The Intelligence Community wins with DI2E plugfests
- By A.J. Clark
- Jul 14, 2015
For more years than its members like to remember, the geospatial community has been trying to figure out a way to bring emerging capabilities to the U.S. government customer base. Traditional cartography, imagery collection and imagery analysis is a tradecraft well known within the Intelligence Community (IC), but the common challenge of simply placing data over a map or image in a standardized fashion has yet to be solved.
The problems have been twofold: (1) there has been some doubt about the existence of a common path at all because standardization has eluded the IC and, for that matter, the entire whole of government; so (2) the geospatial community has in many cases given up, choosing to spend its research and development capital on commercial providers who are eager to find solutions that feed a new, fast-growing and profitable way of doing business.
Enter the Defense Intelligence Information Enterprise (DI2E), built on an understanding that the old way of doing business – federal dollars to spawn GEOINT ideas – is history, because those dollars are harder to come by. A reason for creating DI2E is finding solutions that can be used over and over again, often in different combinations with other technologoes -- to facilitate standards that define layers of interoperability among Web services. In those solutions, the geospatial community is taking a step back into the future.
By participating in the annual DI2E Plugfest eXchanges, geospatial companies can leverage technology created for commercial customers, turning that technology into off-the-shelf, proven solutions to cope with working across a 17-member IC that has gone about its business in 17 different ways. Moreover, they can identify ground that has already been tread and look at complementing other technologies to result in a modular end product that is greater than the sum of its parts.
To succeed in Plugfest, a company has to have a good product, prepare to demonstrate ways to use it and understand that no company is an island in solving intelligence problems. We all need to find ways to mesh our products’ attributes to meet a DI2E axiom: Talent must be blended in ways to fill gaps within the intelligence information enterprise.
It’s like building a winning baseball club: my starting pitching, plus your hitting, plus somebody else’s fielding and somebody else’s bullpen can yield success. You can’t do it with starting pitching alone. And hitting without pitching isn’t going to win a World Series.
Beginning with Kevin Meiners, then his replacement Jim Martin, and with Gary Wang, and then his replacement Jack Jones, the DI2E has stuck to a concept and incubated it. In that concept, the enterprise’s personnel reach out to help the geospatial community, offering technical advice before a Plugfest and setting up a test bed for companies to demonstrate their technologies. Innovators can find ways to blend their talents in such a way that they can show their solutions in their best light in front of decision-makers and users alike.
Plugfest offers companies visibility. After so many years of sticks, now there’s a carrot in acknowledgement that says, “Hey, look, here are these capabilities and you’ve already vetted them. Just grab what you need and use it for your program.” Companies can align both user demand with funding chain guidance, which results in more opportunity for those that demonstrate they are not just paying lip service to the buzz words of the day.
The process works. During Plugfest 2015 at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va., in May, Thermopylae Sciences & Technology used its iSpatial collaborative framework with imagery from DigitalGlobe and data from other companies to show how iSpatial at a functional level is both open and able to interact with other technologies. If those vendors hadn’t been there, we wouldn’t have looked as good. We did our homework. We listened to DI2E. And we invested our time and resources in persuading decision-makers we could bring emerging technology and make 1+1 = 3 by working with others. We took advantage of an opportunity, and the result was advancing iSpatial into a DI2E storefront of tested and approved products available to solve problems.
Competitive? Certainly. You have to work with the DI2E group and other vendors to demonstrate best value and show that what you are bringing works better than competing software. Prove you are right, and the reward can be growing a small technology footprint into a broader one. As important, your company can get insight into technology in which gaps are being uncovered as the technology advances. Find the gap at Plugfest, then fill the gap. It’s not perfect, but we’ve been involved for three years now and we’ve seen tremendous progress. This is a determined, enduring and real effort at improving the way industry and government do business.
Fill gaps with your capability, and companies and technologies get visibility with decision-makers that they couldn’t reach by spending thousands of dollars at a conference, where hundreds of vendors are competing for declining industry share. The Plugfest is an organized effort by government officials who have an idea of what they’re getting from the geospatial community and, more important, what they want. Through a realistic evaluation scenario, rather than a sales pitch on a convention floor, vendors can succeed or, at worst, find out why they failed and what they need to do to succeed next time.
Lessons are learned—by us, by other companies. The elusive door can open.
Lessons are learned by DI2E, too. The enterprise has had growing pains in sticking with a concept and incubating it, and now the build-it-and-they-will-come system is moving forward. Product capabilities are being showed for the flexibility built within them, and that flexibility can be called upon to solve problems across the intelligence information spectrum, which demands products that can be used in as many different ways as possible.
We didn’t build iSpatial for one solution. No one size can fit all, but dedicated, limited products are becoming a thing of the past.
What has to happen now is that more companies need to take advantage of the process. It’s not just geospatial either, a new world of inter-operable tools from link analysis to advanced analytics is all converging via the DI2E construct. In that way, competition can become more spirited, with more winners – including the Intelligence Community.
It is, after all, why the process was created in the first place.
A.J. Clark s the president with Thermopylae Sciences and Technology, a provider of web-enabled geospatial, mobile, and cloud solutions for the federal government.