Changes in shape and scope have been the new normal at the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, from a new East Coast headquarters for GEOINT to new information architecture.
Just as the agency’s overarching 2013-2017 strategy was being released, its director, Letitia A. “Tish” Long, spoke at a Potomac Officers Club breakfast June 20, telling an audience of government contracting leaders that she welcomed their help and would continue to ask for feedback as the agency continues to move forward.
With geospatial imagery continually in the news and on people’s minds, and a dual mission in intelligence and combat support, Long is well aware of the challenges NGA faces.
“As we start thinking towards the future, an era of declining resources, I really believed that we would not have the wherewithal to continue [the previous] business model. Not only that, an increasingly savvy customer set wants to do more themselves, wants to serve themselves, wants to access our information and mash it up with their own information, wants to tailor it to what they need when they need it.”
Positioning for the Future
When she arrived at NGA, two years ago, she said it was a very good place, but operating on a wartime footing. Her primary question became how to position the agency for the future.
A “geospatial revolution” was going on. Even the average citizen on a smart phone was now using complex imaging and GPS positioning unimaginable just a few years ago. Mobility and imaging was advancing rapidly in the defense and intelligence fields, bringing new capacities to warfighters, who with new technology could do easily what it used to take experts days to accomplish.
She asked: “How does NGA take advantage of that? How do we bring what’s happening on smart devices into our classified environment? How do we change the way we access our own information, and how do we make our users’ experience a lot better than it is today? Why can’t our holdings be easily accessible online on demand, and why can’t we serve that up to our users?”
In recent years, what’s adding to the traditional field of geospatial intelligence—which merges imagery, imagery intelligence, and geospatial information—is the blend of “non-traditional” information, such as human geography and social media information. All this needed to figure into the agency’s future strategy.
With that in mind, she set two leading strategic goals:
- Provide online, on-demand access to its GEOINT knowledge
- Broaden and deepen analytic expertise to produce new value
To get there, NGA is working to become more agile and to move from providing products to providing services, Long said.
Successes and Opportunities
Putting the power and access into the users’ hands can get some pushback reactions, Long said: “Oh, we get it. You’re going to draw down, you’re going to take your budget cuts, and you’re going to make us do your job.”
Not the case, she made clear: “What we’re going to do is make our information more readily accessible. I’m not trying to make GEOINT experts out of all source analysts, or soldiers, or first responders, but I am trying to enable them to do their job better.”
And after a dialogue with industry, NGA has also restructured contracts, with an Office of Contract Services reporting directly into the front office and a focus on agile acquisition. Long told of how some GovCon leaders have called her to ask if she realizes that how a certain contract is written doesn’t reflect her vision for the agency—“and I would like to say thank you. If we don’t have the request for proposal right, we’re not going to end up with the services that we need at the end. So I appreciate the feedback that I receive.”
Another change is the formation of Online GEOINT Services, a small, user-focused organization using business analytics to determine strategy in meeting user needs. She described it as “essentially an e-business and the outward face of the Agency” and said it was an area where NGA was actively seeking industry help and input.
A hot topic for attendees was the debate over commercial imagery. Long called it “an enduring part of the NGA’s architecture … our architecture includes every amount of imagery and geospatial information that we can get. Our U.S. commercial imagery is a very important part of that architecture.”
New Areas Ripe for Industry Involvement
Another change has been to get all the components—developers, security, and more—on the analyst desktops. NGA workgroups are also looking at ways to integrate more intelligence and social media, and ways to work with big data.
Activity-based intelligence, in which algorithms alert analysts to areas of change, is another area Long said was “ripe for some good partnering with industry.”
End users such as FEMA, who previously might go to a disaster scene “with paper and pencil” now use smart devices. “We are just pushing the envelope on the apps that we are delivering to them,” Long said.
“It’s a completely different model from their perspective and from our perspective. We are now able to spend time actually analyzing the information. We’ve been able to help predict whether, if the flood waters are going to rise there, is that in an area where there’s farmland and farm waste? And is the water going to go in a particular direction because we’re analyzing the geology of the area?
“So just take that example, and then translate that across our many mission sets. The possibilities, I think, are endless. And I really do believe the commercial market, the geospatial market, is really driving us in a good way, and we need to take advantage of it.” GCE
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The Potomac Officers Club is a nonprofit board of trade in the greater Washington area. The members meet throughout the year to hear nationally recognized speakers from the commercial and government sectors. The mission of the Club is to foster business growth and share information about emerging business trends and innovations. The POC was created in January 2002 and celebrated its 10-year anniversary in March.