NGA transforms into dynamic geospatial service provider

Wednesday - 2/12/2014, 4:51am EST

Jason Miller on the Federal Drive.

Download mp3

Few of the 17 intelligence agencies across the government have experienced such a dramatic evolution over the last decade as the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency.

The technology boom that led to big data, mobility and cloud computing raised the stature and importance of the NGA to both the intelligence and Defense Department Communities.

To that end, NGA finally is in a much stronger place to take advantage of and offer services for geospatial information intelligence.

"We are no longer doing business as usual. The work around us is changing rapidly, and NGA is changing with it," said Letitia Long, director of NGA, Tuesday at the ESRI Federal GIS Conference in Washington. "We are transforming from a traditional provider of products, static maps, charts and analytic products into a dynamic content and services provider. As the provider of this dynamic geospatial intelligence, we deliver advanced analysis. We drive integrated intelligence. We are constantly evolving our critical geospatial content and at the same time offering expert services to all of our many customers."

Part of that transformation is entering phase three of the evolution of geospatial information services (GIS).

Long said phase one was all about coordination, where users brought together disconnected data and systems to solve a problem. The idea of information sharing was encouraged but not fully supported, and data was segmented and siloed.

Just beginning phase 3

In the late 1990s, the intelligence community moved into phase two, called "connection."

Long said this is where the community moved past coordination by connecting the different disciplines and fostering mutual support among them. She said the data still wasn't integrated, but at least there was collaboration.

The intelligence community, led by NGA, now is in the early stages of phase three, called "integration."

Long said these efforts and capabilities depend on the Intelligence Community Information Technology Enterprise (ICITE) initiative.

"ICITE will enable our analysts from across the community to fuse their information, to be able to really create that common picture and thereby gaining deeper insights into our hardest problems," Long said. "The Director of National Intelligence has really championed the transition to integration as his highest priority. And I will tell you, we are making great progress across the IG, and Web GIS really enables this. As we make progress, we are perceiving the world in new and different ways. The power of intelligence integration I think is leading us to the possibility of a fourth phase. I call that immersion. In the not-too-distant future, I hope that analysts are able to live within the data so really immersed in a multi-sensory, fully integrated environment. They may be equipped with advanced visual, auditory tactical tools and technologies. I think the promise of immersion offers an exciting future for analysts."

Long said all of these phases are part of a historic shift that NGA and the intel community are going through. She said the intel community could move into phase four over the next five years.

In the meantime, NGA is leading the way in phase three with four new capabilities launched in the last six months.

All four are dependent on one another and integrated through ICITE.

Long said NGA moved first to open IT standards starting in 2011. This included operating in the cloud and focusing on customer satisfaction and efficiencies.

The second capability is called Map of the World.

Long said this is the bedrock of the intelligence integration.

"In the past, you had to access multiple databases and search by hand for hours, sometimes even days, to find our information. First, you had to know where to look. And I will tell you, that doesn't cut it today in our rapidly changing world," she said. "Customers need immediate access. They shouldn't have to know where to go to get the information, just know that it's out there and access it quickly. So we have created a Map of the World to be the home for all geoint related and multi-source content, data, knowledge, analysis and reporting. Map of the World provides a seamless, integrated environment so analysts can live within that data. They record their observations and they integrate all of their information about any object of interest."

Web portal to be gateway to all data

The NGA Map of the World differs from others in that it includes classified geospatial content about maritime and air safety and imagery data. Its content also is tailored for DoD and intelligence senior decision makers.

Long said intelligence analysts access the Map of the World through the Globe — a Web portal that ultimately will be the entry point for all intelligence data.