Op-ed | Geospatial Intelligence: The totally made-up term that’s changing the world
Around 2003, the U.S. intelligence and defense communities had a problem. Years earlier, we’d forced together remote sensing and imagery analysis with mapping and charting — two distinct disciplines and cultures — to create the imaginatively named National Imagery and Mapping Agency (NIMA). Though we realized the potential advantage this integrated operational approach would provide us over our adversaries, and despite NIMA performing admirably in the wake of 9/11, it simply didn’t work as envisioned. Myriad obstacles, primarily related to history and culture, and to a lesser extent immature technologies, complicated our quest.
Taking a few pages from the books of successful change agents, we decided to rally NIMA’s workforce around a new vision for a collective future while respecting the heritage organizations and tradecraft. The agency needed a new name and a new operating framework.
After much whiteboarding and brainstorming, we settled on the term “geospatial intelligence,” which allowed us to acknowledge the mapping and imagery collection and analysis legacies while providing something new. We also had a new moniker: the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA).
Congress added the required language into the fiscal year 2004 National Defense Authorization Act and President George W. Bush signed it into law, but no one in government, industry, or academia (U.S. or abroad) knew what geospatial intelligence, also known as “GEOINT,” actually was. We’d created an internal strategic communications campaign to bring the federal workforce along — but what about getting the rest of the world excited about this new term and new operational construct?
And so, in the fall of 2003, Geo-Intel 2003 was hastily conceived and executed in New Orleans. This highly collaborative effort, led by a group of government and industry executives who recognized the need to foster discussion around GEOINT, exceeded everyone’s expectations. This growing nucleus of a public-private partnership led to the creation of a nonprofit educational foundation — the United States Geospatial Intelligence Foundation (USGIF) — to foster the idea of GEOINT, to produce future events, and to germinate the education, training and professional development to underpin the nascent GEOINT tradecraft.
With a very small staff and a strong cadre of volunteers, the foundation has grown from this initial event to an annual GEOINT Symposium with as many as 5,500 attendees and hundreds of exhibitors. Additionally, USGIF has eclipsed 250 member organizations, awarded more than $1.1 million in scholarships, presented GEOINT certificates to more than 800 students from our 14 accredited academic programs, and developed the standards for a professional GEOINT certification program.
GEOINT is now a commonly used term globally in the defense and intelligence context, and the engagement among government, industry and academia has been remarkably successful and fruitful. Adoption of the term continues to grow.
As time passed, it became clear that technological advances were combining to create something we termed “The GEOINT Revolution.” This included the commoditization of commercial remote sensing, powerful analytic software, ubiquitous precision geolocation data, far-reaching broadband, rapidly advancing processing power, affordable cloud storage, and advanced analytics and visualization.
However, the government and military aren’t the only ones affected by the GEOINT Revolution. The expanding application of GIS, the ongoing maturation of location intelligence, and burgeoning business use cases across a number of verticals are sparking further imaginative approaches. GEOINT technology has gone viral, though the term “geospatial intelligence” has not. Some are trying to stretch the definition of GIS or cram more into the concept of location intelligence than logically fits.
Ironically, the community is at an inflection point where we’re experiencing the inverse of the problem we faced in 2003. We have the near-explosive emergence of a powerful synergy in the commercial world at the nexus of remote sensing from phones to drones to space, geospatial and location information of all types and layers, data analytics, and data visualization. But we have no term to accurately describe it.
So, USGIF proposes that geospatial intelligence is ready to take its place alongside business intelligence, artificial intelligence and competitive intelligence in the business world. The GEOINT framework has been in dynamic, iterative development for 15 years.
It’s time to talk about geospatial intelligence in the commercial and consumer marketplace. It’s time to share lessons learned and to crosswalk best practices. It’s time to develop GEOINT practitioners native to the commercial sector. It’s time for GEOINT to be taught in business programs at the undergraduate and graduate level. From precision agriculture, to oil and gas exploration, high-velocity logistics, marketing and retail, smart cities, the Internet of Things, and autonomous vehicles, GEOINT is a key competitive differentiator. Those who apply it will have a decided advantage. Those who fail to apply it will ignore the power of GEOINT at their own peril.
Drawing from its successful history and internationally established position as a thought leader and convening authority, USGIF will now lead the intellectual charge with respect to the use of the term geospatial intelligence and the establishment of its commercial applied framework.
We’ll launch trajectoryXyzt at the Barker Hangar in Santa Monica, Calif., September 19–20. This first-of-its-kind event will lay the building blocks for commercial efforts at the convergence of geospatial intelligence. The immersive experience will blend visionary keynotes, lightning talks, interviews, technology releases, and deep connections made through engaging networking opportunities.
Taking geospatial intelligence to the commercial sector is an ambitious undertaking, and I hope you are as excited about the possibilities of this event as USGIF is. trajectoryXyzt will be unlike anything the foundation has ever presented.
Keith J. Masback is chief executive officer of the United States Geospatial Intelligence Foundation. Find registration, exhibitor, and sponsorship information at trajectoryXyzt.com.