outside the platform, new opportunities should be explored using agile principles.
  • These twin approaches should be mutually reinforcing: the platform frees up resource to focus on new opportunities while successful agile innovations are rapidly scaled up when incorporated into the platform.
  • To minimise duplication of effort in solving the same problems, there needs to be system-wide transparency and coordination of agile initiatives.
  • Existing elements of the platform also need periodic challenge. Transparency, publishing feedback and the results of experiments openly, will help to keep the pressure on the platform for continual improvement as well as for short-term cost savings.

Thus, the Smart Cities platform-based implementation viewpoint proposes a City Unified Business Execution (CUBE) platform. Using this platform, each Smart City can expedite its implementation by coordinating, collaborating and sharing the CUBE platform building blocks.

It implies that each Smart City uses its own “copy” of the CUBE platform, which is built from standard, commercial or open source, off-the-shelf and specific-for-a-particular-city building blocks (or tools). By starting small, any Smart City can build-up its own platform incrementally by using building blocks developed in from other Smart Cities programme and projects.

Does it excite you? Then why not get involved?

Contact your respective National Standards Body immediately and get yourself nominated as an expert in the IEC Systems Committee on Smart Cities…

We are encouraging National Standards Bodies to join in this vital piece of standards work and assign representatives from cities and city service providers to our Working Group, so that the smart city reference architecture will reflect the varied needs of cities globally and the knowledge and insights of as many experts as possible.

For more details about the Smart City Reference Architecture work contact:

Convener:              Narang N. Kishor  –          kishor@narnix.com, +91 9810163990

Co-Convenor:          Heng Qian,             –          qianheng@sdis.cn , +86 1330531968

For more details about the work of the IEC Smart Cities Systems Committee in general, contact:

The Chairman:         Fumio Ueno,        –   fumi.ueno@toshiba.co.jp, +81 3 3457 3014

To join the next face-to-face meeting of Working Group 3, along with the other Working Groups, in Shanghai for the 28th June to 1st July 2017 please contact the IEC


 The importance of this work

The Smart Cities reference architecture will provide an implementation framework to allow all the various smart city stakeholders to coordinate and collaborate on developing and utilising standard technology and process building blocks to expedite the implementation of a wide variety of Smart cities.

It will also allow all smart city standards, along with standards that are relevant to smart cities, to be systematically mapped in a way that is aligned to the concerns and aspects of smart cities, and so make it easy for stakeholders to identify those standards that will help them in their work.

Guiding Principles:

The Smart Cities reference architecture shall be developed (in collaboration with the SRG) in methodologically sound, explicit, reproducible and transparent way to allow the usage of this Reference Architecture by any city in its journey to smart city.

The guiding principles for defining the Reference Architecture shall be:

  • Interoperability,
  • Integrity,
  • Safety,
  • Security and privacy,
  • Simplicity,
  • Low cost of operation, and
  • Short time to market.


  1. A Unified Reference Model
  2. The Reference Architecture with multiple Viewpoints.

3. System (or reference solutions) Architecture(s)

4. Framework(s) for Security, Privacy & Safety.

5. Framework(s) for Resilience, Integration, Interoperability & Unified Platform

6. Framework for Unified Data Semantics for Smart Cities Infrastructure

7. Standards inventory for Smart Cities Infrastructure

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