NGA’s mobile app broker model gaining steam

The National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency is adding a new “broker” concept to the federal lingo.

NGA is moving to a commercial-like business model for mobile applications. The intelligence agency in May launched its Innovative GEOINT Application Provider Program (IGAPP) and hired Engility under a four-year, $25 million contract to act as the trusted broker for mobile application development and approval.

Shana Simmons, a GEOINT Integration Capabilities Officer with NGA, said the goal is to create a one-stop shop for all geospatial intelligence applications under IGAPP.

NGA updated its app story in December, adding more data collection points to understand its customers’ needs and what kinds of devices they are using. It then awarded the contract to Engility in May to begin outreach to developers to make better use of unclassified geo-spatial data and turn it into mobile apps.

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“Engility provides three main services for us as an agency. The first one is marketing so they market what NGA customer set looks like. They are marketing to academia, small businesses and large corporations and they’re forging relationships with those groups so vendors build applications for the government,” Simmons said recently at the ATARC Federal Mobile Computing Summit in Washington. “The second thing they do is provide the contract mechanism for payment for these applications. As some of you maybe aware, the traditional contracting method of the 18-to-22 month cycle where you come up with an idea for a requirement, you formulate that requirement, you send out some RFIs and you send out some RFPs and 18-to-22 months you finally get a contract in place to finally develop what you’ve been needing. Now you develop for a year or however long it takes before you can get what you need. We did this one-time with IGAPP. IGAPP works with those vendors directly. They hold an agreement with all the vendors and developers in the program. They make sure they meet our governance standards, which is the third piece. They have an unclassified, open technical environment which mimics our GEOINT app store.”

Simmons said NGA and Engility’s goal is to reduce the time frame for apps to be developed and approved for use in the app store.

“From validating an idea and having a customer set behind that to finding the developers to having it in and meeting all of our security and governance, we hope we can do that in 90 days,” she said.

She said Engility is taking the government speak and making it more understandable for non-traditional contractors as well as ensuring the geospatial data is more easily accessible.

“The broker part is understanding what NGA is looking for and there is always a continuous dialogue between us and the IGAPP broker,” Simmons said. “The payment of these applications is by the download and that’s where the commercial model comes in to play. We no longer are paying for the up-front development costs and the back-end sustainment. We are building efficiencies and we are building innovations. People are out there not just building an app to meet a requirement, they are building great apps because they know they will not get paid unless they get downloaded. So we are pushing to good applications to better service our customer.”

Simmons said the most downloaded app from the store is an aeronautical application that lets pilots download flight plans or other data on an iPad instead of carrying 80 or 90 pounds of maps and paper.

Simmons said there are about six apps going through the IGAPP process. She said Engility is testing and negotiating the cost to download each app.

“Understanding what the price per download or what the effective rate of what that should look like is something we are working through,” she said. “A lot of people ask that question: ‘Is this a 99 cent app or is my organization going to have to pay for this?’ It is not. It is a NGA program and paid for by NGA. That download rate will not be visible on our app store. You will not know if it’s an IGAPP app or if it’s an app we’ve hosted for another agency.”

Simmons said the NGA app store hosts 26 other options of downloadable geospatial software outside of IGAPP.

“Much like a commercial store, you can provide open text feedback. You can provide star ratings, and you can get feedback that says ‘This app is great, but I wish this app did xyz,’” she said. “We are not in the business of building these apps. Industry does that better than government. We are the data providers, so how can we make our data the best and make it disseminated in the best way? That’s what we are talking about, how do we standardize services? How do we make sure we are interoperable? How do we plug-in-play so it’s easier for developers to use the data?”