Technology has become a large part of our personal lives. People expect personalized, seamless engagement from technology. It’s the expectation for superior engagement that is now driving the tech community to innovate fast. Within the GEOINT community, innovative technology continuously pushes the tradecraft forward and enables decision-making across a growing set of mission-critical needs.
Technology in the workplace is essential, and on Jan. 27, during the first GEOConnect Series Main Stage event of 2021, GEOINT thought leaders gathered to discuss the impact and importance of translating commercial innovation for government mission. Tonya Crawford, from the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA), Accenture’s Tom Greiner, and COL Beth Sweet (U.S. Army Reserve) from the Defense Innovation Unit (DIU) joined moderator and USGIF Board member LTG (Ret.) Mary Legere for this virtual panel discussion.
Embracing Innovative Technology
Technology has been and will continue to be important in transforming work environments. More importantly, for the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA), technology is essential to not only attracting but retaining a world-class workforce.
The agency’s response to COVID-19 reaffirmed that it’s on board with innovation. The response proved that NGA can evolve rapidly, take care of its community, and is committed to thoughtful digital transformation.
According to Tonya Crawford, deputy director of NGA’s CIO and IT Services Directorate, to retain a world-class workforce and reaffirm the agency’s commitment to a thoughtful digital transformation, NGA’s technology directorate delivers and adopts technology to automate the agency’s full range of GEOINT functions to provide its workforce a seamless digital experience to effectively give users trusted GEOINT with speed and accuracy.
Additionally, the technology transformation initiatives important to NGA’s workforce are the same for advancing the agency’s Moonshot initiative, Crawford said.
NGA’s Moonshot is an operational goal by which the agency will organize, prioritize, and measure its overall progress. While our adversaries continue to adopt innovative technology and significantly improve their own GEOINT capabilities, said Crawford, it is crucial that our nation maintains a competitive advantage and that NGA remains the world’s premier GEOINT force.
“Within the technology directorate, the Moonshot serves as a guiding principle to deliver and secure GEOINT capabilities with speed and accuracy in this era of great power competition and hold at risk the strategic forces our adversaries use to project power and threaten the United States and our allies,” said Crawford.
Innovation Here and Now
Not too long ago the technology we use today seemed impossible—like science fiction, even. But as innovation has accelerated, so has our technological capabilities, such as virtual reality, 3D visualization, enhanced user authentication, and artificial intelligence (AI).
Government customers and employees now view personalized digital engagement as the default. To help agencies keep up with the pace of change, industry can surface new technologies that enable geospatial experts to do their jobs better and faster, with an improved user experience.
Tom Greiner, senior managing director, Accenture, talked about the potential for tools like AI to drive speed-to-competence. “Machine learning and computer vision can help identify and promulgate best practices to all similar workers, raising everyone’s efficiency level in near real-time – driving higher quality results at a higher speed.”
Accenture has created an “Innovation Architecture” that includes everything from studios, where government leaders co-create solutions with industry and technology experts to drive improved usability and speed solution adoption, to prototyping labs and innovation centers that scale solutions.
“We are creating a community of folks in whom we want to invest to help them advance ideas that translate into impactful solutions for government,” said Greiner.
Accelerating Commercial Technology into the Federal Government
Commerical industry has been at the forefront of combining complex technology with their users’ needs, which is transferable into the federal government. The theory is that if a technology is proven successful, the federal government will be interested in employing these technology solutions at scale.
The Defense Innovation Unit (DIU), in particular, strengthens our national security by accelerating the adoption of leading commercial technology throughout the military and growing the national security innovation base.
In her role as the defense engagement lead, DIU COL Beth Sweet, U.S. Army Reserve, hears a lot about the newest trends and developments in both enabling and user-facing technologies. Putting those technologies in the context of operational use for military planners and decision-makers is the key to leveraging the tremendous innovation in the commercial sector for national defense. To establish context, DIU works with its DoD partner to define the problem or need and subsequently seeks to discover commercial solutions that could solve that problem. When there is a match, a rapid prototype acquisition process is kicked off with an eye on full-scale production and fielding.
“[We] need to translate DoD needs [for] commercial industry and then help our DoD partners envision those technologies in operational use,” said Sweet. “So, they can think about and plan actual implementations for their mission today and their mission tomorrow.”
For full-scale implementation to actually come to fruition, it is imperative that critical stakeholders come together and work toward that very goal. These stakeholders include the end-user, the headquarter’s senior champion, and the acquisition and program management teams.
Making the DoD accessible and lowering the barriers to entry helps to strengthen the national security innovation base. That national security innovation base includes small businesses and startup companies who do not normally engage with the federal government.
“Often this is where the most radical and adventurous ideas live, and it gets us excited about new technologies,” said Sweet. “We want to extract innovative ideas from all corners and all sectors.”