A Powerful Synergy: Q&A with USGIF CEO Keith Masback

The GEOINT Symposium returns to Tampa with more programming than ever


United States Geospatial Intelligence Foundation (USGIF) CEO Keith Masback took a few minutes Sunday to share what he is looking forward to this week at GEOINT 2018, reflect on the Foundation’s steady growth, and provide a glimpse of big things on the horizon.

How does it feel to be returning to Tampa for GEOINT 2018?

For those of us on staff, the last time we were in Tampa is sort of burned into our memory by the impact of the federal government shutdown, which caused us to postpone GEOINT 2013 (with only a few days notice) from its traditional scheduling in the fall, to the spring of 2014—renamed, with a bit of whimsy, GEOINT 2013*.

Much like our members, exhibitors, and attendees all supported us in a truly humbling way, the city of Tampa also rose to the occasion in a way that was above and beyond expectation. From the mayor’s office, to the Convention and Visitors Bureau, to the convention center, our hotel partners, and more—they worked hard with us on short notice to reschedule the Symposium for the spring. That experience created a unique bond between USGIF, our signature annual event, and the Tampa community. So we’re thrilled to be back in this city.

How does this location, in particular its proximity to MacDill Air Force Base, help shape the event?

From the time we first conceived of Tampa as a location for the GEOINT Symposium we knew the proximity to MacDill Air Force Base, including CENTCOM, SOCOM, “Coalition Village” that houses 52 nations, and other government entities would represent a tremendous opportunity and an important operational audience for the types of technologies, solutions, and services discussed and displayed at the Symposium. We’ve enjoyed a fruitful engagement with the folks at MacDill, and they’ve made it clear how much they value having the Symposium in Tampa.

Do you have any reflections to share from yesterday’s GEOINT Foreword event?

The growth of GEOINT Foreword is quite exciting. What started as an effort to provide some modest content while attendees were arriving in our host city and while others were participating in our charity golf tournament, has blossomed into a highly anticipated and rich conversation about topics that are important to the GEOINT Community, in a forum and format that doesn’t exist anywhere else. This year, with the significant assistance of USGIF’s Tradecraft & Professional Development Committee, we worked hard to explore a variety of use cases. Most of these, being from outside the traditional GEOINT realm, represented exemplars to stimulate discussion about the theme of this year’s event—“Driving Data to Decisions and Action.”

What does this year’s theme mean to you?

Only a few years ago, everyone was talking about “big data” and we were doggedly in pursuit of more, believing that more—data or otherwise—would by definition be better. But “more” is only better if we can actually make sense of it and apply it to a problem in time. More doesn’t necessarily make for faster or better decisions. Volume is not a measure of success, output is.

Now, with the advent of new tools and techniques to include AI and machine learning, more can be better as long as we’re focused on driving data and information to decisions and action. We’re not the data community; we’re the Intelligence Community. Simply gathering and assembling data falls short of our ultimate requirement, which is to provide intelligence to a policymaker or commander in time to facilitate their need.

How do the two panel discussions taking place during this week’s general session reflect the GEOINT 2018 theme?

We will have a panel on the main stage Wednesday dedicated to this year’s theme and titled “Analytics Driving Action.” This panel is going to be remarkable given the depth and breadth of backgrounds among the experts participating, to include Dr. Erin Simpson of Northrop Grumman, Dr. Sarah Battersby of Tableau, Auren Hoffman of Safegraph, Jeff Jonas of Senzing, and Dr. Karen Miller from Los Alamos National Laboratory.

We will also have a panel Tuesday titled “The Future of Commercial Remote Sensing.” In the past, this discussion might have just been about collecting image data from space, but, for example, panelist Jane Poynter’s company World View is working with high-altitude balloons. Everybody on this panel will be talking about the continuum—from the collection of pixels all the way to providing insights and answers—and that is indicative of how things are changing in our community. Other participants in this panel will be Ursa’s Julie Baker, David Potere of Tellus Labs, John Murtagh of Airbus, Planet’s Robbie Schingler, and DigitalGlobe founder and now Maxar CTO Dr. Walter Scott. Jeff Tarr of USGIF’s Board of Directors will moderate.

What are some other highlights you are looking forward to during this year’s general session?

Our main stage program continues to evolve. Based on attendee feedback, we know we don’t need to be engaged in an “arms race” to gather the largest collection of the most senior military and government personnel we can put on stage. Rather, we seek an interesting mix of accomplished professionals, practitioners, thinkers, and writers who offer a variety of perspectives and who challenge the way we think about accomplishing GEOINT and related missions now and into the future.

Linking the World CEO Mina Chang and author Scott Hartley, who will both give GEOINT Symposium keynotes for the first time today, are highly accomplished in their respective fields. They follow a “tradition of nontraditional speakers” that in the past has included retired Gen. Stanley McChrystal (in his role as an author), Robert Kaplan, and Parag Khanna, among others. This is becoming yet another point of distinction for the GEOINT Symposium compared to other defense and intelligence community events.

And, as always, we will be joined by a strong set of defense and intelligence leaders from military, government, and industry. This year’s main stage program will host some of the most interesting and important perspectives we’ve ever had.

The Symposium also features dozens of speakers in the exhibit hall on the Government Pavilion Stage—why is this significant?

We presented our first Government Pavilion Stage during GEOINT 2013*, the last time we were in Tampa. This event within an event is now bigger than many organizations’ annual meetings. Putting together that much content over a period of three days is not trivial. The government pavilion has become a hub for discussions about current and planned GEOINT-related business opportunities across the government. Surrounding the Government Pavilion Stage with government exhibitors also creates an unprecedented level of engagement, energy, and cross talk you can’t find anywhere else.

What else can attendees look forward to in the GEOINT 2018 exhibit hall?

Many of our attendees and exhibitors noted a powerful buzz around innovation last year in San Antonio. It’s clear that will be taken to the proverbial next level this year. There is a burning platform to take full advantage of existing technologies and services as they’re applied to our problem set, as well as to implement new and imaginative solutions.

New this year—and another result of our responsiveness to attendee feedback—will be an Innovation Corner (Booth 1751) in the exhibit hall featuring several lightning talks both Monday and Tuesday afternoons, allowing for additional content to be shared in a broadly accessible format. Finally, our NGA colleagues have a superb lineup of speakers scheduled in their booth throughout the course of the week.

This year, the largest number of K-12 students to date is expected to attend the Symposium. How does this connect to USGIF’s mission?

While most Symposium attendees are focused on specific technological or business pursuits, the K-12 program is an entire operation running in the background that continues to expand and take advantage of the event’s synergy. The program is now a hallmark of the GEOINT Symposium and embodies USGIF’s unwavering commitment to our mission as an educational nonprofit foundation.

This mission begins with K-12 engagement, and carries on through our college and university Student Assistant Program, Young Professionals Golden Ticket Program, 58 hours of professional development opportunities, and professional certification. Taken as a whole, education is a significant part of this event. It is integral and additive in a meaningful way, and I urge all attendees and exhibitors to take the time to engage with our students and young professionals.

Is there anything else you would like to share with GEOINT 2018 attendees?

A community celebrates its achievements and recognizes accomplishments together. People who are part of a profession appreciate those among them who are doing important, groundbreaking, and distinctive work. I’d be thrilled to see more interest in our Annual USGIF Awards Program winners and their achievements. We ought to show our collective appreciation for the level of effort made by the people who put together nomination packages, and the volunteers who roll up their sleeves to select the winners—not to mention for the work of the awardees.

Take, for example, the entertainment industry. You see Meryl Streep and other icons in the first few rows at the Oscars enthusiastically lauding the 20-year-old actor who just won her first award. It is important as our community grows and matures that we recognize the importance of rising up and celebrating the people who are doing important things. It’s worth attending their award presentations, seeking them out, shaking their hands, and thanking them. It’s worth holding what they’ve accomplished up as exemplars for ourselves and for the people we work with, because that’s what a community does.

Does USGIF have any new events planned for 2018?

USGIF will be using the tremendous platform of the GEOINT Symposium to extend our launch of a new, commercial facing event, trajectoryXyzt, which we will hold in Santa Monica, Calif., September 19-20. Geospatial Intelligence has gone viral, and it’s spreading rapidly across myriad sectors of the economy. While people from these industries can certainly benefit from participating in the GEOINT Symposium, there’s been a strong push by non-traditional users for us to provide a forum focused on their broad array of interests and needs.

Further, many of our members do business both within the IC and DoD, as well as in other sectors. For these members, USGIF can forge a path forward, leading with education, training, and professional development to create opportunity. The same ingredients we have combined for more than 14 years to create tremendous success in our traditional arena will allow us to be the convening authority for all things GEOINT in other arenas as well.

“tX”—as we call it around the office—is the logical next step in that evolution, and we’re really gratified by the buzz it’s already generating. Keep an eye on our announcements regarding trajectoryXyzt in the coming weeks and months—it’s going to be a phenomenal event!

Headline Image: USGIF CEO Keith Masback moderated a panel of National System for Geospatial Intelligence leaders on the main stage at GEOINT 2017 in San Antonio.


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