Disruptive by Design: Government Must Bridge the Gaps of Disparate Data

March 1, 2015
By Tiffany Moriarty Roth

Rapidly evolving commercial solutions are having a large effect on how the intelligence community collects, processes and analyzes data to gain improved strategic agility. Enhanced reactive and predictive awareness will allow the United States to engage with global partners successfully while out-maneuvering adversaries at home and abroad. But for this to work, the U.S. government must challenge the status quo, stop accepting incremental change and push a cultural shift in policy.

Today, U.S. national security faces a challenging environment with the entry of nontraditional players demonstrating new methods of attacks with substantial effect. The distinction between foreign and domestic intelligence has blurred, forcing the United States to engage with numerous global partners. The new environment requires a compressed decision-making cycle and accurate assessment of the root causes that drive extremism. Decision makers need shared situational awareness that is manageable, yet provides maximum data input for optimal decisions. Processes must be streamlined by systems that are agile, flexible and scalable and empower users not only at command level but also at the tactical edge.

Fragmented systems that are unable to provide common operating pictures effectively between agencies hinder information sharing, forcing the defense and intelligence communities to strive toward a globally networked and integrated enterprise for an incisive decision-making advantage over adversaries. Defense and intelligence agencies need integrated processing, analysis and dissemination architectures that move information quickly among the correct users. Innovative knowledge management systems developed today have the ability to break down existing barriers and address the changing paradigm. Their geospatial collection, fusion, analytical and dissemination capabilities allow raw multisource data to become powerful, actionable intelligence.

Data must be penetrating, rich and transparent and ingested from multiple sources—both disparate and processed. Mobile application components enable human operators to become multimedia sensors, providing a way to transmit data securely in real time back to a headquarters element. Pairing these tools with capabilities such as satellite communications allows for data transmission in even the most austere environments. Phone configurations provide a degree of obscurity for operators in areas where electronic transmissions are monitored, actions observed or phones inspected. User alert capabilities increase the safety of users in the field. These mobile solutions are proving to be extremely intuitive, which empowers users with a range of technical knowledge.

In addition to collection done by humans, the systems can adapt and integrate multiple collection systems. The collection of field data can be further fused in one view with a variety of common sensor feeds such as license plate recognition, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), unattended ground sensors, biometrics, and narcotics and explosives detectors. Built with a modular, open architecture design, the system easily can integrate a variety of industry standard sensor technologies. Advancements in areas such as optical character recognition algorithms for sensors in UAVs create an automated reduction in data cross-matching turnaround. Given the ever-increasing use of social media, valuable, targeted data also can be gleaned from the public realm and fused with agency-collected data.

With the ability to rapidly digest and geospatially visualize this data in one common view, information can be disseminated across all stakeholders in a manner that is understandable, manageable and actionable. Further data mining can be employed for predictive analysis in risk anticipation. Information-driven decisions and action plans can be transmitted in real time back to the ground, and agencies can track geospatial movement of their assets to deploy resources effectively. Effectively fused data can be compiled in a common format and distributed for further analysis. The desired objective is to provide a seamless view of intelligence information, tools and processes across agencies and partners in a world where information is our most powerful asset.

To affect change, the government needs increased acceptance and willingness to engage with such technologies. Commercial off-the-shelf solutions fuse with current business systems with minimal effect on the enterprise, allowing for the systems to overlay and integrate dissimilar platforms that span agencies. Security features allow for information sharing while protecting intelligence data to prevent exploitation of security vulnerabilities, complementing and bridging gaps in current business systems and reducing the need for traditionally high-sustainment-cost communications and legacy systems.

Ever-decreasing budgets, barriers between agencies and business systems that are not interoperable constrain movement toward workable solutions. Procurement of technology remains a cumbersome process surrounded by political complexities. The government remains focused on costly propriety programs of record that cannot respond to rapid change. The U.S. government must challenge the current model; stop accepting incremental change; and impel a cultural shift in policy and approach to outwit adversaries. Agencies not only need to define appropriate methods for long-term planning and budgeting but also to establish a means for rapid response procurement of solutions to meet mission-critical needs.

Game-changing solutions break down the barriers to intra-agency and partner exchange of timely information, reducing agency and functional silos of poor visibility and allowing true situational awareness and intra-agency collaboration.


Tiffany Moriarty Roth is the Field Information Support Tool (FIST) program manager at NOVA Corporation in support of the U.S. Defense Department. The views stated in this column are hers alone and do not represent the views or opinions of the U.S. government or NOVA Corporation.

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