ISS Federal Lead Rob Rogers on Agencies’ Open Source Moves & ‘Information Advantage’ Efforts

Private equity firm Arlington Capital Partners unveiled its new Polaris Alpha portfolio holding company in November through the merger of three government contracting businesses that included data services provider Intelligent Software Solutions.

Based in Colorado Springs, ISS works with agencies on initiatives in data visualization, mobile software and other technology areas in efforts to help decision-makers capture and analyze information quickly.

ExecutiveBiz recently caught up with ISS Federal Systems Vice President Rob Rogers for this interview to discuss ongoing data-related trends in government and where he sees agencies prioritizing efforts in that arena, plus his ideas for how the government should approach open source methodology.

ExecutiveBiz: How have you seen ISS’ federal business evolve since you started your current role in 2009?

Rob Rogers: There have been a number of shifts with federal contracting over the last few years with the emphasis on GWACs and commercial-off-the-shelf-software being a couple of examples, but the largest evolution has revolved around the acceptance and adoption of cloud platforms and technology.

Security and information control concerns usually resulted in databases and analytic infrastructure being deployed and maintained within individual organizations. Data sharing and collaboration were addressed as necessary and via indirect methods.

The emergence of cloud technology and its widespread adoption within the commercial arena changed all that. The more people were exposed to these capabilities in their personal lives, the more they grew to expect them in their workplaces. Individual analysts grew used to information being available at their fingertips through simple, centralized searches.

IT administrators watched as new versions of social media or office productivity software became available to communities of users, securely and with minimal disruption. It was only a matter of time before these capabilities became expected by the federal workforce.

Today, customers are required to implement data management and analytical systems compliant with major enterprise systems and these requirements are being attached to budget allocations. Few areas of our business have not been impacted by this evolution.

ExecutiveBiz: Where does the company seek to complement its commercial and federal businesses?

Rob Rogers: We are always on the lookout for new and innovative capabilities that can enhance our customers’ ability to successfully fulfill their mission requirements. Generally, we identify these opportunities by examining our current support for the intelligence lifecycle.

If a capability offered by a potential partner allows for collective expansion of support to more aspects of the intelligence lifecycle, we consider that a prime opportunity. Companies that develop new information processing algorithms, data analysis techniques, and machine learning capabilities that could be plugged into our infrastructure would be examples.

We’ve also been closely examining our positions on contract vehicles, specifically GWACs, to ensure that customers can easily acquire our services via preferred or required vehicles.

ExecutiveBiz: Which aspect of data does ISS focus on to help customers get an “information advantage?”

Rob Rogers: The availability and/or existence of data necessary to support the missions of our customer organizations is not nearly as much of an issue as it once was. The information exists and, in many cases, is being collected to the point of overload. Mission essential information can also be scattered across multiple information management systems. The proverbial “needle in a haystack” is no longer an adequate description.

There are multiple needles, multiple haystacks and those are growing exponentially. We specialize in applying technology from multiple disciplines to make all of this information more practically accessible. Traditional data integration and fusion, pattern recognition and discovery, cross-domain data transfer, and workflow management are all essentially capabilities intended to put information in the hands of the user.

We combine them to provide a maximum level of accessibility.

ExecutiveBiz: How should agencies think about adoption of open source methods?

Rob Rogers: We have seen a significant shift in the past five years around agencies adopting and embracing open source methods. For one, open source technology is the primary catalyst behind some of the most significant progress related to the evolution of “big data” and analytic capabilities, which is used pervasively in the intelligence community.

Certain agencies have contributed major projects to the open source community, which further solidifies their position on supporting open source. One notable example is NSA’s contribution of NiFi and Accumulo to the Apache Software Foundation in 2014. If these types of actions are an indicator of the direction that the IC agencies are heading in their support of open source, then the future is bright.

We view open source as an accelerator to delivering quality solutions to our customers in the U.S. government. Leveraging and integrating open source technology into our solutions allows us to focus on giving our customers specialized capabilities that solve their specific business needs, which equates to a greater return-on-investment for them and differentiates our solutions from our competitors.

ExecutiveBiz: Where should we focus our attention regarding data analytics?

Rob Rogers: The big drivers currently are autonomy and pattern discovery and exploitation. Organizations in the DoD, IC and the commercial world are looking to gain efficiencies and leapfrog their competition using these items. These two areas are also directly related as pattern discovery can be used to increase automation, while automation of pattern discovery and exploitation is also desirable.

The technologies starting to be used in this area are supervised and unsupervised machine learning. Convolutional neural networks or deep learning platforms such as Google’s TensorFlow are specifically hot right now.

Autonomy and pattern detection are key for the DoD and IC because human based knowledge-process workflows simply can’t scale with the number of sensors and data volumes being generated. Systems need to automate as many of the steps in the workflow as possible and route only the novel or important information to the right human to evaluate.

Automation is called out specifically as an S&T area for the Army, Air Force and Navy as autonomous vehicles are all being researched right now, which includes algorithms for planning, reasoning and computer vision.

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