NGA aims to get its maps in the fast lane

The National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency is creating a new data distribution system that will allow users worldwide to receive and accurately print maps via a $1.7 million contract with Lockheed Martin Integrated Systems and Global Services for a demand-based geospatial intelligence (DBGI) pilot.

The goal of DBGI is to furnish federal agencies with the most recent geospatial intelligence data on demand in formats users can handle.

NGA now produces hard-copy maps on large-format, five-color offset lithographic presses. That is necessary to meet military requirements that charts and maps be printed in specific spot colors to ensure readability in poor lighting conditions.

But hard-copy distribution is costly and time-consuming, especially for overseas users, said Jim Kwolek, NGA's office director and information manager. NGA can send maps faster in electronic format, but the users' equipment might not print them properly.

'We're trying to find now the sweet spot where it's more of a distributed printing model and the data has a higher velocity so that it's in tune with electronic dissemination,' Kwolek said.

Under the contract's statement of work, Lockheed Martin is to 'give customers the capability of content staging, supply chain management and digital, wide-format, high-volume hard-copy output.'

Mark Whitney, NGA's project leader for DBGI, said meeting that goal will mean resolving a number of issues about file formats and working with printers to ensure map colors can be printed reliably at remote sites.

It is unlikely that NGA will settle on a single file format for geospatial data distribution, Kwolek said. 'We'd all like to standardize because it's efficient. But we don't want to be beholden to just one format and miss the next technology. That's a two-edged sword.'

Another facet of the pilot program is testing distributed storage of geospatial data.

'Right now, if you [are] in a remote location and if you have the right connectivity, you can actually dial into our agency Web site and download different data sets,' Whitney said. 'But very large data sets can eat up bandwidth that you could be using for other purposes. Part of this pilot is having the data staged out there closer to the customer so it can be retrieved faster.'

DBGI is an early stage of NGA's Transforming the Dissemination Environment (TDE) program, which will eventually allow clients to access geospatial intelligence via a portal. NGA officials said they expect to spend approximately $20 million on TDE during the next five years.

'What we want available, not only internally to our agency but to all of our remote sites, is the most current geospatial intelligence available and online wherever we are connected,' Kwolek said. 'That increases our responsiveness. Basically, you get it your way, like at Burger King.'

About the Author

Patrick Marshall is a freelance technology writer for GCN.

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