The operational value of low- and zero- code app development
In years past, adding new capabilities to extend defense and intelligence platforms has seemed like a monolithic quest to rebuild the platform itself—as if with every new requirement came the need to reinvent the wheel. Compounded by slow-moving federal procurement systems, adaptability of critical platforms moved at a glacial pace, especially as the platform’s popularity and operational value grew.
However, today’s platform vendors and system integrators are finding ways to speed things up with modern applications that are configurable by design, while seamlessly interfacing with the platform.
Low-code and zero-code software enable new, add-on applications to be assembled versus written from scratch. Low-code approaches foster solutions that can be used by vendors and system integration firms, and ultimately their defense and intelligence customers, to gain the speed and flexibility missing in their full-blown, full-code platforms. The less complex solutions make it easier to configure modules that extend existing platform data and capabilities to new operations, while ostensibly enabling the rapid introduction of new features that make the platform even more valuable.
Integration becomes easier with low-code open architectures that enable end users to simply point to platform connectors. With REST APIs and Open Geospatial Consortium (OGC) standards, cross-platform data dissemination and collection no longer requires extensive proprietary coding. You can build an app and point it to your GIS and imagery platforms, thus extending these data platform assets to all types of mobile missions, operations, and projects.
Consider the relentless pursuit of the Common Operational Picture (COP). Defense and intelligence platforms have the potential to help enable every stakeholder to see the same fused-data product—analytics, imagery, maps, video, audio, and more—in real- or near-real time. The system typically breaks down at the end of the Geographic Information System (GIS) software spectrum. The geospatial experts, imagery analyst, and command personnel have GIS software. But the field operators, warfighters, and first responders on-site do not. They can easily view Apple and Google imagery on their smartphone, but can’t take advantage of the latest geospatial intelligence gathered by drones, satellites, and sensors.
For many years, though, the last link of the Processing-Exploitation-Dissemination (PED) continuum has eluded full use of the COP. Getting field observations from the tactical edge and returning the COP and other intelligence products to their ultimate users in a timely fashion is still a work in progress—and that progress has been slow.
Bridging this gap effectively means building adaptable applications and features that are “field-first” and mission-specific, not rigid and platform-centric. Low- or open-source applications are the key to doing this more quickly and with less expense. Such apps could also be vital to the long desired manifestation of the “every soldier a sensor” goal within the military.
In addition, low-code technology can be important to mobile operations. For example, the Navy hopes for ships in a carrier task force spread over hundreds of miles of ocean to become more inter-operative, not only with command, but with one another. So, too, can the technology facilitate actions among airmen over thousands of miles of sky. Headquarters needs to see what ship captains, soldiers, and airmen see, when they see it—the COP. However, each service requires different application capabilities to capture and share what’s most relevant and valuable to their success at the edge of the mission.
Taking a step further, field forces at even the lowest levels are more educated than ever in the mechanics and value of geospatial (as well as other forms of) intelligence. They have relied on it in their use of smartphones and tablet devices since youth. Through adaptive, low-code mobile application development, fielded operators are able to speed mission-centric data back to headquarters as quickly and easily as they do with social media apps. They should be able to get those products at the tactical edge more quickly.
However, even with additional speed and analytics software that is racing big data, no analyst can completely review the mass of intelligence that grows more expansive each day. There often comes a point at which a commander at the tactical edge has to make decisions based on available and applicable data, even if it’s incomplete, because there’s no time to develop a finished product. That leader should be able to see the best available, just-in-time GEOINT at his fingertips.
Lives depend on this speed.
Increasingly, with low-code applications, systems can be customized and developed quickly to help support decisions during all types of missions. But to do so, the defense and intelligence communities must be willing to do two things:
- Work with emerging low-code technology that can speed application development.
- Focus on the tactical edge by building data-driven applications to enable COP at the mission site.
By nature, platforms are scalable and broad, but over time they are resistant to rapid change or easy customization. That can be changed by introducing low-code software that extends a core platform with flexibility and adaptability for rapid custom application builds. This ultimately allows platform companies and system integrators to react faster—and at a lower cost—to help defense and intelligence customers do the same for their ever-evolving mission.
About the Author: Scott Lee is a former military intelligence analyst and now TerraGo Technologies‘ director of federal sales, where he works on intelligence solutions for the military and federal government.
Photo Credit: TerraGo
The GEOINT tradecraft is evolving within the aviation industry through the introduction of unmanned aerial systems (UAS) into the National Airspace System