Government Can Reach for Clouds to Gather Information

December 15, 2009
by Katie Packard

Government and defense agencies can use a new data mining application to help gather and share information and intelligence as well as look for national security and terrorist threats. The tool searches the Internet and provides organizations with data that enables them to make informed decisions and, if necessary, respond quickly.

Attensity Cloud is offered by the Attensity Group, whose clients include U.S. Africa Command, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Attensity’s Michelle de Haaff says, “We have deep roots and relationships with government agencies in North America and Europe. Our applications help intelligence analysts and law enforcement analysts use unstructured data and turn it into information.”

Attensity Cloud focuses on mining social media platforms for information that organizations can use for a variety of purposes, such as how the public feels about a product or service. “Social media is not for the young or the tech savvy anymore—everyone’s on it,” de Haaff notes. “It’s a massive treasure trove of information that government agencies can use to listen to and filter [data] so intel can access and research the information.” Additional information sources include online communities, e-mails and knowledge bases.

De Haaff explains that the tool allows transparency and open enterprise. “[Attensity Cloud] lets organizations transform what the Internet has been enabling for a while now,” she says. In the early 2000s, government employees faced restrictions on how they could use data, she shares, but “last year, almost every government agency published their social media ‘rules of the road.’ Suddenly there’s this blurring of lines,” she points out. “[Attensity Cloud] lets organizations securely access this data and combine it with government insight to make decisions.”

The platform searches the Internet to pull information according to the organization’s search parameters. Using natural language process technology, the tool interprets the information and the context in which it was found. Then the organization can act on the data it receives in real time.

“On the intel/military side, the actions are more in the form of alerts,” de Haaff explains. For example, analysts looking for national security or terrorist threats can use the tool to find code words. She notes that “barbecue” can be used as a code word for “bomb.” Attensity Cloud can search for that word and analyze the context in which it appears. “We can tell that ‘barbecue’ is being used incorrectly in context, like, “Plant the barbecue at this time in this place,’” she says. “Well, you don’t plant a barbecue, so we would flag that.”

The application also allows agencies to reach out to their constituencies. Organizations can monitor what people are saying about them online—both good and bad—and respond to those individuals, then take steps to address comments and criticisms with a public response.

De Haaff notes that when the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) released Medicare Part B, “It was very confusing for seniors, and some weren’t getting their medications. We’ve been with [HHS] for about two years now. Our tools help them find trends, learn what the issues are.”

Attensity Group also offers products that integrate with Attensity Cloud to provide additional research and analysis. 

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