Colonel John Fitzgerald Calls for User-Friendly Focus in GIS Development

Senior Staff Officer for Intelligence Policy with NATO, Colonel John Fitzgerald's role focuses on Geospatial Imagery and JISR, making him instrumental in shaping and defining the strategic goals for international military staff in this area. We caught up with him to find out how he thinks GIS is changing the way the armed forces make decisions, and how the actions arising from those decisions are carried out.

According to Col. Fitzgerald, it all stems from improved intelligence gathering: " Commanders, analysts and operators are much better able to visualise and assess critical situations in and around their battlespace, share this understanding with others, and coordinate action."

However, whilst the importance of GIS starts with intelligence gathering, it's the deployment of that information and its influence on key strategic decisions where it is now having (and increasing to have) the most impact. Fitzgerald points out that GIS is being applied across all defence functions from administration and logistics to precision targeting.

While increased information improves the results from decision-making process, the sheer quantity of data that requires analysis and application must also put increased strain on all those involved and this will necessitate "a transformation of requirements and collection management in order to exploit effectively all potential information sources and processing, and meet increasingly sophisticated user requirements." In real-terms, this means that the routine GEOINT services that provide and manage this information "must become increasingly user friendly, robust, seamless across diverse networks, and less dependant on specialist GEOINT support."

One of the most exciting, valuable and 'up-and-coming' developments in the area of Defence Geospatial Intelligence is that of Human Terrain Analysis. By combining the knowledge and understanding, Col. Fitzgerald explains, of relevant cultural, political and economic factors on the ground alongside spatial data and other GEOINT, including details on recent security incidents, a far higher-fidelity picture of the battlespace can be created.

"So called 'tribal maps' have regularly proven to be some of the most needed special products in operations. Related challenges for GEOINT include standardisation and collection, often necessitating close cooperation with civil agencies on the ground, and the cartographic skill needed to portray this relatively 'soft' information effectively."

Although it can be in no doubt that geo-capabilities are already having a dramatic effect on every command and control operation in every defence organisation as it becomes the very core of their decision-making process, it should not, Fitzgerald advises, totally replace the traditional hard-copy 'situation map':

"With its pins and overlays, (the situation map) has long been the basis of command and control. Digital geo capabilities, however, enable much greater efficiency, accuracy and flexibility in assembling the common operating picture, in analysing it, and in communicating it. In turn this shortens decision cycles and facilitates grappling with complex scenarios. To be most effective, these geo capabilities in C2 must be balanced with improvements in other areas such as communications bandwidth, reporting procedures, force tracking, and the intelligence cycle."

Colonel John Fitzgerald will be discussing Strategic Goals & Challenges for Providing GIS Services in NATO at Defence Geospatial Intelligence (DGI) 2011, the 7th annual geospatial intelligence conference & exhibition. To find how you can join him there contact the DGI team at , call +44 20 7368 9465 or visit  

T: 44 (0) 207 368 9465
F: 44 (0) 207 368 9401


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