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Susan Smith
Susan Smith
Susan Smith has worked as an editor and writer in the technology industry for over 16 years. As an editor she has been responsible for the launch of a number of technology trade publications, both in print and online. Currently, Susan is the Editor of GISCafe and AECCafe, as well as those sites’ … More »

Vencore Aggregates Data from Many Open Sources and Social Media

August 8th, 2016 by Susan Smith

Patrick T. Biltgen, Ph.D., Technical Director for Analytics, Vencore, Inc., talked with GISCafe Voice about their offerings. Vencore is a provider of information solutions, engineering and analytics for the U.S. Government with more than 40 years of experience working in the defense, civilian and intelligence communities. This summer Vencore, a company that spun off from Lockheed Martin about four years ago, was awarded a prime contract from the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to deliver research in the area of enhanced cyber defense by developing a fully air-gapped detection system based on analysis of involuntary analog emissions. The four-year contract has a total ceiling value of $8.3M and will be performed as part of DARPA’s Leveraging the Analog Domain for Security (LADS) program.

GISCafe Voice: How are you able to decipher which information is potentially significant and which is not?

Open sources and social media provide a wealth of information, but each source must be vetted carefully. We have developed a structured method for evaluating the quality and reliability of open sources based on their social network, past reporting, credentials, and other factors. We also have highly trained, contextually aware analysts with years of experience studying conflict around the world. Many of our analysts have spent time overseas and are fluent in multiple languages.

This holistic perspective allows us to weigh and judge information instead of accepting open source data at face value.

GISCafe Voice: What sources are you going to find this information?

We use dozens of open sources – including social media – to find information. Our approach aggregates and integrates information from many sources including the ones that many people use for casual interactions:  YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, etc.

Some international aid organizations like to post images, video, and reports of their activities.

During the Turkish coup attempt, some Internet users within Turkey were blocked from Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube… yet some users were tweeting that their president was in custody. Are they really there? How do they know? Then, an open media outlet shows a video of their president on FaceTime. Who do you believe?

This was a case study in weighing and judging many sources of real-time, open source information before jumping to conclusions. You have to be timely, but you also have to produce high quality information.

GISCafe Voice: Are there forecasting tools built into your solution?

We have several analytic tools that analyze patterns and trends, but it is extremely difficult to forecast human behavior because it is non-linear and can be unpredictable.   Our analysts are adept at anticipating what may happen by considering multiple hypotheses and alternatives. It is important to note that “prediction” of the future is extremely difficult and unreliable.

GISCafe Voice: Does foreign language play a large part in your work?

Yes. Foreign language plays a large part in our work. First of all, not everyone speaks English and when they do, there is often a lot lost in translation. English-speaking aid agencies may have an inherent bias that filters out some of the nuances of the native language. Dialects, slang, and colloquialisms that may be important in understanding the context can be lost. Cultural expertise is key in putting this all together to make sense out of what is going on.

GISCafe Voice: Does Vencore analyze and give recommendations, or does the customer make those determinations?

In several of our efforts, our team performs the analysis and produces a judgment – including our forecast of what we think is likely to happen.

The customer ultimately decides how to incorporate or act upon this information. Because we provide an “outside view,” our customers value the unique perspectives we can provide because we operate outside the reporting chain of government agencies.

GISCafe Voice: Are you working with partners? How are you linking up with them? 

We have a world-class team of partners that we work with across customers and projects. Our team balances expertise with different information sources (like open source information or commercial satellite imagery) with different languages, cultural perspectives, and operational tempos. Just like with a sports team, we assemble an analytic team that puts the right skills in the right position depending on the task at hand. Then, we step back and let people collaborate in a frictionless environment. We’re very proud of the art and the magic that ensues when you have a highly skilled, highly motivated team working together to make the world a safer place.

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Categories: analytics, Big Data, citizen science, conversion, data, developers, drones, emergency response, geospatial, GIS, image-delivery software, LBS, lidar, location intelligence, Open Source, OpenGeo, remote sensing, satellite imagery

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