NGA Opens Online Exchange, Standards to Potential Vendors

By Cheryl Pellerin

In the spirit of innovation, and as part of a revolution fomented among the workforce by Director Letitia Long, the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency is unbolting its doors to expand industry partnerships and slash the time it takes to acquire critical capabilities.

The NGA mission is to provide timely, relevant and accurate geospatial intelligence in support of national security. The revolution -- driven by the director’s vision and the speed of technology advance -- promotes a workforce commitment to transparency and accessibility. (At right: Participants in the Small Business Interaction panel at the June 19, 2014, National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency-AFCEA Industry Day were Sandra Broadnax, Small Business Program Office director, David Burns, component acquisition executive, Tonya Crawford, senior procurement executive and Doug McGovern, director of InnoVision. The event was held at NGA's Springfield, Va., campus. The theme was "Collaborating to meet increasingly complex geospatial intelligence needs." Photo courtesy of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency) 

One of the programs representing the change at NGA is a newly expanding pilot called the GEOINT Solutions Marketplace, or GSM. GEOINT stands for geospatial intelligence.

GSM operates as an online exchange for government and vendors, commercial partners, academic institutions and the broader geospatial intelligence community.

“Our GEOINT Solutions Marketplace started when we realized we needed to revolutionize our relationship with industry,” Karyn Hayes-Ryan told American Forces Press Service.

The NGA’s deputy component acquisition executive and director of the agency’s Agility Strategic Initiative said the entire information technology sector, including the geospatial industry, is changing at a rapid rate.

“Our acquisition processes aren't able, across the government really, to keep up with those changes,” she said, describing the current acquisition model.

“The government puts a [request for proposal] out there, we do an acquisition, we then start development nine months later, and [the product] is delivered nine months after that,” Hayes-Ryan explained. “With IT changing in about an 18-month cycle, I'm just getting it into my user base when it's time to revolutionize those capabilities.”

If industry already has a technology that intelligence agencies could use, she said, “give it to me today, or maybe take a few months to retrofit it to work in the intelligence community environment. But have it available in three to six months, rather than up to 18 months.”

With the GSM, she said, NGA might use an unclassified part of the marketplace system to send out a needs statement. Potential vendors would look at the statement and contact NGA if they had suggestions.

“We've got a second piece where [vendors] can come back in to identify their capabilities,” Hayes-Ryan added. “Later this summer, we're going to have an online environment where they can demonstrate these capabilities to us.”

NGA is partnering on the GSM with the U.S. Geospatial Intelligence Foundation, a Virginia nonprofit organization supporting geospatial-intelligence tradecraft. The foundation is establishing an industry consortium whose members also could respond to marketplace needs statements.

“This allows industry, especially small businesses that have niche capabilities or services, to combine them to meet one of our larger problems that they may not be able to address by themselves,” she said. “It allows that kind of industry collaboration.”

Industry capabilities available today include tools that would be useful for what the intelligence community calls activity-based intelligence and object-based production, and a range of collection capabilities, Hayes-Ryan said. Activity-based intelligence involves gathering the broadest possible collection of data and digitally tagging each item for future searches of tags, rather than of data.

“Think of a lot of data, big data, and trying to crunch the data in a variety of ways to identify patterns, trends or even specific events that may be coming,” she said. “You crunch all this data together, and you're not even associating one activity in one part of a country with another important piece in a different country, or different data types. And suddenly you can detect trends and other capabilities.”

She called the activity-based-intelligence technique a great source of intelligence and said the banking industry and medical community use the big-data tool with good results.

In object-based production, analysts in any intelligence discipline associate information with objects, she explained. Objects can be nearly any thing or activity of interest -- a vehicle on a road, an airplane, a building or a person -- and the observations are digitally stored and searchable.

Collection capabilities available in industry include airborne platforms for electrooptical and hyperspectral imaging and the tools that come with them.

“A lot of times, we'll look at something off an imagery collector and you think it's a picture, but there's a lot of other data in the picture that the human eye doesn't see,” Hayes-Ryan said. “There are tools that help bring those out, and that's the kind of thing we're looking for.”

To help expand its industry base, she added, NGA also will make it available not just to existing vendors, but also to prospective vendors the information industry needs to “build to the MSG, to the NGA's hardware and software platforms.”

Hayes-Ryan calls these NGA standards the API -- the application program interface -- or “build-to specs so anybody who's out there who has a good idea could start building things and make it compatible with our hardware and software.”

Making such standards available is usually something NGA does after a vendor has a security clearance and already has a contract. But all that is changing.

“We’re opening it up to everybody, yes,” she said. “We are trying to be a lot more transparent.”

June is Innovation Month at NGA, and Hayes-Ryan spoke at the two-day Defense Intelligence Agency's Innovation Day event June 24-25.

Reprinted from DoD.

Published Thursday, August 7th, 2014

Written by Cheryl Pellerin

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