The Power of GEOINT: Putting the World at Our Fingertips

February 2013
Topics: Geographic Information Systems
MITRE is helping the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency implement a new Web architecture and software distribution system that allows the agency to develop products faster for less money.

The National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) supplies mission-critical information on geographic features to our nation's defense and intelligence organizations. NGA analysts collect this information, known as GEOINT, through a variety of sensor, reference, and cultural data sources to help its customers better visualize the world and carry out their missions.

The Director of NGA has established a vision of "Putting the Power of GEOINT in Your Hands," by providing online access to geospatial data and customized analysis of that data. MITRE is helping NGA to realize this vision through the design of a new Web architecture and virtual infrastructure environment called the "Integrated Analytic Environment." This environment supports the rapid development and deployment of distributed geospatial apps for desktop and mobile devices, working through common desktop Web browsers. The Integrated Analytic Environment is enabling NGA to achieve shorter product development cycles and better responsiveness to end-user intelligence needs.

Smarter Intelligence

"An ongoing challenge for NGA," explains Susan Kuwana, the systems engineer leading MITRE's collaboration with NGA on this effort, "has been that producing analytical reports on GEOINT can be very labor intensive."

To produce GEOINT, NGA analysts must employ multiple systems and time-consuming methods to extract data. Analysts then manually piece those data streams together in complex, hard-to-read spreadsheets and other tools.

To streamline the analysis process, MITRE helped NGA design and build a Web-based architecture for applications that makes compiling and displaying GEOINT easier and more intuitive. "Now with a few keystrokes and the click of a few buttons, analysts can rapidly fuse various data sources straight onto an easy-to-read map display that can more readily reveal new insights," Kuwana says.

Developing NGA Developers

MITRE also made sure the agency had what it needed to continue the design and development process. "We built standardized tools for NGA developers so that they're all working from the same tool box," says Kuwana. "We provided them with a uniform set of design guidelines, design templates, and design standards. We also gave them access to a common library of code for apps and widgets to avoid redundant design efforts."

To further develop design skills within the agency, the team set up weekly discussion groups, a series of technical presentations, and a Web app design blog. MITRE made recommendations on open source software capabilities and promoted solutions consistent with government directives to share, reuse, and leverage software solutions across the intelligence community.

MITRE's goal is to give NGA developers the power to quickly and precisely respond to the analysts' needs. NGA's development community will now be able to develop and deploy new user functionality more effectively and efficiently compared to the methods of the past.

Breaking Speed Limits

Throughout the project, MITRE relied on a rapid and agile prototyping cycle. The team proposed solutions, quickly tested them, and then incorporated the test results into the next round of innovation. "We thought and we did, we thought and we did, we thought and we did," as Kuwana characterizes the process.

MITRE also worked with NGA to streamline many processes needed to bring new capabilities on-line to analysts and mission partners faster. "We've figured out ways to streamline and automate processes. For example, when we installed the virtual servers, we got them approved, stood up, certified and accredited in a couple of weeks. Timelines for changes have been significantly shortened."

Agility and Flexibility

Throughout the project, MITRE's standing as a manager of FFRDCs allowed us to accomplish things that would be difficult for a standard contractor. "Our unique role allows us a certain agility and flexibility," says Kuwana. "We can reach across defense organizations and the intelligence community. We can work with the commercial contractors and transition capabilities over to them. We can draw from MITRE's broad set of expertise, quickly moving in people with specific skills for specific tasks. And our priority remains at all times the public interest and helping the government bring new capabilities and intelligence to support mission needs." By designing and building a shared infrastructure, common design tools, and a virtual development environment, MITRE anticipates the agency will ultimately be able to bring significantly greater capability to users in a shorter time and at a reduced cost, all of which will help NGA meet its national-security mission.

—by Christopher Lockheardt

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