David James Swann
Director, Defence solutions
The battlespace is unpredictable; forces are more dispersed; decisions need to be faster; the consequences of poor decisions immediately catch the headlines. Network Centric Operations demand that time and space are an integral part of information infrastructure
Geographic information system (GIS) technology has long been used in the Defence sector – but historic usage has been focused on specific domains such as terrain analysis, map production or facility management. A new breed of GIS technology is emerging, which is critical to defence infrastructure. Enterprise GIS platforms are taking their place in the defence information infrastructure and forming an interoperable foundation for the transfer of battlespace knowledge.
New strategic imperatives are driving the uptake of GIS as a critically important technology. The battlespace is unpredictable; forces are more dispersed; decisions need to be faster; the consequences of poor decisions immediately catch the headlines. It used to suffice to factor time and space into the decision cycle on an ad hoc basis – the occasional glance at a map, the infrequent provision of an analysis result. The historic niche usage of GIS as a specialist’s technology met this need well. Today, Network Centric Operations demand that time and space are an integral part of information infrastructure. This is the role of enterprise GIS platform – to become an integral part of a broader information infrastructure.
This marks a fundamental shift in the nature of GIS as a technology and one that has caused some degree of confusion in the industry. The confusion stems from misunderstanding the nature of an information system. An information system is about more than just data – it encompasses the business logic of an organization (including the workflows, data flows and processing of information) and the presentation of information. So the argument that the handling of spatial data within a DBMS constitutes an enterprise GIS is missing the point. Of course an enterprise GIS handles spatial data within a range of DBMS and file environments – but much more importantly, it also manages data models, process models, visualization templates (the maps and globes) and metadata.
The raw data that measures time and space come from a wide range of sensors. Perhaps the most important role of an enterprise GIS is to connect to these sensors in a manner that ensures minimal temporal and spatial distortion – sensor measurements arrive in the decision support environment fast and accurately. Because they are accurate and timely, fusion is a natural result of maintaining the geographic context from sensor to decision maker. The enterprise GIS platform enables the breaking down of stovepipes that divided systems in the past to provide a common framework for handling spatial information across all defence systems. This is important because the government avoids paying repeatedly for developing the same core functions for each system – the magnitude of licensing costs would certainly be lower than building systems from scratch. It also ensures that the defence user receives the latestcapabilities from the commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) sof ware community.
Enterprise GIS is now widely used during the wars, businesses, and strategic intelligence domains in many nations around the world. By definition, an enterprise GIS must necessarily conform to IT industry standards. This creates a fundamentally open and interoperable infrastructure that doesn’t just serve C4ISR needs or just defence needs or even just national needs, it provides a common framework for collaboration within and between all communities of use. This common infrastructure is critical in today’s security climate.