ITT Corporation has spun off its three business units into three standalone, publicly traded companies. ITT Defense & Information Solutions became Exelis, Inc. when this change officially took place on October 31 of this past year. As a part of the change, ITT Visual Information Solutions became Exelis Visual Information Solutions (VIS). With this new organization, Richard Cooke was promoted from president of ITT VIS in Boulder, Colorado to lead a larger business within Exelis that oversees the Exelis VIS business. Exelis VIS promoted from within to appoint Jaye Lampe, a 14-year company veteran, as president.
V1 editor Matt Ball recently spoke with Lampe about the transition, and the company’s ongoing technology approach within the imagery analysis and image delivery segments.
V1: My understanding is that the larger public ITT Corp. split into three different public companies. Could you describe the transition and the alignment that exists in the Exelis brand?
Lampe: We still report into a group called Geospatial Systems. Richard Cooke now runs the Geospatial Information Solutions as part of the Geospatial Systems group. Geospatial Systems includes our legacy satellite related work with hardware married to optics for imagery capture in both the commercial and government space. It also includes a wide array or airborne offerings, with hardware that is used to collect extreme imagery. Exelis VIS is really the software side of that business.
Exelis VIS is focused on creating commercial products that do exploitation and dissemination of data within the geospatial business unit. We also provide government services around those products, and other types of work that are required so that imagery can be visualized, analyzed, exploited and disseminated to end users.
V1: The division between the different entities, has that stayed the same. Has the software side been tasked to do anything new or different under the organization?
Lampe: We’re really focused on what we did before, but the structuring does tie us more closely to the services side that sells services around the exploitation and delivery of imagery, primarily in the government program side. As a commercial entity, we would often pursue government programs with our products in order to provide them with image analysis capabilities. The other part of our organization could have been working with the same program people to provide custom services to meet unique hardware needs. Now we have a lot more visibility between the groups, and coordination that allows us to solve problems using a combination of products and services together.
We’ve worked with them for a long time, and we did a lot of what I would call subcontracting through the services component of Geospatial Systems. I see this new assimilation as a great benefit to our marketplace.
V1: Jaye, I was reading your LinkedIn profile, and I noted that you’ve been in sales, services and operations within the organization. It looks as if you’ve been groomed nicely for this role to oversee all areas of the company.
Lampe: It has been a really exciting sequence of events here at Exelis VIS. I started out when the company was privately held, and really got to understand software through technical sales support, then migrated into pure sales, and then professional services. Most recently, I was running operations out of our Washington, D.C. office before becoming president.
I have enjoyed getting to know our various marketplaces in my different roles. We had seen a nice alignment with the government when we were purchased by Eastman Kodak and went from being a private to a public company. During this time, Eastman Kodak Commercial and Government Systems gave us a good understanding of how our software was being used by the government. Because of the explosion in the use of airborne imagery, the government was using both commercial and government sources of data.
That exposure really helped us to drive how our products are developed. We wouldn’t have had that kind of access to our customers and their needs if we weren’t part of that larger organization that had those relationships with the government. All through my tenure here, we have increased our understanding of our customer base and learned how we can better support them with our products, both on the government and commercial side of the business.
V1: The tight integration of your software with Esri has also probably been a key strategic move on your part.
Lampe: It has been extremely fruitful for us; but more importantly, it responded to a need in the marketplace – It has given us another level of exposure to what our customers need. Even when I started 14 years ago, there wasn’t a lot of coordination between GIS users and imagery users. People traditionally had solutions based on vector or raster, where a raster might just be a backdrop to a vector layer. At that time, you might have a user that would use imagery to help them correct or update vectors, but now 14 or 15 years later the whole market has changed.
With the integration of ENVI image analysis software and ArcGIS, we can do things in concert with GIS users to help them derive useful information from their imagery. Instead of imagery just being a vector overlay, we can now pull out information that provides valuable situational awareness, such as changes in a landscape, and create a vector layer that then gets sent out to others in a small data size. We also apply algorithms to find information in the imagery, and to push that out in a format that GIS users can consume. This integration has given us a chance to do more things for our existing customer base, and to find new customers who can benefit from our solutions.
V1: I’ve noted that you’ve done quite a bit to aid workflows and automate things, including making imagery work easier for traditional GIS users. Is that an ongoing effort, and something that is really needed in GIS, but not in some of the other markets that you work?
Lampe: I see the need for this in industries and applications across the board and not just with GIS. Imagery consumers have so much data coming their way that they need easy-to-use, automated image processing and analysis tools that can also produce reports and output results and products that their customers can consume. Disaster response teams are a great example of users that have lots of imagery and need quick and accurate image analysis results and products. Other users include environmental monitoring professionals, such as those who work for NASA or NOAA, because they’re faced with enormous amounts of imagery data and need to turn it into actionable information.
It’s really gone both directions. GIS is using imagery in more ways than they ever have, and the imagery world is using vectors to convey information to their user base in more ways.
V1: It seems to be that you’re in really the right spot in terms of Big Data being such a big issue across industries. Geospatial imagery has always been about big data, and it’s a hot topic in the mainstream press, with the need to make sense of information with data coming in faster and faster. That rigorous analysis that you apply is the missing piece, right?
Lampe: I agree. Our history is finding things in data that don’t express themselves in an obvious fashion. You can’t just look at an image and get the analytics that you need. Imagery can provide so much more than just what is clearly visible, which is why you need a product like ENVI. That’s really where we can offer significant value to our customers, and where it cuts over to our capability to solve problems that require serious analytical processing of the data vs. visual inspection or click automation.
V1: We’ve just talked about the GIS user, and making imagery easier for them, but your products are also used by serious scientific professionals with a much more rigorous side. The fact they are able to use and modify your code, with access to the building blocks, is rather unique. Is that a large percentage of your business, and do you often gain insights from this customer base from those heavy users?
Lampe: We have seen that become the biggest new space for us over the past five or ten years. It started with some work that we were doing with DigitalGlobe. We began seeing that customers wanted to take some basic capabilities that we have, and extend them with IDL, the underlying programming language that comes with our ENVI product, to create specific workflows to solve problems for customer needs.
Our starting point was with research and development customers. Over the course of that time, we’ve had people in the services side of the business work directly with customers to develop workflows to attack specific problems in their business or mission area. In doing that, we’ve learned what they need to get done, what their timelines are, what sources of data and input that they can get to, and how those outputs need to be formatted to be consumed by end users that are trying to get actionable intelligence from that data.
Having learned from our customers, we’ve developed tools which we’ve been able to incorporate into ENVI in a variety of different ways. Some of those tools have transitioned through government programs, some tools have transitioned through cooperative research and development, and some have come from ideas we’ve had through working more closely with our customers in the Washington, D.C. area, and in our European and Asian subsidiary offices. The fact that our services team can extend the solutions for customers on the ground, and feed those back to the corporation in Boulder, so that we can look at incorporating them into the product, has been great for our customers, and has helped us to really fine tune our understanding of the market need.
For customers, it means that they don’t have to take on the need to maintain and update those tools on their own. When it rolls into the core product, we take responsibility for them and maintain and enhance them to solve problems and work with new data sources that come online over time.
V1: It’s a really interesting and nimble position with the software extensibility. It brings to mind both a Web Services approach and an open source software approach, where you’re recycling the good work that your customers have done and making it available to the broader community. It’s also a controlled environment that you maintain. That has to be powerful from both a marketing and customer service perspective.
Lampe: The platform itself is structured so that people can add to it, and they have an extensive set of libraries for visualization, analysis and data ingest that they can draw on, to your point of being similar to open source.
It’s interesting too that we’ve offered multiple ways for people to deploy tools that they’ve built. You can deploy them to any user of our products, to anyone that has a license. There are ways to build things for a virtual machine. There are ways to set up agreements so that you can have a server-based set of functionalities processing data in batch mode and pushing data out to users or clients that might sit remotely.
We offer a lot of different licensing and contracting mechanisms to allow people to develop a system that supports the needs of their users. It’s not just a situation where we offer shrink-wrapped desktop software, and that’s the only way to access our capabilities. We continue to expand ways to do more, pushing out our services into other systems, and our relationship with Esri is a great example of that. The ability to take Esri functionality and incorporate it into their work is a growing area and we see a lot of customers doing their work in that fashion.
V1: I just returned from the GeoDesign Summit, where GIS in the Cloud was again central to their future roadmap. In an offline discussion with one of their developers, imagery was discussed as a bit of a missing element in the cloud due to its data-intensive nature. Are you aligned with the cloud push, and where does imagery and imagery analysis fit?
Lampe: We have been doing work in that space, whether it’s been called cloud or not. Even five years ago people were referring more to Services Oriented Architecture (SOA), and now we see them moving into the cloud space. The fact of life with imagery is that it is big, and what we try to do is that if you want to keep imagery on the server and just deliver the end product or analytical result, you can do that processing on the server with your data in the cloud or wherever it might be. You can deliver results in the form of a client-side application that makes sense for their particular processing steps or application. We see people doing more and more of that, rather than having all the data on the desktop, and all the processing and application power on the desktop.
With the flexibility of the cloud, I think that some of our users will go that route, and we’ll be ready with our component technology to run on the server for them to use in those environments.
V1: One interesting area, is the increase in sensor inputs with more satellites going up, and UAV drones and full-motion video. With that fat stream of more and more data, are there strategies there to deal with more real-time inputs?
Lampe: We have motion capability that is managed directly in Richard Cooke’s Geospatial Information Solutions organization. It’s called the Geospatial Information Solutions Enterprise component and they do the end-to-end processing to take UAV data onboard, full-motion video, and still imagery, and catalog that data to make it retrievable, and transmittable to wherever their end clients may be. We work in concert with them in terms of deploying software components, such as our ENVI product for image analysis. We also distribute a product to them called Image Access Solutions (IAS) that is used for streaming still imagery in standard format. They provide all the full motion and cataloging capability in that component of the business.
V1: Is there more and more call for the real-time view, and is that as much of a driver as the cloud?
Lampe: In that part of the business, real-time is the major driver for situational awareness for people trying to get data immediately. If possible, having some pre-processing to that data is beneficial so it is more useful to execute their mission. Data collection from UAVs doesn’t tie in directly to our business yet. We’re all still performing research and development around the exploitation of full-motion video and motion imagery data. From a cataloging, search and retrieval, and dissemination perspective it rests in another part of the business, and what we supply them is analytical services that they can use to preprocess the data. We haven’t had a big influx of UAV users into our business directly. We’re more of a supplier of components to people that are building end-to-end systems for those platforms.
V1: One of your latest innovations is the development of the E3De product and its ability to deal with large LiDAR point clouds, and to get some information from those. I really see that capability filling an important niche in terms of software catching up with hardware to exploit the data. Has that received large interest from users?
Lampe: It has, and we feel that way too. The next step with E3De is to make it extensible with our IDL programming language, and go the same route we went with ENVI. We will let customers realize the success that you can have with the ability to create custom algorithms to do exploitation with data. Given that E3De has the ability to handle really large point clouds, and also shows excellent representations of 3D data, it becomes a platform to do the visualization and to use the analytical capabilities behind the scenes. We’ll use our core products, and the way that customers like to build their own workflows, and extend the processing capabilities with the tools that we provide to realize even more success with E3De.
There has been a lot of market interest in that capability, and we’ve certainly seen that there is limited abilities in the LiDAR 3D processing tools out there to extend and customize without real pain. We think our customers are going to like that, and so far that is what we’re hearing as well.
V1: Any application dealing with global change, including natural resource, land use, and energy, seems to be a hot topic. Are you finding that as well, that understanding change is becoming more of a core business?
Lampe: It is. The benefits of our existing core baseline products for change detection have really taken off in every space that we play in. It doesn’t matter what kind of data people have, understanding what’s occurring in a geographic area and what’s changed in that data continues to be an important part of what our customers are trying to find out. We’ve continued to advance our capabilities there, and it also plays back into the Esri relationship. The ability to find change, that may be very small, and be able to show that change with vector layers that overlay on top of imagery, has been extremely valuable for our customers.