Executive Summary

An estimated $20 billion of the Federal Government’s $80 billion in Information Technology (IT) spending is a potential target for migration to cloud computing solutions.[1] The value of the inherent benefits of cloud computing is based upon the cost efficiencies of shared services through interoperable architectures based upon standards. IT investment costs decrease as you move from Build-to-Buy to Leverage/Reuse. A goal of the National Strategy for Information Sharing and Safeguarding is, “to optimize mission effectiveness [to] include shared services, data and network interoperability.[2]

Interoperability is a term often used or implied but rarely defined. This document defines information interoperability as:

INTEROPERABILITY is the ability to transfer and use information in a uniform and efficient manner across multiple organizations and information technology systems.[3], [4] It is the ability of two or more systems or components to exchange information and to use the information that has been exchanged.[5]

The Geospatial Interoperability Reference Architecture (GIRA) is aligned with current Federal policy, principles, and practices for Enterprise Architecture and further adds to the authoritative body of knowledge of geospatial architecture documentation. It is an unclassified document aimed at an audience consisting of; Executive Leaders, Program Managers, and Solution Architects across Federal, State, Local, Territorial and Tribal governments, and private sector stakeholders. It is intended to be a practical roadmap to increase government geospatial information sharing through interoperable capabilities that result in reduced operational costs within and across mission systems. It documents geospatial and architecture policy alignment, references authoritative practices, and provides practical guidance including; templates, charters, exchange agreements, baseline requirements matrices, architecture artifacts, and tools.

The GIRA is expected to have the following benefits:

  • Provide a reference guide for geospatial interoperable architectures to guide solutions to effectively govern, manage, support, and achieve information sharing through geospatial system integration, acquisition, and/or development.
  • Provide documented architecture artifacts that can be used to support geospatial program technical oversight and technical assessments for geospatial investments.

The GIRA provides a framework for the management, design and development of new or alignment of existing geospatial system/solution investments. It recommends guidance considerations in the areas of governance, business, data, applications/services, infrastructure, standards and security; and performance measures for validating and reporting results.


[1] Office of Management and Budget’s (OMB’s) Federal Cloud Computing Strategy, February 8, 2011.

[2] White House National Strategy for Information Sharing and Safeguarding, December 2012.

[3] Australian Information Interoperability Framework, 2006.

[4] U.S. Code, Title 44: Public Printing and Documents (2011) U.S.C. Title 44, Chap. 36, § 3601.

[5] IEEE Standard Computer Dictionary: A Compilation of IEEE Standard Computer Glossaries (New York, NY: 1990).



Dedicated to the memory of

Douglas Nebert


The Geospatial Interoperability Reference Architecture (GIRA) is dedicated to the memory of Doug Nebert, a leader in the Geospatial Industry and a consummate professional who advanced geospatial interoperability across the industry. Many of the authoritative references upon which the GIRA is based were authored by or contributed to by Doug.



Overview of GIRA

The intended purpose of this document is to be a reference guide for geospatial interoperable architecture governance, design, and implementation as shared geospatial investments. It supports key stakeholders (e.g., Executive Leadership, Program Managers, and Solution Architects) and their responsibilities associated with geospatial systems implementation, integration, and performance to drive interoperability and reduce operational costs as they move toward a shared service environment.


The GIRA is intended to be a compendium of artifacts to assist in the development of geospatial interoperable reference architecture(s) for enterprise investments. It provides a representation of geospatial systems that is expressed in terms of; governance practices, interoperability requirements, standards, and target implementation examples (e.g., artifacts). The GIRA builds upon and advances the foundational work of geospatial and architecture guidance documents and is complimentary to the Program Manager-Information Sharing Environment (PM-ISE)[1] information Interoperability Framework (I2F).[2] The December 2005 Presidential Memorandum directed building the ISE upon existing Federal Government resources that include standards, systems, and architectures. The Memorandum included requirements to develop a common framework for the sharing of information between and among executive Departments and Agencies[3] and state, local, and Tribal (SLT) governments, law enforcement agencies, and the private sector, and define common standards for how information is acquired, accessed, shared and used within the ISE.[4] The I2F is intended to drive long-term information sharing requirements that leverage reuse capabilities for improvement and information systems planning, investing, and integration to support the effective conduct of U.S. counterterrorism activities.


Goals and Objectives

The GIRA is intended to define a governance and oversight framework with which Executive Leadership will manage program and acquisition decisions and provide references to key geospatial technical architectures established across government. The GIRA is focused upon:

  • Stakeholder community: Aimed at Executive Leadership, Program Managers, and Solution Architects, the GIRA provides actionable guidance to these key stakeholders in a general-to-specific manner, from providing basic management practices and processes to specific technical services and standards that are critical for geospatial data sharing and interoperability.
  • Architecture alignment: Applying established architecture frameworks and accepted practices from the Federal community to improve communication by using standardized vocabulary and provide technical architecture descriptions that help simplify complex IT environments.
  • Practical implementation: Providing target implementation examples, templates, checklists and reference artifacts to aide in making program management, technical, and acquisition related decisions.
Benefits And Outcomes

Desired outcomes of the GIRA are to: 1) increase government geospatial information sharing of interoperable capabilities, 2) promote reuse of existing information assets, and 3) minimize Department and Agency operational costs. To achieve the desired benefit, geospatial system investments must be leveraged as shared services by providing access to common capabilities (applications/services), and increased system integrations by establishing a technology platform that is services based.

The GIRA is expected to:

  • Define governance oversight practices and considerations to ensure collaboration and consensus to meet mission objectives and drive cost efficiencies.
  • Serve as a base-line target reference guide and resource to identify the necessary interoperability requirements within each of the key architecture elements (e.g., data, applications/services, infrastructure, security, standards, and performance).
  • Provide target implementation examples, artifacts, interoperability standards, engineering designs, contract and procurement language, performance measures, and procedural guidance.


  • Align and conform to the Federal Enterprise Architecture Framework (FEAF) v2, and The Common Approach to Federal Enterprise Architecture, Global Reference Architecture, Unified Architecture Framework, and notional aspects of the Intelligence Community architecture Each section focuses upon those geospatial interoperability elements required for consideration for that portion of the Reference Model. The document does not attempt to provide a complete geospatial architecture reference implementation or duplicate other authoritative reference material. Table 1 describes what the GIRA is and is not.

Table 1. What the GIRA Is and Is Not



✓  A descriptive, not prescriptive, guide to geospatial interoperability investment considerations

✓  A reference for framing a governance structure for geospatial investment coordination and collaboration

✓  A reference for preparing and performing a common baseline assessment (As-Is) of geospatial capabilities and requirements across investments

✓  A means to compare geospatial investments among and between agencies in order to exchange, reuse, and share investments

✓  A reference for comparing several target implementation geospatial architectures and artifacts

✓  A reference for supporting planning and procurement activities for geospatial investments

✓  A reference supporting Office of Management and Budget (OMB) reporting activities, such as Enterprise Architecture (EA) maturity model and Roadmap

✓  A snapshot compilation reference guide that builds upon previous authoritative documentation; but intended to be on on-line collaborative resource in the future

•   A “how to” manual for building and maintaining geospatial architectures

•   A government-wide all-inclusive conceptual or physical geospatial model

•   A replacement of existing geospatial architecture structures within the agencies

•   An endorsement of any referenced document, organization, process, product, service or capability other than those required by government policy




Stakeholder Audience

The GIRA is designed as an instructive guide for the three primary stakeholders; Executive Leadership, Program Managers, and Solution Architects. It provides a practical approach for the responsible governance, assessment, design/development, and implementation of interoperable geospatial investments. These three stakeholders form an interdependent role-based responsibility that must be sustained in order to achieve the intended mission benefit:

  • Executive Leadership: is the responsible authority for the Department or Agency’s policy, fiscal and human resource requirements for geospatial This stakeholder group will use the GIRA as the framework in which geospatial systems are governed, reviewed, resourced, shared, and collectively managed across an enterprise consisting of other geospatial investments.
  • Program Managers: are responsible for the operational implementation and oversight of geospatial capabilities to ensure they meet the functional mission requirements defined by the intended They must communicate to both the Executive Leadership and Solutions Architects to ensure understanding and expectations of the requirements for interoperable geospatial systems investments.

    Managers are required to quantify the benefit and resource impacts, both cost and integration savings, to Executive Leadership to ensure continued support, and resource sustainment. The GIRA provides Program Managers with a description of the key capabilities, processes, services, infrastructure, standards, performance measures, and artifacts that are required of an interoperable geospatial architecture solution.
  • Solution Architects: are responsible for acquisition requirements, design/development, and the integration of geospatial solutions in accordance with their respective organization’s enterprise architecture technical and management requirements. The Solution Architects will be required to compare and quantify the technical implementation options, alternatives, and cost constraints to the Program Managers. The GIRA provides structured technical guidance and reference artifacts to assist in achieving geospatial system interoperability.
Document Approach: How to Use

The GIRA is designed as an instructive guide and practical approach for the responsible assessment, design/development, and implementation of an interoperable geospatial investment. The GIRA is organized, in part, to align with the Federal Enterprise Architecture Framework (FEAF) v2’s Consolidated Reference Model (CRM). The CRM is the core of the FEAF v2, “…which equips OMB and Federal agencies with a common language and framework to describe and analyze investments.” The CRM consists of a set of interrelated “reference models” designed to facilitate cross-agency analysis and collaboration in a common and consistent way. The six reference models in the CRM to be used within the GIRA include: Business, Data, Applications, Infrastructure, Security, and Performance. The GIRA will also include a section on Open Standards to promote interoperability.

By aligning with the FEAF v2’s CRM structure, the GIRA provides a framework for cross-community communication, collaboration, requirements collection, resource alignment, and stakeholder buy-in for geospatial investments.

Each reference model section of the GIRA is introduced with a description of the “What/Why/Who/How,” along with a Stakeholder Performance Guide that frames the requirements, responsibilities, and key questions/issues that each stakeholder must address to achieve an efficient and effective interoperable geospatial investment:

  • Definition/Description (What) – introduces the intent of the section and the expected results that the stakeholders should derive.
  • Purpose/Function (Why) – defines the section’s content and its consideration within the geospatial system investment.
  • Stakeholder Performance Guide (Who & How) – provides a practical question, task or action, from the stakeholder perspective (e.g., Executive, Program Manager and/or Solution Architect), that is critical for an effective and efficient system investment.
Authoritative Referencing
p>Over 25 years ago, the Federal Interagency Coordinating Committee on Digital Cartography (the forerunner to the Federal Geographic Data Committee) prepared guidance for evaluating and selecting a Geographic Information System:

This document has been prepared to assist Federal managers and technical specialists in evaluating, designing, and procuring geographic information systems (GISs). Successful GIS implementation and application requires agency personnel to be cognizant of the capabilities and limitations of GIS technology and to carefully evaluate the needs of system users and applications. The variety of possible Federal GIS applications and users make it impractical and inappropriate to provide strict criteria for GIS implementation. However, this document provides general guidance for understanding the technology in a realistic perspective, evaluating the requirements of possible GIS users and applications, identifying applicable standards for information systems technology, selecting desirable software and hardware characteristics, and conducting benchmark tests to identify optimal hardware and software systems.[5]

The GIRA builds upon this basic premise and advances the foundational work of several subsequent geospatial and architectural guidance initiatives. The GIRA provides geospatial an architectural guidance and directs the reader to other key foundational materials that further geospatial system interoperability.


  • A Geospatial Interoperability Reference Model (GIRM), Version 1, December 2003. Federal Geographic Data Committee, Geospatial Applications, and Interoperability (GAI) Working Group (http://www.fgdc.gov/standards/organization/GIRM).

    Purpose: “This document references standards and specifications needed for interoperability among distributed geospatial services accessible over the Internet.”[6]


  • Geospatial Profile of the Federal Enterprise Architecture (FEA), Version 0, March 06, 2009. Architecture and Infrastructure Committee, Federal Chief Information Officers Council and Federal Geographic Data Committee (http://www.fgdc.gov/geospatial-lob).

    Purpose: “The Geospatial Profile is an educational resource for determining how and where geospatial approaches and associated geospatial resources fit into enterprise architectures.”[7]



  • SDI Cookbook, Global Spatial Data Infrastructure, GSDIWiki, last modified June 5,
    As a part of its role in the Global Spatial Data Infrastructure (GSDI)
    Association, the Federal Geographic Data Committee (FGDC)was the principal developer of the first edition of the reference manual on “Developing Spatial Data Infrastructures: The SDI Cookbook in 2000.” The second edition was subsequently published in 2004 but the current version is not part of an active Wiki site at this time.

    Purpose: “…this GSDI Cookbook identifies: existing and emerging standards, open-source and commercial standards-based software solutions, supportive organizational strategies, and policies, and best practices.”[9]


  • Homeland Security Geospatial Concept of Operations (GeoCONOPS), Version 0, June 2014. Department of Homeland Security (https://www.geoplatform.gov/geoconops-home).

    Purpose: “The Homeland Security GeoCONOPS is intended to identify and align the geospatial resources that are required to support the National Response Framework, Emergency Support Functions, and supporting federal mission partners all in coordination with Presidential Policy Directive-8 direction.”[10]


    • The Common Approach to Federal Enterprise Architecture, May 2, “This [document’s] common approach to Federal EA provides principles and standards for how business, information, and technology architectures should be developed across the Federal Government so they can be used consistently at various levels of scope within and between agencies, as well as with external stakeholders.”[11]


    • Federal Information Technology Shared Services Strategy, May 2, “…. provides organizations [Federal Agencies} with policy guidance on the full range and lifecycle of intra- and inter-agency information technology (IT) shared services … this strategy requires agencies to use a shared approach to IT service delivery.”[12]


    • Digital Government: Building a 21st Century Platform to Better Serve the American People, May 23, “The [Digital Government] strategy[13] …focusing on the key priority area that requires government-wide action: innovating with less to deliver better digital services. It specifically draws upon the overall approach to increase return on IT investments, reduce waste and duplication, and improve the effectiveness of IT solutions defined in the Federal Shared Services Strategy.”


    • Federal Enterprise Architecture Framework, Version 0, January 29, 2013. “The Federal Enterprise Architecture Framework v2[14] describes a suite of tools to help government planners implement The Common Approach to Federal Enterprise Architecture.” It contains the Collaborative Planning Methodology and is intended to be the next generation replacement for the Federal Segment Architecture Methodology (FSAM). It can be applied as a full planning and implementation lifecycle for use at all levels of scope defined in The Common Approach to Federal Enterprise Architecture.


    • Federal Shared Services Implementation Guide, April 16,


    • “The Federal Shared Services Guide[15] provides information and guidance on the provisioning and consumption of shared services in the S. Federal Government. The guide provides agencies with a high level process and key considerations for defining, establishing, and implementing interagency shared services to help achieve organizational goals, improve performance, increase return on investment, and promote innovation.”


  • Information Sharing Environment (ISE) Information Interoperability Framework (I2F), May The ISE I2F describes the components that enable information sharing and interoperability within a given reference implementation. The components of the ISE I2F framework allow for practitioners to organize information that defines the scope of what needs to be considered to achieve interoperability between ISE participants. Through the use of this information, ISE participants are able to identify touch points for sharing and safeguarding information in motion; while encouraging the use of interoperability within the scope of enterprise architecture concepts that are, and driven by, an organization’s internal enterprise architecture framework.


Stakeholder Performance Guide

The Stakeholder Performance Guide serves as a quick and concise reference table (see Table 2) for the three stakeholders (e.g., Executives, Program Managers, and Solution Architects) and identifies the major steps or decision points that are required for each stakeholder to be successful. The Performance Guide is structured to allow each stakeholder to see their specific area of responsibility based upon an identified task/action requiring their input/decision. It provides a recommended approach to accomplishing the identified tasks expected benefits (e.g., cost, infrastructure, shared services, etc.). The Performance Guide table is one mechanism to verify and measure performance of the investment.


Table 2.







Executive Leadership

• Identify specific actions to be taken

• Identify the major tasks requiring go/no-go decisions

• Define what step(s) the Exec needs to take/support to accomplish the specified action

• Identify dependency of tasks and necessary steps

• Define the benefit in terms of quantifiable measures and expected outcomes (mission and resource impact)

• Define the negative impact if not accomplished in terms of mission and resource impact

Program Manager

• Identify specific actions to be taken

• Identify the major tasks requiring go/no-go decisions

• Define what step(s) the Program Manager (PM) needs to take/support to accomplish the specified action

• Identify how the PM supports the other two stakeholders (Executive and/or Solution Architect) in the approach

• Identify shared benefit/responsibility if cross agency (if applicable)

Solution Architect

• Identify specific actions to be taken

• Identify the major tasks requiring go/no-go decisions

• Define what step(s) the Solution Architect (SA) needs to take/support to accomplish the specified action

• Identify how the SA supports the other two stakeholders (Executive and/or Program Manager) in the approach

• Quantify cost avoidance, services shared, and/or technical integration/ consolidation



[1] The PM-ISE was established under the authorities of the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004 (IRTPA), as amended.

[2] Program Manager, Information Sharing Environment Information Interoperability Framework (I2F): National Security Through Responsible Information Sharing, Version 0.5, March, 2014, available at http://ise.gov/ise-information-interoperability-framework

[3] This document’s use of the term “Departments and Agencies” includes Departments, Agencies, Commissions, Bureaus, and Boards and other types of organizations in the Executive Branch of the U.S. Federal Government.

[4] Memorandum for the Heads of Executive Departments and Agencies: Guidelines and Requirements in Support of the Information Sharing Environment (White House: Washington, DC, 2005), Section 1, available at  http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2005/12/20051216-10.html

[5] A   Process   for   Evaluating   Geographic   Information   Systems.   USGS   Open   File  Report,   1988.   88-105,  1998, http://pubs.usgs.gov/of/1988/0105/report.pdf

[6] A Geospatial Interoperability Reference Model (GIRM), Version 1.1, December 2003.

[7] Geospatial Profile of the Federal Enterprise Architecture (FEA), Version 2.0, March 06, 2009.  

[8] A Segment Architecture Analysis of the Geospatial Platform, Version 1.0, December 21, 2010.

[9] SDI Cookbook, Global Spatial Data Infrastructure, GSDIWiki, last modified June 5, 2014.

[10] Department of Homeland Security, Geospatial Concept of Operations (GeoCONOPS), Version 5.0, June 5, 2013.

[11] Office of Management and Budget, The Common Approach to Federal Enterprise Architecture, May 12, 2012, available at  http://www.whitehouse.gov/sites/default/files/omb/assets/egov_docs/common_approach_to_federal_ea.pdf

[12] Office of Management and Budget, Federal Information Technology Shared Services Strategy, May 2, 2012, available at  http://www.whitehouse.gov/sites/default/files/omb/assets/egov_docs/shared_services_strategy.pdf

[13] Office of Management and Budget, Digital Government: Building a 21st Century Platform to Better Serve the American People, May 23, 2012, available at http://www.whitehouse.gov/sites/default/files/omb/egov/digital-government/digital-government-   strategy.pdf

[14] Office of Management and Budget, Federal Enterprise Architecture Framework, Version 2, January 29, 2013, available at   2013.pdf

[15] Federal CIO Council, Federal Shared Services Implementation Guide, April 16, 2013, available at (https://cio.gov/wp-  content/uploads/downloads/2013/04/CIOC-Federal-Shared-Services-Implementation-Guide.pdf).

Updated on February 4, 2020