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GEOINT and Disruptive Technologies


So, as we all know, the buzzword of the day is “cloud”.  Everything is cloud enabled, or cloud ready, or moving to the cloud.  And really, this is pretty cool.  I’m able to store my music centrally and access it anywhere, same with my pictures, and thankfully, my passwords, of which I now have about 700 because every service I use has a slightly different set of requirements or my passwords expire at different times, and I have to update them.  Anyway, moving to the cloud is inherently part of the Apple/Google master plan in which they control our data and make it easy for us to access it from all the devices they sell us.  Not that Apple and Google are planning this together, because clearly, they’re diverging competitively speaking, but their grand vision is the same.

I work in the geospatial world, and we are absolutely embracing this concept, but in a much more measured way.  When you have enormous data volumes that do not pertain to individual users, but span whole organizations, you can see the benefit of moving into the cloud.  However, you can also see the technical challenges that come with it.  Think of all the layers in a robust GIS that you might want to access from a mobile device to give you instant information on demand.  It’s easy enough to see that with Google Maps, where you get street maps, traffic volume, and selected restaurants or retail destinations.  Add in cadastre, utilities, land cover/land use, and about a hundred more GIS layers and you can see the challenge in making this an easy to use, accessible cloud-based solution.  Conversely, you can see the power too.

The big challenge I see is the big technology transfer.   Disruptive technologies are best released in stages, in my opinion.  Early to market, let the early adopters give you feedback, fine tune, then go widescale.  I think Apple screwed up on this one with their Maps on the iPhone 5 – they went mass market right away with it, and did not get a warm response, and had to backpedal some.  If you’re going to displace an existing technology, you definitely better be better than that which you are displacing.  Anyways, the challenge in the GIS world, and in the GEOINT world, is the amount of infrastructure that must be in place to support this transition.  If I want to run image analytics anywhere anytime, well, then all that imagery must be available to me when I want it.  In the GEOINT world, this means constant updates of significant data volumes, in an analytic ready ecosystem.   It does me little good to access imagery from a year ago in GEOINT situations – I need yesterday’s collect.

Once we get the infrastructure in place to do this, then we can start releasing the technologies.   Think of iTunes – that “storefront” would have been useless without all the music that got uploaded to it.  In the same way, we must populate huge GEOINT software systems with unbelievable volumes of data to bring the app’s to the user.   We’re getting there – the NGA has a great vision laid out for it, but man it is not going to be a piece of cake to put it all together.  But what is disruptive technology?  Disruptive changes may be painful, but like a hard workout, there is a definite payoff at the end.