GEOINT 2017 Preview with USGIF CEO Keith Masback
How does it feel to be bringing the GEOINT Symposium once again to San Antonio?
This is our fifth time in San Antonio and the one constant has been tremendous attendee feedback in terms of quality of the location, convention center, hotels, and the proximity to the River Walk. And of course there are tremendous offerings in terms of food, entertainment, and shopping that make San Antonio one of the most popular destinations for GEOINT Symposia.
Another important thing about the San Antonio area is the large concentration of military and government organizations operating across myriad missions, including the 25th Air Force, NSA Texas, and U.S. Customs and Border Protection, who share an interest in geospatial intelligence. The San Antonio community is always very supportive as well. Rep. Joaquin Castro, Mayor Ivy Taylor, the local police and fire departments, and many others have gone out of their way to make us feel welcome in the city, continuing in the tradition of their predecessors.
How has USGIF evolved since 2011 when the organization last hosted the Symposium in San Antonio?
It’s remarkable to think it’s been almost six years since we’ve hosted the Symposium in San Antonio. Those years represent almost half the life of the Foundation, and we’ve made really important strides forward in that time. The term of art in the nonprofit world is “capacity building.” First, an organization such as ours has to set down a firm platform upon which it can build and realize the promise of its mission. Next, it must generate the capacity to make a sustained impact. We’ve really been able to build out that capacity, and the organization bringing the Symposium to San Antonio this year is one that is more mature, more capable, and better poised for the future than we were six years ago.
What does this year’s theme, “Advancing Capabilities to Meet Emerging Threats,” mean to you?
Last year’s theme, “The GEOINT Revolution,” was about the phenomenal expansion of the application of GEOINT across an ever-broadening set of sectors and missions. This year’s theme focuses on the proliferation of challenges the United States and our allies face around the globe and how we can take advantage of the ongoing GEOINT Revolution to mitigate and overcome them. Moreover, with the larger opportunity for mission application, emerging threats include natural disasters and acts of terror both domestically and abroad. Also embedded in the theme is the idea of partnership, which references the importance of having a common understanding of the meaning of geospatial intelligence and how we as a nation, along with our allies, will pursue solutions. Here at home, that means partnering with FEMA, the National Guard, and state and local authorities. We’re never going to perform our missions in a vacuum—GEOINT is a team sport by definition.
USGIF officially launched its Universal GEOINT Certification Program at GEOINT 2016. How has the program grown in the past year?
We’re very excited about the growth and interest in our professional certification program. Increasingly in today’s workplaces, there is a demand for professionals to demonstrate competency beyond just an academic background. In fact, we’re seeing the requirement for personnel to be productive on day one emerging as a primary consideration in hiring. Given the rigor of USGIF’s Universal GEOINT Certification Program, soon to be fully validated by third party national accreditation, we stand firmly behind those who earn one or more of our certifications and guarantee they are competent practitioners in their respective areas of the GEOINT tradecraft.
In addition, we’re particularly excited by the overall continuum of education and training the Foundation has put in place: our nascent K-12 introductions to GEOINT-related concepts and technologies; our 14 accredited college and university GEOINT Certificate programs; our professional certification program; and the ongoing training and professional development opportunities offered at our events. We’re committed to constantly updating and improving upon that entire development chain so the GEOINT workforce is knowledgeable, ready, and capable of high-level performance in the dynamic era of the GEOINT Revolution.
USGIF recently introduced an EdGEOcation Giving Fund with great success. What sort of initiatives does that fund support?
It’s important to recognize the distinction of USGIF in terms of its nonprofit status—unlike most of our peer organizations we are not a trade association, but rather an educational foundation. This distinction is meaningful to us in that we never lose sight of our dedication to education and training. The success of the giving fund tells us the GEOINT Community’s commitment and willingness to invest time and money into the future of the profession remains strong. We are delivering on the original promise of the Foundation that was set forth at its founding in January 2004. Long supported solely by our member organizations, part of the natural evolution of USGIF is that individual members and donors now also support their professional association in the conduct of its mission on behalf of GEOINT practitioners, both current and future.
We’ve focused the proceeds of our first EdGEOcation Giving Fund on kick starting our K-12 engagement. Thanks to the vision and energy of our most junior employees, in collaboration with USGIF’s Young Professionals Group, and with the support of other USGIF Members, our K-12 efforts have grown significantly in the last 18 months and are gaining exciting momentum. Integral to our commitment to STEM education is the value we place on diversity and expanding opportunity. You’ll see this in action in San Antonio, as we’re excited to welcome Girl Scouts and Girls Inc. in addition to Boy Scouts at GEOINT 2017.
The pre-conference GEOINT Foreword agenda continues to grow and increase in popularity. What should Foreword attendees anticipate for this year?
What started as a small sensor tutorial has blossomed into an event that is quite valuable in its own right. Based on attendee feedback, we are always looking for opportunities to improve our delivery of great content packed into a crisp program. I think the GEOINT Foreword highlights this year will be the exposure to university research programs, rapid-fire presentations, and a live-virtual-constructive UAS demo that will be unlike anything we’ve had at the event before.
The two panels on the main stage at GEOINT 2017 are on the National System for Geospatial Intelligence (NSG) and the future of GEOINT featuring panelists from across the Allied System for Geospatial Intelligence (ASG). Why is this significant?
The not-so-subtle change in approach by our partners at the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) is worth noting. The message this year, which I suspect will be clearly delivered by NGA Director Robert Cardillo in his keynote address, is that NGA recognizes it is just one part of a much larger whole when it comes to the application of GEOINT for national security. This perspective will be reinforced by NGA’s approach to both their presence on the main stage and in the exhibit hall.
There will also be keynotes by two military commanders this year—USTRANSCOM Commander Gen. Darren McDew and USSOUTHCOM Commander Adm. Kurt Tidd. What do you anticipate they will bring to the discussion?
It’s very important for USGIF to put operational commanders and leaders on the GEOINT Symposium stage. Generally, we as GEOINT practitioners aren’t performing the actual policy-making, decision-making, or mission execution. In the case of Gen. McDew, it’s hard to imagine the breadth and depth of information he requires to transport everything our deployed forces need around the globe, around the clock. And it’s difficult to appreciate that without hearing specifically from a commander in his position about what he needs from the GEOINT Community to protect the men, women, and materiel in his command while supplying the global needs of our deployed forces.
In the case of Adm. Tidd, we have a very informed user of geospatial intelligence who is eager to hear about innovative approaches for his command to apply to the unique challenges in its area of responsibility. He has created the challenge at SOUTHCOM for innovators to come and put their technology and services to the test against real-world problems, and that presents a great opportunity for the GEOINT Community.
What are you most looking forward to experiencing in the GEOINT 2017 exhibit hall?
As I reflect back upon the time since we were last in San Antonio, the biggest single change in terms of the GEOINT Symposium is probably the exhibit hall. The GEOINT Symposium has become the place to discover and understand emerging technologies in our field. And by the nature of the growth in the application of geospatial intelligence, those solutions have become increasingly diverse. Everything from machine learning and artificial intelligence to cyber and advanced phenomenologies will be on display. Every GEOINT professional has an absolute responsibility to remain informed about these latest advances or they’re doing a disservice to themselves and those whom they serve. It’s never been harder to keep up. Our symposium’s exhibit hall remains the single most efficient and effective way to understand cutting-edge GEOINT technology and services as well as their mission implications.