A New Age of GEOINT

NGA director reflects on GEOINT’s past, charts course for its future


What do Presidents George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln have in common with the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA)? A lot, actually, according to NGA Director Robert Cardillo, who used the celebrated American leaders to illustrate the continued evolution of geospatial intelligence during his keynote address Monday morning at GEOINT 2016.

“Seventy-five years ago, the Mt. Rushmore National Memorial was dedicated in the Black Hills of South Dakota,” Cardillo said. “It was a phenomenal achievement of art and science resulting in an iconic memorial to four great Americans … So let’s use these four remarkable Americans as a framework to look at our progress.”

During his first address as director of NGA at the GEOINT 2015 Symposium, Cardillo introduced a new NGA Strategy focused on four distinct pillars: people, partners, profession, and value. Because he would have been an avid NGA customer, President Washington, Cardillo told the audience, personifies value.

“Enabling customer success is what compels [NGA] every day. We’re driven forward by our fear of failing them. They—you—are our reason for being,” Cardillo said, stressing the importance of NGA’s GEOINT Services initiative in creating customer value. GEOINT Services, the Intelligence Community’s enterprise-wide GEOINT delivery platform that spans all security domains, is on track to deliver geospatial content fully in the cloud by the end of 2017.

When it does, NGA will be even closer to achieving his vision of succeeding “in the open,” according to Cardillo.

The Director then turned to President Jefferson, who commissioned the Lewis and Clark expedition and created the country’s first cipher system to transmit coded information in advance of the Louisiana Purchase. “For Jefferson, mapping was—as it is today—an intelligence activity,” Cardillo said.

To further invest in that activity, as Jefferson did, NGA recently replaced its InnoVision Directorate with the launch of NGA Research, which leverages external research expertise. NGA Research will soon debut a Silicon Valley branch called NGA Outpost Valley to take advantage of tech-industry talent.

“[These initiatives] allow us to put more minds on tasks, bringing fresh ideas, innovative research techniques, and path-breaking science,” explained Cardillo, who next pivoted to NGA’s focus on its partners—represented by President Roosevelt, a former commissioner of the New York Police Department.

“As police commissioner, he actually walked a beat late at night and early in the morning,” Cardillo said. “NGA … must walk every beat with Team GEOINT.”

Cardillo said NGA is doing just that by investing in its many partnerships. In particular, he highlighted successful international partnerships, notable domestic partnerships, and evolving industry partnerships—the strength of which is increasing thanks to efforts like the GEOINT Solutions Marketplace (GSM), a joint effort between USGIF and NGA to create an online community connecting GEOINT users with solution providers.

NGA’s most important partner is its workforce, Cardillo continued, discussing the final of his four admired presidents and strategic pillars—President Lincoln and people, respectively.

“[Lincoln] united people around a goal to serve a purpose higher than themselves,” explained Cardillo, who said NGA is pursuing similar unification through evolution of its human resources strategy. In pursuit of a next-generation GEOINT workforce, his goals include increasing hiring, streamlining the onboarding of new analysts working with unclassified data sources, and improving training and development for existing analysts.

“This is not just about bringing in new talent. It’s about growing and unleashing their potential,” he said.

NGA is also advancing the GEOINT profession via its GEOINT Professional Certification Program for the Defense Intelligence Enterprise. Since the program began in 2013, the agency has awarded more than 6,000 certifications—20 percent of which to its military partners.

“And what about our colleagues in industry?” Cardillo said, referencing NGA’s growing partnership with USGIF and the reciprocity the agency will share with USGIF’s Universal GEOINT Certification Program. “We’re proud and pleased to be able to announce this major milestone of our intent to functionally recognize the equivalence between [NGA and USGIF certifications] to provide the parity and equivalence across certification programs … to build a true profession.”

Cardillo concluded with some calls to action for industry and academia:

  • To “game-ify” GEOINT technologies, platforms, and solutions to leverage constructive competition and improve intelligence outcomes.
  • To offer more trial accounts that allow NGA to “test-drive” new technologies.
  • To deliver more big data analytics solutions such as subscriptions to alerts, observations, and insights that help analysts turn pixels into reliable, accurate GEOINT data.
  • To develop secure multinational technology solutions that facilitate information exchange between NGA and international partners.

Once these and other goals are realized, NGA will be well positioned to exploit what Cardillo called “a new age of GEOINT”—the emergent era of open, on-demand geospatial intelligence.

“We must go wherever the data, technology, and people exist, and apply that knowledge wherever the customers demand. We must let go of any remnants of ownership and embrace our stewardship of the profession. We must enable outcomes that are bigger than ourselves,” Cardillo concluded.

“If we do these things—and we do them together—we can actually make this planet a better place to live.”


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