Reshaping the GEOINT Community

Tapping Into the Commercial Marketplace

Reshaping the GEOINT Community
A “New Industry,” made up of private equity, venture capital, and commercially focused technology companies, both established and start-ups, exists as the single largest disruptor to the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) mission and model. In a short time, companies like Amazon, Google, Apple, Twitter, and others not commonly known in the geospatial intelligence (GEOINT) community have caused rapid and drastic changes to the way the NGA and the rest of the community defines and integrates GEOINT. As a result of significant commercial demand of geospatial information and the introduction of game-changing technologies and data sources, the NGA finds itself needing to play catch up in a rapidly changing environment. The ability to embrace these changes and this New Industry will determine future value of the Agency.

The NGA should consider three things to remain viable and tap into the outside growth and investment.


{ FIRST }

CULTIVATING AND GROWING SOLID RELATIONSHIPS WITH THE NEW INDUSTRY WILL ALLOW NGA TO UNDERSTAND THE NATURE OF THE OF THE CHANGES AND THOSE WHOA RE DRIVING THEM.

Tomorrow’s GEOINT solutions are being seeded today by this new industry of commercial interests. The exponential growth in demand by common consumers for GEOINT (called locational information in the commercial sector) has largely been driven by the mobile- handheld market. Considering the implication of the Internet-of-Things and the realization by commercial businesses that this information can be mashed up to help businesses to gain valuable insights on customers, products, and business operations, the new industry has spawned. This growth has caught the attention of hundreds of innovators, entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, and private equity companies, forming the constituents and concepts of a New Industry that will shape the GEOINT community. Significant investment is being made in the creation and use of locational information by this group across the country. Virtually all of the benefactor companies are small or mid-tier companies and represent non-traditional providers with game-changing solutions for NGA.

Cultivating relationships with this New Industry and establishing a dialogue early in the development process will enable and accelerate NGA’s industry leadership while ensuring the success of the entire government geospatial user-set. Efforts to date have not produced the desired results by NGA or this non- traditional group. Fundamentally, at this point, the two communities speak vastly different languages and act on completely disjointed timelines. NGA could raise the priority of these relationships by carving out a portion of its Innovision organization or a better candidate group that focuses on and specializes in bridging this gap. NGA’s best opportunity would be to play a key role in early technology development by actively discovering game-changers within the New Industry and establishing early partnerships for tech investment.

Relative to traditional industry, the players within the New Industry are extremely risk accepting, but look for large profitable payoffs. The New Industry is looking primarily to the private sector for those profits. This ultimately means that NGA merely represents a single voice in a sea of customers; they don’t depend on NGA to make their business case. This will change the typical relation- ship that NGA has with industry. In this context, NGA will not be driving things—rather just along for the ride.


{ SECOND }

UNDERSTANDING THE DIRECTION AND NATURE OF THE CHANGE WILL AID NGA IN TARGETING AND BUILDING THE VALUABLE RELATIONSHIPS DISCUSSED EARLIER.

While imagery products and maps are important, the value that additional and varied sources of information creates is driving advancement in the community. Many emerging GEOINT service companies focus primarily on achieving a basic foundational product and creating new content by mashing it with data from multiple sources—a concept not foreign to NGA but carried much further and faster in recent times by the New Industry. Changes have occurred where a picture may still be worth a thousand words, but today’s locational information final products and services have several thousand words (and other things) embedded within them.

Driving this behavior is the fact that we live in a data-rich environment. Today’s New Industry is leveraging an information explosion, with a plethora of primary, secondary, and tertiary data sources available at our fingertips via the internet and proprietary data streams. Private equity and venture capital funds are investing in dozens of companies working to develop ways to create knowledge for individuals and differentiated commercial groups. Some of these sources have been created from nontraditional methods like crowd- sourcing and wiki-development.

These new and publicly available sources have generated unexpected interest and advancement in the community. In many cases, this crowdsourced data provides rich human geography and activity-based information that has unique access and content. In several recent examples, from reporting traffic, capturing actical details of the Arab Spring, or monitoring the devastating effects of a string of natural disasters, local observers have become unique and authoritative sources of collection, particularly in urban environ- ments. Examples of the content creation typified by the crowdsourcing movement can be seen at sites like Flickr, Panoramio, OpenStreetMap, Wikimaps, Photosynth, Zoom.it, Seadragon Mobile, Twitter, Facebook, Waze, SimpleGeo, and Ushahidi. See Figures 1-2.


Figure 1. Crowdsourced Waze map, where users contribute their own real-time traffic information

Figure 1.
Crowdsourced Waze map, where users contribute their own real-time traffic information


Figure 2. Ushahidi crowdsourced map, showing contributors from around the U.S.

Figure 2.
Ushahidi crowdsourced map, showing contributors from around the U.S.


The New Industry with growing footprints in the geospatial arena have leveraged a dramatically different infrastructure than previously used by the community. These companies, through the cloud and other measures, have developed information technology architectures and processes that offer rapid data mining, high performance computing, application development, and data exposure. Growth in commercial infrastructures, exposure to geo-, temporal-, and meta-tagged data, decentralization of app development, and proliferation of mobile and handheld devices have driven new business opportunities and models. Commercialization of diverse data sources has shifted analytical capabilities toward complex pattern analysis of big data sets, finding value in them that the traditional GEOINT community has struggled to find. For example, development of apps perform complex functions like turning structured text into geographically representative data through scraping blogs and public sites to provide additional context to “locational understanding” about a person, place or event.

The speed at which the GEOINT market space has shifted over this period has exceeded all expectations. As a single but critical indication, the Pew Internet and American Life Project measured that the growth of locational information services by mobile users and applications alone grew by 50% from 2011 to 2012. Suggesting continued shifts, research analysts from the International Telecom Union teamed with Morgan Stanley project the demand for and growth of data created by the mobile internet and the associated locational information services will explode by orders of magnitude before 2020. They project that this will be driven by the sale and use of over 10 billion mobile hand- held units. Tremendous advances in machine learning, particularly as it relates to data mining and correlation, will offer new opportunities. This technology already stores user queries and satisfaction levels, automatically meta-tags data based on user interface and context, and leverages the stored information to improve speed and accuracy on future queries. The potential contribution of these alternative and non-traditional data sources has not yet been realized by NGA.


{ THIRD }

 TARGETED CHANGES TO THE AGENCY MODEL AND APPROACH WILL INCENTIVIZE AND INTEGRATE THE NEW INDUSTRY INTO THE NGA FUTURE ROAD MAP AND HELP THE AGENCY SUCCEED AT ITS MISSION.

A system to access, understand, and integrate the next generation of GEOINT technologies would greatly benefit NGA both in the long and short term. At a basic level, NGA should find a way to discover potential solutions, select and use those solutions, as well as compensate the developers in a way that sufficiently incentivizes industry to focus on NGA’s needs. Such a system will likely be a complete departure from traditional acquisition models and take serious commitment by NGA (and its legislative and executive branch overseers).

“Tomorrow’s GEOINT solutions are being seeded today by this new industry of commercial interests.”

As a first step, a comprehensive market assessment developed by NGA reaching out to the New Industry would support developing the necessary relationships, understanding the nature and scope of the change and of potential solutions, and understanding the knowledge base necessary to develop new models and approaches. Such an activity would allow the NGA to understand current practices while considering alter- native investment and acquisition approaches such as usage-driven pricing, contests, and adoption of community-driven application programming interfaces, standards and open source architectures.

Adoption of new business processes and models will facilitate the transition beyond traditional data, product, and system buys as well as evolve traditional industry solutions. A move from data-driven delivery and compensation to new methods like product and application-use models would benefit all of the GEOINT community. Developing flexible contract structures and vehicles would enable short time lines and operate at a speed closer to that of New Industry. Considering new methods for compensation on new contracts would push all GEOINT companies to provide innovative commercial solutions to NGA’s customers. Offering pilot programs under new business models and processes will allow NGA to test and properly implement game-changing processes emerging from the New Industry.

Commercial industry drives the development of geo-spatial products and services today. This New Industry has invested in enabling technologies and created new business models, creating an explosion in available geospatial information and tools. It has been a game changer and these services and products represent the future of GEOINT service for some time to come. It is possible that NGA can influence and participate in this boom, avoiding obsolescence and greatly benefiting the military and intelligence GEOINT users. However, to successfully do this, NGA will need to build its circle of friends and do things a bit differently.

MANAGING PARTNER / RENAISSANCE STRATEGIC ADVISORS
BOARD OF DIRECTORS / U.S. GEOSPATIAL INTELLIGENCE FOUNDATION / ARLINGTON, VA. WWW.RSADVISORS.COM