Creating a Geospatial Intelligence Cadre

by

Much attention has been focused on the space and technology workforce shortage and the need to attract young talent to the community. For at least one sector of that group — geospatial intelligence — the issue is not just one of quantity, but of quality. The geospatial intelligence community needs a defined path that will lead to the development of an educated and highly qualified talent pool. The newly formed U.S. Geospatial Intelligence Foundation (USGIF) has a structure in place to do just that.

Geospatial information, or intelligence, is the collection, organization, analysis and display of data that shows geographic locations with the Earth’s natural or man-made spatial features and boundaries. The American public is still generally unfamiliar with the term “geospatial information,” even though it affects nearly everyone’s daily life.

For example, the local convenience store likely was built in the most convenient location using geographic information systems (GIS) data collected and combined from a map of the region, census information, and property boundary and traffic flow data. Similarly, the breakfast served at the corner restaurant was probably made from ingredients raised by farmers using data that incorporated mapping, topographic, vegetative and crop yield information.

Public health and safety, economic development, telecommunications, real estate, entertainment, media, transportation and utilities are all sectors that use geospatial intelligence to improve the quality of everyday life. Then, of course, there is the heavy utilization of geospatial intelligence during global crises such as Operation Iraqi Freedom and the recent tsunami in the Indian Ocean.

In addition to private-sector activities, the U.S. government increasingly recognizes the value of incorporating geospatial intelligence into its mission. In 1993, the Department of Labor added “GIS specialist” to its list of occupational titles. Later, in 2003, the National Imagery and Mapping Agency (NIMA) changed its name to the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) to more accurately reflect the convergence of the traditionally separate missions of mapping, charting, geodesy, GIS, imagery analysis and imagery intelligence.

And more recently, Congress passed the National Intelligence Reform Act of 2004, which was later signed by President George W. Bush and contained a provision creating a Geospatial Management Office within the Department of Homeland Security.

These are all clear indications of increasing U.S. government dependence on geospatial solutions to fulfill its mission. But, just as the Rumsfeld Commission recommended the development of a “space cadre” to ensure the preparedness of a qualified space workforce, the geospatial intelligence community needs to ensure the quality and preparedness of its professionals to meet the growing commercial, civil and military reliance on the profession.

Various colleges and universities offer programs in elements of geospatial intelligence, including remote sensing, photogrammetry, cartography and GIS. Likewise, many students naturally possess the skills and interests necessary to succeed in those fields where plenty of job opportunities exist for experienced geospatial professionals.

However, the challenge comes in uniting universities, students and employers in the field of geospatial intelligence.

A nationally recognized certification program must be established to guarantee the long-term sustainability of the geospatial intelligence profession. Such a program would create a formal education curriculum for geospatial professionals throughout their careers and provide a highly qualified pool of geospatial intelligence experts.

This would ensure that students would not only be adequately prepared to enter the challenging profession, but that they would see a clear path to a career in the geospatial intelligence field.

An accreditation process sees to it that educators’ academic standards meet the expectations for industry and government employers, and is a means for academic institutions to differentiate themselves and cultivate young talent. Employers benefit by having a consistently trained, competent workforce from which to choose.

The USGIF, compo sed of industry, government, academic, nonprofit and individual participants representing various disciplines, is currently embarking on an effort to promote the education and importance of a national geospatial intelligence agenda.

Among its top priorities is the creation of a Geospatial Intelligence Academy to develop curriculum guidelines and accreditation standards leading to the award of a Geospatial Intelligence Certificate. The academy also will maintain a Web-based catalogue that will enable prospective students to identify approved academic courses and programs that meet their needs.

As we continue to move geospatial technologies and applications into the mainstream, we must ensure a strengthened profession prepared to confront today’s global challenges. We encourage members of the geospatial intelligence community to do their part in securing a “geospatial intelligence cadre,” and rally around the efforts of the USGIF in establishing a certification program.

Paul Graziani is president and CEO of Analytical Graphics Inc., and Herb Satterlee is chairman and chief executive officer of DigitalGlobe Inc. Both serve on the board of directors of USGIS.