Examining a New Era in Computation and Analysis

Introducing a new column by USGIF Vice President of Professional Development Dr. Darryl Murdock discussing all things GEOINT education, training, and certification


Dr. Darryl Murdock

Dr. Darryl Murdock is USGIF’s vice president of professional development and pens this monthly column dedicated to GEOINT training, education, certification, and more. Murdock is leading the establishment of USGIF’s Universal GEOINT Certification Program.

Greetings! This is the first edition of a new trajectory column dedicated to professional development. Our goal is to present information about the changing GEOINT landscape as it relates to education, training, certification, knowledge, skills, abilities, attitudes, and technology. The column will generally focus on the analyst, with an occasional look at technicians and researchers. But it will remain laser-focused on how to advance the profession of GEOINT.

One specific topic I would like to begin with is credentialing. There is much talk about credentials—also known as certificates, certifications, and degrees. In a quickly changing technical and situational environment, we must often assess who is fit to perform what tasks in what jobs or work roles. A big, important question is often a very simple one: “Who is qualified and capable to do the work?” The answer is not as simple as the question itself.  Analysts with degrees don’t always outperform those without. Analysts with 30 years of experience don’t always outperform the new college graduate or E-3.

To meet the need to differentiate and prove competence, USGIF has created two types of credentials—one program for students and another for GEOINT professionals.

Seven years ago, the Foundation launched a Collegiate Accreditation Program whereby college and university students can earn a USGIF Geospatial Intelligence Certificate at the bachelor’s degree, master’s degree, or Ph.D. levels. USGIF currently accredits 14 colleges and universities in the U.S. and abroad and awards more than 100 GEOINT certificates annually.

In 2016, USGIF launched our Universal GEOINT Certification Program, which includes three assessments leading to a Certified GEOINT Professional (CGP) designation. The three assessments and corresponding certifications are GIS and Analysis Tools (CGP-G), Remote Sensing and Imagery Analysis (CGP-R), and Geospatial Data Management (CGP-D). All three certifications are available to be earned by GEOINT professionals and are designed for practitioners with three to five years experience. Those who earn all three CGP designations are then eligible to apply for USGIF’s Universal GEOINT Professional (UGP) certification. All of these credentials have been built for the analyst or future analyst.

We have entered a new era in computing and analysis, one in which spatial and temporal accuracy, precision, and seemingly unconstrained data and compute resources exist. For the analyst, this means doing much more, with more data than has ever before been possible. However, analysts do not want to pay more nor provide additional resources to get more. We demand answers yet are unwilling to pay a reasonable fee to obtain them. We want to pay for answers like we are paying for data. And this isn’t reasonable given the costs associated with achieving answers.

Let’s examine for a moment a business case with the fictitious “Answers-as-a-Happy-Service.” Or AAAHS, maybe the best acronym I ever created.

First, an AAAHS vendor must obtain all data needed to provide an answer with a high probability of correctness. A hallmark of AAAHS is it yields nearly zero false positives. And, as a result of needing to have nearly no false positives, false negatives are also nearly eliminated because our threshold for reporting is unnaturally high. By having an unrealistically low number of false positives we can only provide for the most obvious of answers—things we often intuitively know but now use data to confirm, such as lights are often turned on at night and off during the day.

Second, the AAAHS vendor must have an excellent data analytics staff and appropriate, current tools to sift through the mountains of available data. Both the data scientists and the tools must be top-notch to avoid the dreaded false positives.  Third, the AAAHS vendor must have a strong, qualified GEOINT staff that can make sense of all the various types of spatiotemporal results and inputs and then create an Analysis of Competing Hypotheses and understand various contexts provided by a human geographer. Finally, the AAAHS vendor must have a near instant customer delivery mechanism that shows a blinking arrow and a “Decision Made Here” label. And all of these things must happen every day, 24/7. Good luck pricing this touted “business solution” so the customer is willing to buy it and the AAAHS vendor can actually stay in business.

Additionally, what about the education and training necessary for AAAHS to become a reality? Are our secondary schools, colleges, and universities providing the workforce of tomorrow with qualified AAAHS analysts? What do we call those programs of study that turn out qualified AAAHS analysts, ostensibly the GEOINT analysts of the future? Data analytics? High-speed computing? Programming?  Geography? Computer science? Statistics? Operations research? Remote sensing? Geographic Information Systems?

A true challenge lies in how we talk about careers and how we refer to and name jobs. This is not a trivial exercise as people take great pride in describing their life’s work. How often do you ask someone what they do and have them respond not really with what they do but with their job title? In a future article we will examine work within the U.S. Department of Labor and its naming of “geospatial” jobs. I hope you read, enjoy, and comment on this and future columns.


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