The National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency is making slow progress in enlisting the support of industry to develop applications for its GEOINT App Store. Of the more than 270 apps currently available to the intelligence community through the online platform, only about 40 percent come from the private sector.
Soon after taking the helm of the agency in 2010, NGA director Letitia Long called for the formation of an application store in which industry would take the lead in developing apps related to geospatial intelligence. However, three years later, the agency is still trying to populate its app store with apps from third-party developers.
Mark Riccio, director of Future Experience for NGA’s Xperience Directorate, said the agency will soon release a request for proposals from industry seeking an “entity” to serve as an Application Operations Services Provider (AOSP), which will enable NGA to secure more apps for the storefront from developers and provide the means to compensate them.
“[AOSP] is going to be the mechanism by which we work to incentivize and provide compensation to [developers] to make this a worthwhile endeavor,” said Riccio.
Under this construct, compensation would be based on “one of several models, or a combination of models,” according to an April 2013 NGA request for information. “For example, a provider might receive a percentage of the cost of applications purchased, a minimal service provider fee, and/or a potential award fee for performance or a combination of these options.”
NGA hopes to have the AOSP up and running in mid-2014 to encourage developers to contribute to the GEOINT App Store.
“A year from now, we should see some numbers that echo that desire to substantially make the switchover from internally funded apps to those coming from commercial and academic partners,” said Riccio.
Apps in war fighter hands
According to the 2013-2017 NGA Strategy, the agency’s vision is to put the “power of GEOINT” in the hands of war fighters, particularly through mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets. Toward that end, NGA has created an enterprise application store on three security domains: unclassified, secret, and top secret. On Sept. 5, the agency released version 1.0.13 of the GEOINT App Store across all three operational networks — Internet, Secret Internet Protocol Router Network, and Joint Worldwide Intelligence Communication System.
“Recognizing that GEOINT data, products, services, and knowledge are most relevant when the information is easily accessible, NGA is committed to making its content discoverable, accessible, and usable in multiple security domains,” states the NGA’s strategy document. By 2017, the agency wants to empower the GEOINT community through “greatly improved access to varied content and applications,” allowing users to “create and consume GEOINT content anytime on the device of their choice.”
Riccio emphasized the importance of NGA taking a “device agnostic” approach. The app store currently hosts mobile native apps, supports Android and iOS users of wireless devices.
“For partners developing their own applications and services, we will lead the definition of GEOINT applications and provide the GEOINT data framework, as well as provide direct access to GEOINT content for those requiring it,” declares the five-year NGA strategy.
Redlands, Calif.-based company Esri has provided application templates and development resources to “jump start app deployment based on specific mission needs,” according to Patty Mims, Esri’s director of intelligence business development. Mims said that several apps in the GEOINT App Store have been developed with Esri’s web mapping application programming interfaces, which enable developers to quickly build apps.
“Esri is supportive of the app store approach as an effective mechanism for providing GEOINT content and capability to a diverse set of users,” she said. “We see this as an essential component for enabling NGA’s objective of providing self-service GEOINT. Core enterprise services were often historically locked behind single-purpose tools whereas the app store can rapidly allow developers to deploy and share a variety of applications providing a variety of access interfaces.”