ITT Exelis: Adaptation Leads to Advancement

Why ITT Exelis believes in collaboration and open sourcing


For ITT Exelis, successful growth is defined as developing solutions that are both innovative and can serve the community at large.

Richard Cooke, vice president and general manager of Geospatial Intelligence Solutions, believes collaboration and industry-wide change are key in an era of shifting business models and constrained budgets.

“Anybody who tried to hold on to his or her proprietary solutions has suffered because of it,” he said. “They then got the message and started moving to open software and open hardware architectures, things that will allow plug-and-play, interoperability, and collaboration.”

[The younger workforce] looks at and solves problems in a much different way, and that’s extremely important because it helps us innovate much quicker.

—Richard Cooke, vice president and general manager of Geospatial Intelligence Solutions, ITT Exelis

To keep in stride with the changing industry, ITT Exelis has focused its time, dollars, and energy on migrating desktop programs to the NGA App Store. In May 2013, the company made its Jagwire solution—a program that manages and disseminates geospatial imagery and video data—available on a mobile platform.

“That’s really what we’ve been focusing on,” said Cooke.

“How to get the GEOINT tradecraft tools that the community needs to them as quickly and seamlessly as possible.”

Productive Change

One challenge Cooke and his team currently face—along with the overall industry—is data management. According to Cooke, the industry has treated the influx of data as an IT infrastructure problem, when in reality it is a data management problem.

ITT Exelis is a longtime participant in and supporter of the GEOINT Symposium.

“[We need to] employ analytic techniques to automate somebody’s processes so that we don’t have as many bodies touching the data, which will help us cull down to the relevant data as quickly as possible, ” said Cooke, who added companies should take advantage of new, untraditional, and unstructured sources of data. For example, combining social media data with traditional sources to help solve the data management problem.

ITT Exelis has chosen to focus on solving problems the industry has always faced—instead of concentrating too much on budget limitations.

“The budgetary constraints are there—they’re just a fact of life,” said Cooke. He added ITT Exelis addresses its customers’ problem sets with the same approach as before sequestration, because the problems haven’t changed despite new fiscal realities.

Progressive Culture

Though ITT Exelis isn’t as fast-paced as a startup company may be, leadership considers it innovative by industry standards. Cooke compared ITT Exelis to a progressive IT company. It hires young, often military-trained staff that understand the challenges and problems of the current generation.

“[The younger workforce] looks at and solves problems in a much different way, and that’s extremely important because it helps us innovate much quicker,” Cooke said. At ITT Exelis, company headquarters are a thing of the past. Though the majority of staff are in Herndon, Va., and Rochester, N.Y., the company also has employees in Colorado, Ohio, Alabama, and more. Cooke, who is based in Boulder, Colo., said a virtual workforce allows for the best talent to be hired and for collaboration that may not be possible otherwise.

Though ITT Exelis exhibits at numerous conferences annually, Cooke only attends one: USGIF’s GEOINT Symposium. Because of the strategic planners and policy makers that attend, he never misses it.

“[The GEOINT Symposium] gives us a focused context in which to talk and learn from one another,” Cooke said. “The conference allows us to make connections in a way we wouldn’t otherwise be able to make.”

Solving for the Future

Collaboration is essential for industry-wide progress, according to Cooke.

“I think the more time companies spend trying to retreat into their shell and protect their silo, the less optimal the outcomes are going to be for everybody,” he said.

“Tradecraft won’t advance how it needs to advance, money will not bring in the biggest bang for the buck, and we’ll continue to see solutions that take too long to develop.”

In addition to developing more open source and community-wide solutions, industry should also diversify, Cooke said. For example, advanced analytics derived from geospatial techniques, combined with techniques that leverage unstructured and open source information could be applied to more traditional business intelligence problems within customer sets such as health care, finance, transportation, and logistics, explained Cooke.

“Geospatial systems as a whole have an overarching strategy to diversify more into non-DoD and intel markets. We believe pretty strongly that there are going to be opportunities to bring geospatial-based analytics to vertical markets.”

Featured image credit: ITT Exelis


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