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A History of Transformation: Innovations From the Intelligence Community

This is Part II of National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) Director, Letitia A. Long’s Keynote presentation at the 2014 Esri Federal GIS Conference. Read Part I here: Discovering the Unknowns: The Importance of Geospatial Intelligence.

During the keynote address, Director Long provided insights as to how the intelligence community has evolved. “I will tell you that behind every transformation is a history of evolution,” Long observed. This philosophy is certainly impacting the course of the NGA. Society is constantly changing and evolving. In today’s world, the digital ecosystem is expanding rapidly, and it is arguably more essential than ever before to understand how data is tied to location. The intelligence community has made great strives to evolve and modernize to fit societies needs. Director Long provided context as to how the intelligence community is connecting and collaborating to improve decisions and insights.

Director Long highlighted three phases of evolution of the intelligence community, and a fourth, which is a steadily emerging trend within the intelligence community. The first phase she refers to is “separation. Historically, pulling together a common intelligence picture has been difficult, as data was isolated, siloed and systems could not “talk” to one another. Operations ran in stovepipes, and there was a lack of standards and collaboration.

Yet, as technology evolved and the value of collaboration become more widely understood, the intelligence community evolved. “Lessons from the Gulf War and the Cold War drove the second phase, and I refer to that phase as connection,” said Long. During the connection phase, disciplines were integrated and collaboration was used to solve problems.

Today, the intelligence community is continuing to integrate and share infrastructures. Long defined the current stage as the integration phase. She noted the example of the Intelligence Community Information Technology Enterprise (IC ITE), which looks to share infrastructure, capabilities, business operations, governance, oversight, and develop strategic partnerships to improve the effectiveness of the intelligence community.

“IC ITE will enable analyst across the community to fuse information to be able to really create that common picture by gaining deeper insights into our hard problems,” said Long.

Toward Full Immersion: 4 Critical Initiatives at NGA

“The power of intelligence integration is leading us to the possibility of a fourth phase, and I call that immersion,” said Long. The immersion phase places the analyst directly within the data ecosystem. This gives the analyst access to the right data they need to make accurate, effective and real-time decisions. Long believes that this phase is emerging for government. The immersion phase will have security systems in place to prevent security breaches and to combat insider threats.

To continue to build towards a full immersion state, Long provided insights on four key initiatives at NGA. These initiatives are, Open IT, Map of the World, The Globe and Advanced Analytics Techniques. “These four initiatives are creating a completely integrated GEOINT enterprise. All four support and reinforce each other and we really need to make progress on all four to achieve our vision,” said Long.

Open IT lays the infrastructure for the other three. NGA has adopted open IT standards and taken a lead role in the intelligent community’s IC ITE initiative. Map of the World is an initiative leading to the full immersion phase. Long notes, “In the past you had to access multiple databases, and search for hours, maybe even days to access information. You first had to know where to look. And, I will tell you, that doesn’t cut it today. In a rapidly changing world, customers need immediate access.” Map the World solves this problem, as it provides easy access to spatial data and information. “Without quality service, and easy access, the best content may not be useful to the customer,” Long said.

Map the World is helping to develop another imperative initiative, The Globe. “Ultimately all of our intelligence will be available at any time, from any location, through any desktop or any device, and we call this online initiative, The Globe,” said Long. NGA is looking to turn data into knowledge, regardless of location or device. Given the unique mission of NGA, achieving these means is essential to help drive decisions at the agency.

“We must focus on discovering the unknown-unknowns that are hidden in the masses of data that are created in the masses every single day. And we must discover them more quickly than every before,” said Long. Discovering unknowns more rapidly can be done by leveraging advanced analytics techniques. This means hiring staff with the right expertise, and using analytic methods to drive innovations. This initiative is closely linked to Open IT, Map the World and The Globe, all working to seamlessly connect and create an efficient and effective data ecosystem for an analyst.

Another initiative at the NGA, Activity Based Intelligence (ABI) is emerging as a new way to drive insights from data. NGA is developing solutions and analysis practices to identify patterns and relations from multiple data sources. This could mean finding patterns and correlations between video, imagery, radar, and foundation data, anything that will give new insights or potentially predict events to analysts.

Long also commented on the importance of automation as new technologies are developed, “Automated process frees the analyst to think more deeply, to answer intelligence questions more quickly and generate new perspectives for their customers. The result: more decision space and deeper insights so our policy makers and our war fighters can determine better courses of action.”

Under Long’s leadership, the NGA is quickly transforming to provide immediate access to data, and in a format that is effective for leadership to make improved decisions. “There are powerful realities that are reshaping our world, these forces have created a relentless momentum driving intelligence integration, and that momentum is helping us to transform into a dynamic content and services provider,” concluded Long.

This philosophy is not only changing the NGA, but also transforming the intelligence community to modernize, and to discover hidden insights from troves of data we are collecting.

Read Part I: Discovering the Unknowns: The Importance of Geospatial Intelligence

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Photo credit: Jeffery MacEachern, Flickr, License Attribution.

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