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Supporting real-time intelligence

John Day, Director Defense Business Development, Esri
John Day
Director Defense Business Development

<< From delivering offline editing capabilities in ready-to-deploy apps to releasing new generation of ArcGIS Explorer, Esri is set to welcome 2013 in a big way. Read on to know more… >>

Q. Requirements differ from region-to-region and customerto- customer. Can you tell us about the geospatial solutions being provided by Esri to its customers, particularly in India?
Nations have an increasingly challenging responsibility to protect their citizens from manmade and natural threats. The solutions that Esri is providing are aimed at addressing the national security mission challenges that can be summarised as – collecting and managing data; tracking and managing resources; modelling, analysing and assessing vulnerabilities; developing integrated security, protection and mitigation plans; collecting field mobile data and providing updates and changes; supporting prevention, response, interdiction and incident management; and establishing and maintaining situational awareness in the field and updating the common operating picture in real-time to keep situational awareness current for all the stakeholders.

GIS provides a more complete understanding of a situation and provision of timely and accurate information for all phases of national security activities.

Q. You have been talking about the fusion of GIS with Advanced Geospatial Intelligence (AGI). How is ArcGIS supporting this fusion?
GIS is a multiintelligence fusion and analysis system. Data is collected from many sources using a variety of systems and formats – not just geoint but also SIGINT, ELINT, MASINT, OSINT and HUMINT.

As Esri became more involved in national security solutions, the need to support real-time intelligence became apparent. One of the first initiatives was the Tracking Server and Tracking Analyst. Tracking Server can manage direct feeds which could be from moving features such as with an AIS tracking system, or from static sensors such as unattended ground sensors (UGS). Tracking Analyst allows desktop users to perform temporal analysis whether conducted live – perhaps to manage warnings and alerts, or in a forensic context – maybe to look for patterns that might be useful in planning future ISR or strike operations.

Much intelligence is derived from unstructured text in the form of reports. In conjunction with some of our partners who can parse these text documents, we can georeference them so that it is easy to identify the locations mentioned and use the map to reference the documents.

Today, much intelligence is derived from social media sites that are open to the public and therefore a source of OSINT. Feeds from Twitter, Ushahidi, YouTube and other social media sites can rapidly be integrated within a GIS-based system as the events and situations are unfolding – whether as part of Humanitarian Assistance/Disaster Relief operations (HADR), or when monitoring hostile intent and actions from rioters, dissidents or adversaries. The latest additions to the analyst’s toolbox are the ability to integrate full motion video from unmanned aerial systems (UAS), and the ability to natively support LiDAR data in the LAS format. Using forms for data entry with web applications or smart phones, our customers are also able to support two-way communication with mobile users providing HUMINT under the concept that ‘every soldier or every citizen is a sensor’.

So we have evolved from single workstations, through multiuser systems sharing a common database, and through connecting these systems over a network to the situation today where the network is the computer. Through service oriented architectures, we are able to provide services which can be fused in many types of applications. We can support almost all types of intelligence data and fuse this data for visualisation and analysis.

Q. Esri has been talking about ‘intelligent maps’. Can you tell us about them?
Intelligent maps are web applications that allow users to interact with the map to gain greater insight into the information being displayed. Each map can be targeted for specific user communities and tailored to provide a focused set of information for a particular mission. They combine basemaps with layers of static and dynamic data to provide up-to-date knowledge about activities in an area of operations. They can be created and shared through easy-to-use tools available via an intuitive web interface. Additional components allow the authoring of online map-based briefs. Users can play the briefs back in the planned order or explore the content using the web map interface. These intelligent web maps can be used everywhere. They can be used on any device including smartphones, and can also be integrated with social media. You can put them into a website or a browser, or use them in ArcMap. More advanced tools, including ArcGIS for Desktop, and applications built on the open-standard REST APIs, can also publish and edit these web maps.

Intelligent maps also support consistent map display — a kind of ‘one-map’ vision where the data is consistently and uniformly rendered on all devices. This is very important to military. These maps serve as the primary means to distribute information through all echelons during an operation. For example, the command staff could combine status reports and current intelligence to make decisions and synchronise friendly force actions through shared maps and overlays, while a reconnaissance patrol in the field might be accessing or updating the shared information from a mobile application. Intelligent maps are thus a major focus of our work.

Q. Esri has recently released ArcGIS Online? Can you tell us about it? How is it going to be effective for defence users?
ArcGIS Online is Esri’s open cloud platform for GIS organisations to web-enable their maps and related geographic information for sharing with their users. ArcGIS Online includes tools for geospatial content management, simple web mapping, and ultimately a full GIS. This technology supports hosted basemaps for web, mobile, desktop and server deployment. It enables users to upload and share their datasets; provides a common catalogue for referencing online maps and geoservices; and has tools for organising shared content into groups for both secure management and organisational purposes. Other system capabilities include being able to create maps from your own unstructured data.

ArcGIS Online is open and supports many data and service types (for example, WMS, KML, GPX, CSV, and shapefiles). Users can easily create web maps using browser and desktop-based clients. When the services are created, they are automatically registered in the online catalogue for users to easily discover, mashup, and build into web maps. These services can be accessed from browsers, mobile devices, web applications and ArcGIS for Desktop clients. ArcGIS Online also supports a series of open APIs for both the services as well as the platform itself.

This cloud-based component is a major milestone in the evolution of ArcGIS. It provides a hosted platform for rapidly extending and scaling user capabilities in content, number of transactions (maps) and users. It is also designed to work directly with an organisation’s GIS desktop and server enterprise capabilities to extend both the reach and capacity of their GIS.

Q. Talking about cloud, security is one of the most debated issues in the defence establishments. Also, connectivity in combat zones is another major issue. How is ArcGIS Online addressing these issues?
Esri has taken special care with the implementation of security in its products. ArcGIS Online was planned with security as one of its core features through a deep security implementation. Some key points to highlight about the security in ArcGIS Online include:

  • ArcGIS Online organisation roles are defined as users, publishers and administrators. Users can add items, create web maps, share content and participate in groups. Publishers are users that can publish hosted services from feature or tiled map data. Administrators utilise a webbased administration interface to manage users, groups, permissions, and organisationwide security features.
  • Publishers uploading data are by default the ones that can modify it or export it, in addition to their organisation’s administrator. Publishers can delete their data, and then it will be deleted from the system. Publishers can grant access to their dataset, and determine if other users will be able to edit it or not. Additionally, publishers retain intellectual property rights to their data at all times.
  • To protect user account information, as users login to ArcGIS Online, their credentials are protected by SSL encryption over HTTPS. Subsequent requests to access data will require an access token, tokens are time bound and will expire in a short period of time. Additionally, users have the option to make all subsequent requests over HTTPS.
  • To protect data, using SSL encryption over HTTPS ensures that data is protected when in transit. To protect data during storage, Esri ensures that each organisation has a separate logical database for hosted services, and that the items are physically stamped with the ID of the owning subscription to ensure sealed compartments.

Users who feel their data is sensitive and would like to keep it within their firewall are able to do so. In this case, users can continue to manage the data themselves and leverage ArcGIS for Server to publish it. We recommend that users consider the security requirements of their content on a case-to-case basis. There are different options available that allow users to meet their security requirements.

With our extensive work with the US Army, we understand that connectivity in combat zones is another major issue and that our smartphone/tablet technologies must support offline usage. In early 2013 we will deliver offline editing capabilities in our ready-to-deploy apps for the iOS and Android platforms. Users will be able to take their data into the field in areas with little or no connectivity and perform their data collection and editing workflows. Once connected again, whether in the field or back at base, these changes can be synchronised with the server. Other offline capabilities will include routing, geocoding and some geoprocessing analysis.

What products are on the anvil at Esri?
Esri continues to be very much driven by a strong engineering philosophy and heavy investments in software and platform research and development. Our engineering efforts are principally focused on supporting our users within professional and enterprise settings. We are reinforcing this with advancements in our basic platform technology, which is standardsbased, easily integrated into the IT technology stack, and rich in features and functions. ArcGIS 10.1 reflects this philosophy with hundreds of improvements that will help our users do their work better and be more productive. These improvements are being made across the ArcGIS system.

ArcGIS will continue to evolve as an integrated system with emphasis in four areas – the desktop, the server, mobile and online environments. For the desktop, our next big release will be version 11 with significant refresh of all the desktop applications. Big enhancements will include much faster 2D and 3D display, multi-threaded processing, and a 64-bit architecture.

ArcGIS 10.1 makes considerable improvements in the performance and functionality of the ArcGIS system with respect to 3D. This starts with significant performance improvement in the ArcGlobe environment. Display is faster and far more scalable for rendering very large datasets (full cities). Our approach to 3D is more than fast visualisation. Next year, Esri will release additional 3D capabilities including a new generation of ArcGIS Explorer based on the new 3D Runtime technology under development.

Esri reached a major milestone this summer with the release of ArcGIS Online. The road ahead calls for improvements in functionality, ease of use, and deeper analytics.

The product known as ‘Portal for ArcGIS’ will eventually be integrated into the ArcGIS Server platform. Related to this will be enhancements to web and mobile apps along with the corresponding software development kits.

In the online environment we will continue to update the system with more content, more templates and enhanced functionality in the areas of authentication/single sign-on, security, and implementation of geoprocessing and advanced GIS functionality in the cloud. Users will also see continued progress in a ‘one user experience’ for all of the different ArcGIS devices, products and applications.