Making Geospatial Intelligence More Accessible

by | Oct 4, 2012

By George Demmy , chief technical officer and co-founder, TerraGo Technologies (, Atlanta.


As the defense and intelligence communities convene for this year's GEOINT Symposium, the geospatial industry, which occupies an increasingly important role within the community, is diligently working to help its customers and partners fulfill their missions in the face of a mixed bag of global conflicts and massive societal change as well as daunting technical and budgetary challenges.

Managing Myriad Data Sources

During the last year, we saw social media in its sundry incarnations become a driving force that helped topple governments with the so-called Arab Spring. The increased importance of these social media outlets as open-source intelligence inputs have resulted in a flood of documents and other unstructured data in the form of Facebook posts, tweets, blogs, wikis and rapidly expanding Web-based media outlets that can't be ignored.

If analysts are spending time sifting through this morass of content”a classic aspect of the Big Data problem”to find what's relevant to their mission and responsibilities within an area of interest, that time is stolen from what otherwise might be used to analyze relevant information and derive final intelligence products. Moreover, the problem will be compounded by budget-driven reductions in the number of analysts.

At the same time, a proliferation of new, increasingly capable and inexpensive sensors deployed on government and commercial satellites, unmanned aircraft systems of a bewildering number of configurations, and a host of additional land, sea and air vehicles are generating vast quantities of imagery, video and other data. Analyzing these data and distilling the results into products suitable for decision makers or those on the front line is of prime importance.

Regrettably, the ultimate consumers of these intelligence products often are forgotten in the whole process. Such consumers are less interested in interfaces and systems and more interested in knowing the answers to vital questions: What do I need to do, where do I need to do it, where are my friends, and where are my enemies and threats?

Partnering to Create Diverse Solutions

Many companies are providing solutions to such geospatial intelligence (GEOINT) challenges, facilitating the discovery and use of relevant products at all levels of our defense and intelligence communities. For example, companies such as BAE Systems, Intergraph and Overwatch have incorporated TerraGo's GeoPDF technology into their solutions.

Additionally, TerraGo's recently acquired GeoXray solution, designed by Geosemble Technologies, augments its widely deployed geospatial collaboration software suite. GeoXray monitors a variety of open-source information sites on the Web, including Facebook, Twitter, blogs, news sites and documents fed into it by a variety of means and determines the relevance of that content to specific points of interest.

All forms of “int” are incorporating “GEO” as a way to contextualize and understand the relevance of what a report or other intelligence product is trying to convey.

Moreover, it can search and filter such content by time, topic and location to discover items that are relevant to an analyst's task at hand. Decreasing the amount of time analysts spend sifting through data, which can be significant, frees them to focus on actual analysis instead of searching the Web for nuggets needed to accomplish their tasks.

Another aspect of this mission is delivering intelligence products in immediately useful and intuitive applications. In partnership with GeoEye, TerraGo provides federal employees with access to GeoEye satellite imagery from its cloud-based EyeQ platform and the ability to output GeoPDF imagery-derived products that easily can be shared with others as needed, regardless of their software or skills.

TerraGo also has worked closely with the U.S. Army Geospatial Center (AGC) to develop eIndex Server, a browser-based application to deliver on-demand GEOINT products from AGC's extensive library. The eIndex server is essentially a navigation, data retrieval and integration tool that enables users to define an area of interest and discover and optimally package all of the available GEOINT content falling within that area. The solution significantly simplifies and accelerates map selection and map book production and distribution.

Similarly, all forms of INT are incorporating GEO as a way to contextualize and understand the relevance of what a report or other intelligence product is trying to convey. Data providers, in an attempt to move up the value chain, are increasingly providing what might be termed monitoring services in which they only deliver data that are relevant to a particular task or mission on a subscription basis. Such data might be in the form of imagery-derived location intelligence reports that show the evolution of a major construction project over time, or it might be when significant land-use changes are detected in some area of interest. Or maybe it's monitoring aspects of human terrain and providing predictive analysis to determine where unrest or crime is likely to occur.

In the past, information exchange among analysts and end users was made difficult by the need to be trained in specialized applications to accurately report on specific areas of interest in software. Today, we as an industry are working cooperatively toward shrinking that knowledge gap by making GEOINT more accessible to any user while maintaining the integrity and accessibility of crucial information.


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