Driving future mission requires that technologists lead and understand the GEOINT mission and how it is evolving. During USGIF’s GEOConnect Series Virtual Main Stage on June 10, a panel of NGA experts examined how the agency plans to meet future mission with future technology, outlined in the agency’s first-ever technology strategy.
Technology has been and continues to be essential for NGA to achieve its strategic goals. Whether it be warfighter support, safety of navigation, or support to policymakers, NGA recognizes that how it builds software and manages data are crucial to its ability to meet its customers’ needs, now and into the future.
According to the technology strategy, NGA’s vision is to move beyond reacting to circumstances and events and toward a model that anticipates and proactively provides technology to its mission. To achieve this, NGA outlined key initiatives in the technology strategy to guide how the agency will deliver necessary technology and products to the workforce, policy-makers, and warfighters.
NGA’s key technology strategy initiatives include:
- Empower builders and makers
- Transform digital workspaces
- Build with customers
- Treat data as a strategic asset
- Build artificial intelligence, cloud and high-performance computing into GEOINT mainstream
“[Our] technology strategy is focused on how we’d like NGA to transform,” said NGA Chief Technology Officer Mark Munsell, who moderated the panel. “The primary principle in developing the technology strategy was to make sure we meet future mission with future technology, and everything it takes, to transform this agency to be able to deliver that technology for the mission.”
Implementing New Technologies
According to NGA Director of the Analysis Directorate Susan Kalweit, the technology strategy speaks directly to a solid human-machine team.
“Three key initiatives—enable builders and makers, transform the digital workspace, and build with customers—are centered on humans teaming with technology,” Kalweit said.
NGA’s technology strategy details how builders across the agency need to work in an environment that provides modern development tools, facilitates compliance with security standards, and streamlines processes for implementation on all security domains. The strategy recommends that NGA’s workforce have access to a responsive, personalized desktop experience and is able to deliver mission objectives with productivity tools tailored for the work. And finally, the strategy proposes internal and external customer needs should be met through continuous product improvements and developments using product management and user experience skill sets and tradecraft.
“I can point to cases today that show how we are implementing new technologies in a consistent manner with this technology strategy approach, showing the way for delivering at the speed of need,” Kalweit said.
For example, with NGA’s Advanced Analytics Platform, the agency communicates with its mission partners to use necessary data and technologies to meet current operational needs. It also sets an example for how NGA is using high-performance computing of big data and advanced analytic applications across the community.
Another example is iSpy, NGA’s first cloud-native electronic light table, jointly built by analysts and software developers, which has made it possible for the entire National System for Geospatial Intelligence to operate with a new sensor.
“These examples, I believe, are just the tip of the iceberg of what our future holds for maintaining GEOINT dominance, following the road map laid out in our technology strategy,” Kalweit said.
Building the Right Environment
One of the biggest key initiatives of NGA’s technology strategy is to make better software, faster. According to Munsell, by treating software as a strategic asset, “we can track, monitor, measure, and dedicate much of our resources to make better software and iterate on it faster,” he said.
NGA internal and external customers have experienced difficulty finding data and products and sharing them across domains, with IC and international partners, and with warfighters. But as detailed in the technology strategy, NGA’s vision is for its workforce to easily and securely find and share products and data in standardized formats internally as well as with customers and partners, wherever and whenever they need them.
According to NGA Deputy Chief Technology Officer Alex Loehr, software is core to NGA’s mission. Therefore, NGA has to build software in a modern way. But in order to do that, they must have the right environment.
“When we say environment, we’re talking not just about technology, but also about the people, the processes, and the culture that will enable us to build products with our customers and that meet their needs,” Loehr said.
But NGA faces some challenges with its current applications landscape, which can be fragmented and leads to disconnection from missing capabilities or redundant applications.
“We have already started addressing some of the challenges. We created a software development workforce called DevCorps and are adopting modern DevSecOps practices,” said NGA Chief Enterprise Architect Umesh Singh, Ph.D., who believes this is a good start. “But we need to do more in order to realize the vision of our technology strategy, which identifies certain key next steps.”
First, he said, NGA must continue to mature their DevSecOps practice and make sure the modern software delivery approach reaches all parts of the agency. Next, NGA must develop its implementation guidelines based on latest industry best practices and its internal software development experience. NGA must also build and expose APIs more broadly and adopt a development approach and framework that enables service orientation.
NGA has embarked on creating a service-centric platform. This platform, according to Singh, will support both traditional and modern service-centric architectures. It also enables business agility and promotes sharing and reuse of functionalities. The platform will support velocity in application development and the independent scaling of application components. It provides improved security, visibility, reliability, and resiliency.
“Our ultimate goal is to bring this platform to an enterprise level in such a way that it enables the whole enterprise to reap the benefit of following service orientation principles and modern service-centric architecture,” Singh said.