A Renaissance at NGA

Dr. Cynthia Daniell examined NGA’s renaissance through its capabilities, partnerships, and talent.

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The National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) delivers world-class geospatial intelligence that provides a decisive advantage to policymakers, military service members, intelligence professionals, and first responders. But according to Dr. Cynthia Daniell, Director of Research, NGA, who was the keynote speaker on day two of USGIF’s GEOINTegration Summit, NGA is undergoing a renaissance.

NGA’s renaissance is reimagining the entire GEOINT operation to deliver actionable information faster—at the speed of need. It is an exciting time of discovery and curiosity, creating a fountain of new and game-changing ideas. Motivated in part by these new capabilities, NGA Director Vice Admiral Robert Sharp laid out a moonshot for the agency.

“The moonshot is to take all the capabilities that we have and shorten the timeline that it takes to complete all these capabilities,” says Daniell. “We are really focused on that need for speed. We are trying to shorten the timeline to be able to deliver an answer almost immediately when someone’s query requires a geospatial response.”

But to get to that moonshot, there are four critical pieces that must be addressed: NGA’s mission imperatives—ensured positioning, navigation, timing, and targeting; accelerated tasking orchestration; data access/integrity; and analytic workflow modernization. And this, Daniell says, is part of NGA’s renaissance.

“The way to achieve those mission imperatives is through our people, partnerships, and mission today, and making sure that we are operationally ready and never forget mission tomorrow,” Daniell says.

NGA awarded the GEOINT Learning through Academic Program (GLAP) to USGIF as the leader of a consortium of 11 universities to facilitate the transformation of the analytical workforce into a data-savvy, technologically adept workforce of the future.

In research, NGA is also undergoing a rebirth in the way it reaches out to and partners with industry and academia through its new Boosting Innovative GEOINT Research (BIG-R) Broad Agency Announcement (BAA).

“The BAA is a new revolutionary way of doing business. It will allow us to reach all types of contractors and performers like small business, academia, and non-profits,” Daniell says.

Finally, human talent is a large puzzle for the next renaissance. According to Daniell, the renaissance we see today involves a lot of artificial intelligence, automation, and machine learning. But you can’t reach a new renaissance without people. The human-machine team is a dynamic and adaptable one. There are many roles that people will play in the future in this symbiotic partnership, and they aren’t the same roles that people play now with technology. There are people that have to train the machine, explain the machine, and sustain the machine. Therefore, people need to be trained in these three roles.

“The most important part about this is that we are investing in human talent. Human talent has to be invested in first and technology second,” Daniell says.

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