Even before the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) renaming transformed the agency from the more-static-sounding National Imagery and Mapping Agency (NIMA), the organization was hard at work to speed and ease the workflow of turning raw images into insight. The organization has been at the technological forefront of exploiting imagery and continues to provide valuable information in a timely manner that impacts missions and lives.
The high-impact nature of NGA's mission provides urgency and an impatience with technological and behavioral barriers that stand in the way of progress toward more real-time intelligence at the point of conflict. Through the years, the targets of friction reduction have evolved from seeking interoperability and creating portals and collaborative tools toward reaching consensus, embracing new imagery-collection platforms (including drones and smallsats), and on to supporting and promoting open-source software. The restless nature of this ongoing quest for a Holy Grail of geospatial from situational intelligence to predictive analytics has provided an engine for geospatial-industry advancement.
Data interoperability among disparate systems was (and is) a key barrier to collaboration and improved insight. Interaction at multiple scales with multiple inputs is necessary to make such strides, and interoperability was a key barrier due to siloed information among agencies and at different operational levels. Adding temporal capabilities to go backward and forward along a timeline, seeing how situations evolve, was hampered by a lack of information flow.
The barriers to interoperability have been broken down through the years, ensuring that legacy systems can be accessed and proprietary formats don't pose bottlenecks for integration of different insights. Standards for information sharing have largely been responsible for achieving interoperability goals, as has the advent of cloud-based computing resources to provide a repository for infinite storage and processing capacity.
Fueled by Transparency
There's recognition within the geospatial-intelligence community that the convergence of the cloud, Big Data analytics, and an explosion of data from unmanned platforms and smallsats are disrupting the industry. Although these advancements may be hampering legacy geospatial organizations, they're subsequently advancing NGA's drive to provide quicker insight at lower costs.
At last year's GEOINT Conference, smallsats were the a major topic of discussion, as they were embraced by director Robert Cardillo as a path forward for greater global transparency. At this year's event, open-source software was promoted, building on the agency's embrace of GitHub project sharing.
The aim is to create a mission-focused developer community that creates solutions without the burden of commercial software licenses. It also embraces the creation of tools that are given back to the community to be enhanced, feeding constant improvement. The shift to open source is another move to speed innovation by reducing the friction between software provider and consumer. This may prove to be the most-disruptive shift yet to the ecosystem of geospatial technology providers.
— Matt Ball, founder and editorial director, V1 Media.