GEOINT 2006 - WOW Technologies

By Hal Reid

The GEOINT Symposium is an assembly of intelligence agencies, defense contractors and technology companies that devise systems and techniques which will ultimately move down to business and consumers. There are a number of examples of these downward pushes of technology, from sensor networks delivering traffic conditions to commuters to high-resolution images used in Google Earth that are also available for retail development. Here are some things I thought were particularly interesting this year.

Integration. I find there's a certain magic in getting to look at the offerings of all the satellite companies, big system integrators, and companies who design and build spacecraft, and see how they can all tie together. I can really relate to it. But regardless of how exotic the technology, there are still the same old prosaic issues, like the structures of human-run organizations, that cause complications in applying these tools.

One example of an issue faced by the agencies attending GEOINT is just like one we find in business ï¿1⁄2 the chronic issue of traversing individual department and/or agency silos. It's still hard to make knowledge accessible to everyone, regardless of which silo they live in.

While silos are a structural, not a technology, issue, there are solutions being offered by companies like Thetus and the Knowledge Modeling Company, in combination with Accenture and MetaCarta (1, 2). The approach is similar to that used by many of the defense contractors ï¿1⁄2 it provides a common operating picture (COP) across a number of different organizations.

On the trade show floor at GEOINT, I saw the results of the efforts of these companies (Thetus, et. al.). I saw the combining of knowledge modeling, fuzzy geographic searches and the tuning of these application relationships (Thetus, Accenture and MetaCarta) to provide a COP of what was happening and where it was happening. What I saw allowed for real-time exploration of possible variations of potential outcomes. I found the combination of key offerings of each company (MetaCarta for fuzzy geographic search, Thetus of knowledge modeling, and integration provided by Accenture) very interesting.

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The image above comes from the companies' integration, and shows the potential transit of a virus across the US/Mexican border using known migration paths. It was really cool because it was shown in real-time, and you could move or add impedances, or even vary conditions and then see how the outcome was affected. It reminded me of network modeling in retail expansion. What was particularly slick, and differentiates it from other tools I've seen in network modeling, was the ability to make adjustments by simply moving things with your finger on the map.

Visualization. Visualization is becoming more important in business and for intelligence-related government agencies. Zebra Imaging has technology (movie file) that can print a hologram that can be carried around as a flat sheet. When viewed in the light, you could see terrain contours or buildings, and you could pass your hand through the hologram just like you see in Sci Fi movies.

Hardware. This year there were very fast, highly portable computers that operate in harsh environments. The MaxVision offerings were really good. These are workstations designed for very heavy GEOINT work and support lots of memory and hard drive space. Noteworthy was the fact that they support RAID 5 drive arrays and the drives are in a magazine that can be removed in 10 seconds or less. Below is the MaxPac8230XRA3 Dual-Processor/Dual-Core Intel Xeon 5100 Series Rugged Portable Briefcase Computer Workstation

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Beyond the wonderful technology on display at GEOINT, I think there were also three important organizational themes: 1) in order for intelligence to be effective, there have to be mechanisms to span the information silos; 2) the intelligence structure must be more adaptable and flexible, and faster; 3) the intelligence agencies have to move to "doing business as unusual."

These three organizational themes come right from the mainstream thinking of the most dynamic businesses. The intelligence agencies want very much to reinvent themselves in order to be more effective. When you consider that most of these agencies use technologies and methodologies that are years ahead of what we use in business, it's possible they may get to that future sooner than the rest of us. If they successfully put in place innovation and creativity using some of the world's most interesting and exotic tools, imagine how fast we can advance when these things begin to become available to the rest of us.

Published Friday, December 1st, 2006

Written by Hal Reid

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