Operationalizing Automation

NGA’s Tara Bradburn shares updates on the agency’s AAA initiative


The National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) is undergoing both a cultural and technological transformation according to Tara Bradburn, senior lead for the agency’s Artificial Intelligence, Automation, and Augmentation (AAA) initiative.

Bradburn spoke May 14 at USGIF’s GEOINTeraction Tuesday event in Tysons, Va., sponsored by Thinklogical, and discussed NGA’s first exploratory sprint to operationalize AAA capabilities. Bradburn described AAA as NGA’s efforts to modernize its operations and tradecraft and to augment its workforce with automation tools.

“Analysts must be front and center in the modernization process,” she said.

The first AAA operational sprint took place in 2018 and was primarily about empowering people, with technology as the enabler. According to Bradburn, NGA called upon experienced analysts to lead the sprint. With support from technical experts, the analysts worked for six months to meet operational objectives to automate NGA’s end-to-end mission—including collection, processing, analysis, reporting, and data management.

AAA Lessons Learned

This first operational sprint yielded many valuable lessons learned.

“NGA affirmed that it needs a AAA ecosystem or framework to support these new capabilities,” Bradburn said. “And we now have a better understanding of the investment required to create that ecosystem.” 

One of the most significant lessons learned was that data must be machine readable as a prerequisite for AAA. Though conditioning and centrally storing historical data was a sprint success, Bradburn also described it as a “wake-up call.”

“Our data scientists and analysts spent large amounts of manpower resources getting the mission data ready for automation,” she said. “That’s not sustainable from a scalability standpoint. We need a scalable solution for standard data capture, centralized storage, and access in order to apply advanced analytics and automated reporting at scale.”

To achieve this, the agency will be looking to industry partners for expertise in data capture, storage, and management.

“AAA is our generation’s Space Race. Just like the 1960s, the U.S. is racing our adversaries to master cutting-edge science,” Bradburn said, adding that AAA is a unifying problem. “NASA didn’t go to the moon alone. And NGA can’t achieve AAA goals without harnessing the talent and institutional resources already in existence in the AI industry.”

Posted in: Event Recaps   Tagged in: Data, Intelligence, Machine Learning & AI, NGA

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