Interviews from the 2010 Geospatial Conference in Vienna with Geospatial experts who have attended the conference.
Fleming Europe’s Second Annual Geospatial Summit which takes place on the 1-3 June 2011 in Budapest, Hungary will again provide an insight into the latest strategies and technological advances for using geospatial information in society.
We have asked some of our speakers for their views about the industry.
reveal their know how in 3 questions.
1. What areas should be developed in order to improve interoperability?
Commodore Pat Tyrrell: Interoperability is required on a number of different levels: it is vital within a single service, it is required for joint service co-operation and, increasingly, important for coalition operations. I would suggest, however, that there is little appetite for interoperability with those nations with whom you may find yourself in conflict!
Traditionally, interoperability has been achieved by setting robust and well defined standards. The problem is that, as the data requirements get more complex, standardisation becomes more of a behemoth. Complexity and standards are not happy bedfellows: if you standardise a thread on a bolt that is one thing but to standardise a complex environment such as GIS you need to be able to “flex” the building blocks to accommodate new technologies and opportunities. The key here is to understand those building blocks and the key one is the data with which we work. Expressing the data in a common format can be extremely difficult but, if we use language such as that offered by XML, we can provide equivalences of meaning in a highly flexible and dynamic fashion.
The key to effective interoperability is to take a holistic view of intelligence rather than one which looks at different collection methodologies in isolation. To this end we require an approach that links GIS with signals intelligence, human intelligence with open source intelligence etc. Here we will need some dictionary of key terms to ensure that we are talking about the same thing.
Col John Fitzgerald: Metadata standards need to be further developed to improve geospatial intelligence interoperability across communities and nations. As more information and functionality are delivered through services across diverse interconnected networks, then standardised and relevant metadata which describes the quality of information and aids in its management is essential for effective discovery, fusion and exploitation.
Lt Col Neil Marks:
Mr Pascal Legai: In the recent past, the EU Satellite Centre (EUSC) has experienced a remarkable increase in the demand for products. This evolution is especially due to the growing number of European Common Security and Defence Policy missions and operations.
Those missions and operations represent the field where interoperability plays a most significant role: The Centre’s products and services need be fully integrated both in the political planning process of EU and Member States, as well as be readily available to the commanders of missions and operations in the field.
We expect that the creation of the EEAS will be a major step forward in the direction of interoperability, and we are looking forward to further integrating our processes with the workflow of this important new EU organ. This calls for several concrete steps: to fully integrate the EUSC’s capabilities into CFSP/CSDP operations, and direct support of operations, especially with regard to the integration of civil and military planning capabilities at the Council General Secretariat / EEAS; to play a key role in the security dimension of the EU Global Monitoring for Environmental and Security (GMES) programme in support to the European Security Strategy; and to continue to explore cooperative opportunities where benefits for further improvement in EU crisis response capabilities could arise.
Mr Francesco Pisano: UNOSAT is an international entity providing operational satellite analysis to various international and national actors in specific areas such as humanitarian aid and emergency response, damage assessment, human security, human rights and territorial development planning. As such UNOSAT does not perform any work that resembles intelligence or surveillance. Even so, we are experts in several of the same fields in which geospatial intelligence operates.
I answered this question earlier in my career, during a talk I gave in San Antonio at a large gathering of the US Geospatial Intelligence Foundation. Interoperability is too often defined as the capacity to work in inter-operable ways within the same compartment in any production chain, especially intelligence. My way to see interoperability is a way to connect various compartments and harvest the benefits of synergy across sectors rather than within sectors. With regard to the work we do, interoperability would ideally stretch to providing my Team with valuable data for us to help the international community respond to disasters and emergencies in developing countries.
Mr John Tate: I believe that the wider adoption of open standards, in particular data and web services, will lead to an improved interoperability. Improvements in the ability to share data in service and non-service manner will be achieved, reducing the numbers of data silos / towers of excellence (depending on your point of view). Coupled with the adoption of an ‘enable and enhance’ (current capability / equipment) approach rather than replace will offer costs benefits
2. In terms of balancing costs, what areas would you say require the most investment in Geospatial Intelligence?
Commodore Pat Tyrrell: The unmanned vehicles are going to produce an ever increasing deluge of data over the next few years and the secret will be how we manage that data and, in particular, fuse different data sets to give reliable, and actionable intelligence.
The human graphical interface, that allows the decision maker to see the data within the context of a picture rather than reams of textual data, offer considerable potential and need to be further developed.
Col John Fitzgerald: The function of “collection management,” which seeks to manage information sources and processing resources to meet intelligence requirements, warrants greater investment. This should seek to balance the rapidly growing capabilities in areas such as commercial and military imagery reconnaissance, imagery analysis/ GIS, and networked communications, with the ability to manage and use them effectively and coherently. This investment must go beyond the provision of better tools to high quality training and education for both specialists in geospatial intelligence and non specialist intelligence collection managers and customers.
Lt Col Neil Marks:
Mr Pascal Legai: The EU Satellite Centre is recognized as leading provider of high quality and relevant GEOINT products and services in support of CFSP/CSDP. At the same time, the EU and its Member States invest substantial resources in the Global Monitoring for Environmental and Security (GMES) programme. Already today, GMES is an important source of capability development from which the Centre, other stakeholders and citizens are benefitting. And they will benefit even more in the future, once GMES moves into its operational phase. In the EUSC ´s view, there should be substantial investments in this field. However, the EU Member States have noted that services complementary to the ones already provided by the Centre will have to be thoroughly assessed and carefully coordinated in order to avoid unnecessary duplication.
The added value of the EUSC is that it is the only European Union agency in this field of work, which means that we are a direct source of GEOINT and IMINT for the EU and a complimentary source for Member States. Furthermore, all Member States benefit from this European capacity by automatically receiving a copy of all the products requested by another Member State, the Council of the EU, the Commission or an international organisation, thus saving money and resources.
Mr Francesco Pisano: As Manager of UNOSAT I have little to say about intelligence per se. I think however that a good investment is an act of foresight that even despite current conditions will prove beneficial and wise with time. In this regard and from my point of observation, I would encourage any investment capable of meeting the challenges the future will put on our path. One of them is that “the location of anything is becoming everything” is a fact that is not only true for the geospatial intelligence community, it is a reality also for everyone else working in our field. We have to invest in ways to share information that becomes valuable for different actors at different times. The same pixel of interest to the intelligence community today may become relevant tomorrow in a search and rescue operation after a disaster. How much data is still considered restricted for reasons that are no longer valid at a closer look and in the face of a greater good? The more I compare the work we do within the international community and the overarching guidelines of geospatial intelligence the more I feel we are losing out on powerful and positive synergy, not on all areas perhaps, but in many enough to give it a try one day soon. More than once I came across public material from this or that intelligence entity mentioning “humanitarian aid” among the goals envisioned in their institutional vision. I would like to take up that call and see what can be done by joining hands, perhaps by starting with one or two simple “pilots” or even just case studies.
Mr John Tate: I believe that the Geospatial Intelligence Community are pretty well served albeit greater investment in the supporting infrastructures to enable the increased use of geospatial web services as a means of harnessing geo-processing and sharing GeoINT is required. However, the area that is often neglected, but that I believe needs further investigation the education and training of the users beyond the ‘typical’ GeoINT community, those who often don’t realise that they have a GeoINT requirement. Educating them to the benefits of the GeoINT discipline (taken for granted by the GeoINT community) and what it can do for them will reap reward.
3. Finally, how do you feel the Geospatial Intelligence industry is progressing in terms of technology?
Commodore Pat Tyrrell: The GIS industry is making good use of new technologies – the area of concern is that of the user where innovation can be considered to be a negative issue. Intelligence is applicable at the three key level: strategic, operational and tactical – it is essential that the data that supports these three levels is based upon common data. This will require a new approach to the data issue as discussed above.
Col John Fitzgerald: Geospatial intelligence industries have received substantial investment in recent years, much of it from public including defence funding. The squeeze on public expenditure in many countries should force governments to be even smarter about developing and using geospatial intelligence, which has a proven and increasingly vital role in achieving cost effectiveness in many areas. This means improving interoperabilty and collection management in the broadest sense.
Lt Col Neil Marks:
I hope the information and personal views above, which are not necessarily those of the Council of the European Union, are of use.
Mr Pascal Legai: From our own experience and based on the EUSC’s good relationships with its industrial partners, outstanding and reliably high service levels provided by geo-information companies to the Centre become increasingly essential. The Centre is very much interested in working even closer together with providers that can guarantee the highest quality, fast delivery, as well as perfect reliability and have incorporated a strong service orientation. These elements are essential so that the industry can support the EUSC even better in its CFSP/CSDP mission of providing high-quality geospatial intelligence to the EU and its Member States.
Mr Francesco Pisano: I have had only glimpses of the fast progressing technological hedge in geospatial intelligence. And of course I have been impressed each time. The resolution commercially available today was a prerogative reserved to the intelligence community only a few years ago. I can imagine that with the progress of technology, the increase of resolution, reliability, revisit cycles and so on, there are going to be tangible advantages coming our way too, outside the geospatial intelligence circles.
Hence my impression is that we are doing well in the technology department. Where I have not seen comparable progress, and I have said so before, is on the front of creating a global community of geospatial experts. We are in fact one community and we share some fundamental values and interests. But we do not feel and act as a community. I have had the privilege of being together with world leading experts in geospatial intelligence. I have felt we had mutual respect and admiration for our respective work. I would like to see that as a seed from which a worldwide expert community can grow.
Mr John Tate: The GeoINT industry is well served in typical geospatial intelligence technology terms i.e. dealing with the ‘natural’ environment. However an area that needs development and is perhaps more difficult because it doesn’t always conform to the traditional non-fuzzy GI world, is cultural geography or human terrain mapping. There is perhaps much that can be learnt from other sectors that would bring benefit to the Geospatial Intelligence community.