Q&A with USGIF Chairman of the Board the Honorable Jeffrey K. Harris
Q. What are your thoughts as you approach the GEOINT Symposium as Chairman of the USGIF Board of Directors?
A. I probably view what we do more critically because today I see the opportunity for the GEOINT Community is so great, and I want to see us all running faster toward the bright capability light on the hill. It’s really exciting for me to see how we showcase everything that the industry and government has been working on. The question I ask myself is, ‘Can we accurately reflect everything that has been done or needs to be done in order to help our members, government, and industry maximize their potential so that we can evolve and transform our tradecraft?’
Q. So this year, not only do you have heightened responsibility but also the Symposium is different in that it’s located in D.C. for the first time. How has this location been uniquely challenging and exciting?
A. We’re certainly pleased to be in the District of Columbia where so much government is located. We know that everybody has to make tough scheduling choices every day—this year’s location may make it easier for some attendees. What I love about the GEOINT Symposium is the compelling content on the main stage attracting a room full of attendees because informative dialogue is happening. At the end of the Symposium it’s almost as if you’ve left a time warp because you are intensely focused from first light in the morning to the end of the evening benefiting from the rich content and the comprehensive networking. At the end of the event you have seemingly squeezed a month’s worth of work into a week.
The D.C. location also gives us the ability to engage rich content from important policymakers in the GEOINT universe because they don’t have to commit to a day away from the office traveling. It is an exciting prospect to get content and conversations in the programming that may not be possible if it were not in Washington, D.C.
Q. In addition to more diverse speakers, do you think the D.C. location also yields more diversity among attendees?
A. Yes. As we come to Washington we realize we are really able to share the GEOINT Symposium experience with attendees who have work and family commitments that preclude a business trip. In addition, we are seeing interest from first-time attendees who appreciate an easier way to engage with the event.
Throughout my career, I was pleased to discover the amount of decision-quality information I got from walking around having conversations versus briefings. These conversations would give me input that would affect my decision-making. For example, I would attend the GEOINT Symposium and be exposed to new thinking, engage with my current network that would introduce me to a larger network which then caused my thinking to mature—often times much differently. So, as I think about adding new attendees, we end up with more depth and breadth of conversations that I’m really excited about.
Ideas that may be borne from the presentations will also extend to the exhibit hall. What’s interesting as I look at the exhibitor list this year, there are companies fighting to get onto our exhibit floor who have not yet discovered the additional value of USGIF membership. I would expect that their experiences this week will allow them to engage and more fully participate in the USGIF ecosystem. They stand to gain the understanding that I have: It’s your booth and your company representatives combined with the booths adjacent to you, combined with the richness that took place on the main stage or government stage that proves the USGIF value proposition. On our exhibit floor it’s about ideas and collaboration in mission space and not just about individual products.
Q. What does the GEOINT 2015 theme ‘Opening the Aperture, Charting New Paths’ mean to you?
A. It seems each year is more exciting than the previous because we better understand the implications and import of the speed at which technology is coming at us. Things that were technically hard in 1960, such as taking pictures from space, are now in our lives through a variety of channels. The aligning of these new technologies within the market aperture of defense and intelligence is the sweet spot of the space USGIF operates in. We’re able to take a good idea out of any vertical marketplace and leverage it to move it across into a mission solution. It’s easy to talk about the traditional government markets of defense, intelligence, homeland security, and public health. What is transformative, for example, is to see how location-enabled social media is changing each of these verticals. The way we’ve designed the ‘Opening the Aperture’ Symposium theme is to say: ‘Wake up, smell the roses, see what’s really going on, see how these adjacencies can play into enhancing your vertical because the technologies are in reality horizontal. This enables the delivery of enhanced mission capability at speed.
Q. USGIF is opening its aperture as well through the expansion or introduction of many initiatives. What are your thoughts on the future of the Foundation?
A. USGIF is first and foremost an educational foundation. We’ve now aligned with a dozen universities for our collegiate accreditation program, which awards students GEOINT certificates. Through the development of USGIF’s professional Universal GEOINT Certification, we have specified the core competencies required for a 21st Century GEOINT workforce. By working with these universities and agreeing on education outcomes we are helping academia build tomorrow’s GEOINT practitioners for government and industry. I’m a university trustee and recently while working on its strategic plan, it occurred to me that by 2025 there’s a marketplace demand for our sons and daughters to graduate from universities with a portfolio of attainments or credentials that better describe workforce competencies. These competencies combined with critical thinking skills will define the 21st-century knowledge worker.
The Foundation’s accredited certificates represent our contribution to the academic community. We enable university students with financial resources from the USGIF Scholarship Program. We will soon offer the Universal GEOINT Certification to help refine the professional workforce. Our training offerings are designed to increasingly provide a lifetime of learning. You can get a much better understanding of the USGIF educational framework at GEOINT 2015. Our Universal GEOINT Certification will be beta tested throughout the week. Young professionals will have a tailored program to engage with senior leaders. It’s this educational ecosystem where USGIF helps to grow future GEOINT leadership.
Q. Why is this experience rewarding for you personally?
A. During my career I worked with and learned directly from pathfinders. It’s great to reflect on my career trajectory with the understanding that young people joining the workforce today have so many exciting opportunities. It’s rewarding to have an organization like USGIF that can help guide young professionals at the beginning and midpoint of their careers with lifelong education, networking, and engagement to help advance the tradecraft and their careers. In the early ’90s I helped to write the commercial remote sensing policy that allowed commercial high-resolution imaging from space. We envisioned an industry that would improve defense and intelligence capabilities through transparency while evolving the marketplace to create a new commercial industry. Today, we see how these steps are changing our understanding of the planet and its people. On a good day we are making it a really hard day for elephant poachers in Africa and helping stop the spread of infectious disease. Participating in this industry and watching the technology fuel new capabilities while helping to guide this wonderful organization is part of giving back.
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