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Discovering the Unknowns: The Importance of Geospatial Intelligence

The 2014 Esri Federal GIS conference was filled with insights on the latest GIS developments and Esri announcements. The annual event is a great opportunity to connect with peers in government. The theme of this year’s conference, Integrating Government, highlighted how GIS is able to connect various IT trends, such as big data, mobile, cloud and data visualization. GIS allows agencies to unlock new insights and improved decisions from their data, and the various panels and sessions reinforced this trend.

The integration theme was certainly on display during the second plenary session on Tuesday. This session featured a keynote from the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) Director, Letitia A. Long. Director Long gave a fantastic keynote, highlighting NGA initiatives that are transforming the agency. Under Long’s direction, NGA is quickly transitioning to connect and empower intelligence community professionals. “NGA plays an important role in helping the intelligence community carry out their cybersecurity missions,” said Long. NGA is designed to deliver geospatial intelligence to policy makers, warfighters, intelligence professionals and first responders. This data is imperative to help make informed decisions, often in crisis situations, when leaders must act rapidly and accurately.

Why Geospatial Intelligence?

NGA is the lead federal agency for geospatial intelligence. As the Director of NGA, Long also serves as the functional manager for geospatial intelligence (GEOINT) and the coordinator of the global Allied System for Geospatial Intelligence (ASG). “We like to say we put the bricks and mortar into the bits and bytes,” said Long.

The trends of the conference tie very closely with the NGA mission, “Our mission is to be the indispensable provider of timely, accurate and relevant GEOINT to policy makers, war fighters, intelligence analyst and first responders,” said Long. As the conference highlighted the importance of understanding our geography, and the context behind location, NGA’s work is essential to improving the intelligence community’s ability to capitalize on the tsunami of data that is being created.

Geospatial intelligence is helping the intelligence community link geography to events. It allows leaders to know what is happening, why and where events are occuring. GEOINT analysis leverages imagery, maps, charts and terrain. “They [GEOINT analysts] seek to understand what is happening at any location on the Earth and to share their insights with mission partners to protect national security and respond to natural and manmade disasters,” the NGA website reads.

With the importance of our data and information systems, now is the time for NGA to continue to leverage new and emerging technology to connect analyst to location. NGA is working on advising improved counterterrorism decisions, weapons of mass destruction, helping warfighters plan mission, battlefield advantages, protecting military forces, and among many other tasks, providing insights to help monitor, assess and report threats to government.

NGA also supports security planning for special events, such as presidential inaugurations, and major public events. As you can see, NGA plays a critical role in keeping us safe. Long said, “What makes NGA interesting, in my view, is that we are no longer doing business as usual,” she continued, “The world around is changing rapidly, and NGA is changing with it.”

Challenges to Innovation

NGA serves an important role in protecting our nation, yet the agency is not immune to similar challenges faced across government. One challenge is that data is increasingly becoming more and more of an imperative commodity for agencies. As such, collaboration is becoming essential to share information. Since digital devices now dominate our world, more data than ever before is being created. At the same time, there is an unprecedented call for the intelligence community to become more transparent. As threats increase, and become more complex, balancing transparency and security will continue to be a challenge for the intelligence community.

Long said that the agency is moving quickly to provide services online and on-demand, and to broaden and deepen analytical expertise. These initiatives will provide added benefits for the end users of the information. Yet, in order to do so, the agency is challenged by a slow procurement process and shrinking budgets.

There are challenges that remain for continued evolution of the intelligence community. These include industry continuing to develop new and emerging technology solutions to meet government needs. This means providing access to data and information in remote environments, automation of tools, data collection methods, data verification and identity management.

Please continue reading more from Director Long’s Keynote: A History of Transformation: Innovations From the Intelligence Community.

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