Innovation and the Future of Geo

Jack Dangermond and Christina Monaco talk the future of geospatial technology at Geospatial Gateway Forum

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During Geospatial Gateway Forum, Jack Dangermond, founder and president of Esri, and Christina Monaco, chief ventures officer for The National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA), provided an honest conversation about the future of geospatial technology in a post-COVID-19 world.

Both agreed, without a doubt, that the pandemic has transformed how the geospatial community approaches its work.

“One of the things that we have learned, particularly in the intelligence community, over the past seven months is how to leverage the tools and capabilities that have been available to many of us who have been operating inside SCIF exclusively,” Monaco said. “How can we drive value for our customers leveraging open-source and openly available technology?”

She said the workforce at NGA quickly adapted to operating in an unclassified environment and has felt empowered and inspired to do so.

In the short-term future, Dangermond said intelligence organizations will be more connected and have more consistency in their platforms and enterprise approaches. “In other words, rather than geo being only part of the deal, it will be foundational and uplifting people’s understanding of intelligence,” he said. “That will happen by more information-sharing. There will be more open data and open-source data, more open access to tech, and more open technologies inside the intel community.”

Taking a longer-term view, Dangermond predicted that in 10 years, geospatial technology will be embedded in all IT systems and in virtually every organization, playing a role in how organizations manage and create their strategy.

“We will see geographic enabling transform organizations around the planet. They will behave differently, and their customers and constituents will behave differently,” he said. “In general, organizations will look more holistically instead of in unconnected ways. That means integrating data and knowledge of all types into how we collectively look at managing the world.”

Dangermond and Monaco then shifted gears to discuss Monaco’s vision for innovation at NGA. She said she sees the role of chief ventures officer as ensuring the right culture and systems are in place to enable innovation.

“We don’t have an innovation problem; we have an innovation adoption problem,” she said. “I’m focused on maintaining the culture and encouraging people to not fall in love with solutions, but fall in love with the problems we are trying to solve. Because when you fall in love with the problem as opposed to the solution, it’s a lot easier to pivot off a solution that isn’t working.”

Monaco has also focused on bringing in commercial solutions or solutions developed in academia, in a way that lowers the barrier to entry for doing business with the government.

For example, she spoke about a recent prize competition called MagQuest to identify new ways of maintaining the World Magnetic Model. Over the course of the competition, more than $2 million was awarded to winning innovator teams. “We undertook this in order to meet a traditional acquisition requirement for an analysis of alternatives,” Monaco said. “It’s about making innovation and acquisition faster and easier at NGA.”

Dangermond pointed out that this innovation culture has to be coupled with a strong mission and sense of purpose and focus. “The closer the great engineering minds are put to the problem, the faster solutions can come out,” he said. “I’m not just talking about inventing technology. I’m talking about inventing workflows and transforming workflows, as well.”

Christina added that, at NGA, we are fortunate that missions are so compelling. “Working with that mission focus in mind and, when we can, bringing in customers to help us develop the solution is really key,” she said. “We are trying to inject a sense of human-centered design into everything we do, and in many cases, that means bringing your customer in at the very early stages when things are messy.”

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