PWC INTERVIEW WITH ADATOS CO-FOUNDER DREW PEREZ

“It’s a no-brainer when you’re dealing with the intelligence community, because they’ve been doing this for decades,” Perez says. “In the private sector, it’s a significant investment—and you’ve got to articulate and justify return on investment.”

“It’s a no-brainer when you’re dealing with the intelligence community, because they’ve been doing this for decades,” Perez says. “In the private sector, it’s a significant investment—and you’ve got to articulate and justify return on investment.”

PLUNGING INTO THE DEEP WEB

A former intelligence officer, Perez trained special forces in tradecraft—“your classic spy stuff,” he quips. From 2000 to 2002, he was a senior enterprise architect at Diamond Management and Technology Consultants, which joined with PwC in 2010. Perez spent most of his time with Diamond in Europe, focused on strategic technology transfer agreements. His work there helped him develop and refine skills within enterprise architectures, particularly when his experience forced him to simultaneously adopt corporate and national cultures.

Perez began his private-sector career by co-founding the Lockheed Martin Center for Security Analysis, where he helped create training programs for intelligence analysis and software used by the CIA, NSA and Defense Intelligence Agency. At the request of the Department of Homeland Security, he developed a declassified version of the program for a range of private- sector clients. “Pick any vertical, and you find a problem with too much data in too many places,” Perez says. “The core issue remains sense-making.”

One key technology is accessing Deep Web data—the kind that search engines and web crawlers don’t find— to create applications that efficiently convert disparate, disorganized data into structured, searchable formats. These applications understand foreign languages, apply link analysis to recognize relationships and use analytics to visualize the data. They’re all tools that matured in the counterterrorism effort but have yet to be taken advantage of in the private sector, and their capabilities provide a distinct competitive advantage for businesses. The ability to monitor and almost instantaneously make decisions on markets and customer behavior or to assess strategic position related to the competition, targeted demographic or market, Perez says, is key.

This is why Perez often gets the same set of questions from potential clients once they learn about his capabilities. “They ask, ‘How come we’ve never heard of this before?’ or ‘Why is it you guys know how to do it better than we do?’” Perez says. “Well, because I did work that used to be classified, that’s why.”

In counterinsurgency, support from the local populace is the cornerstone of success. To help win over “hearts and minds,” intelligence focuses on people’s past and potential behavior, along with the patterns that decision- makers hope to both understand and eventually influence. Similarly, in business, the support of the market provides the cornerstone to profitability. Applying time-tested methodologies and related technology to identify behavior patterns for markets, Perez says, can lead to an enormous advantage.

Pick any vertical, and you find a problem with too much data in too many places. The core issue remains sense-making.

“It’s a no-brainer when you’re dealing with the intelligence community, because they’ve been doing this for decades,” Perez says. “In the private sector, it’s a significant investment—and you’ve got to articulate and justify return on investment.”

For Perez, there’s no better way to do that than to provide a real-world example of Big Data’s power. Case in point: A pharmaceutical client turned to Perez to leverage the counterterrorism tools he’d developed to identify counterfeiters. Perez architected and implemented a solution to monitor, in near real time, worldwide e-commerce activity connected to the pharmaceutical company’s product and figure out the probability that it may involve fraud. It took two weeks to set up the software, designed to troll well below the headwaters of the Internet indexed by search engines and web crawlers and to make sense of it all. Once they flipped the switch, a collection of data that might have taken the company months to compile took just hours to capture.

“By the seventh hour, we had saturation,” Perez says. “We were monitoring the whole planet. Anytime somebody engaged in any kind of transaction that mentioned that company’s products and violated the rules on pricing, I knew.” The capability is meaningful given what can be gained with the ability to monitor comparative product performance and market behavior in real time.

BIG REWARDS, BIG CHALLENGES

Reagan says some clients come to the SI with an understanding of Big Data’s potential, and some don’t. One thing they do know is that the investment in infrastructure for data storage space and bandwidth can be huge. “Some of these agencies have terabytes of data, and for them, it’s a storage headache and a cost,” he says. “We can help show them how they can manage data more effectively and how they can get some return on the investment by making the data available for resale.”

Perez says ROI will become more tangible as better solutions are developed to link data in disparate locales: It’s not a question of whether or not we can get data; it’s a matter of knowing where the right data is. The information that decision-makers need may already exist internally within a company’s data stores, but individual files can still be literally all over the map.

“It could be sitting on a SharePoint file in Dubai, and that little piece of information has to be associated with a large data warehouse that’s sitting in Buenos Aires,” Perez says, noting that intelligence analysts simply don’t have the time or resources to go through all the data. But Perez says moving data to the same location is not the answer in this day and age. Technology exists that connects information seemingly far out of reach. “You don’t have to physically touch a data point,” Perez says. “You can associate it through depth of logic.”

Of course, storing, managing and capitalizing on the seemingly unlimited potential of data all come with the challenge of protecting it. According to PwC’s 2013 Global State of Information Security Survey, many organizations fail to perform thorough assessments of factors that contribute to breach-related financial losses. In fact, just over 25% of respondents considered damage to brand and reputation when estimating the full impact of a breach, while the same survey found 61% of respondents would stop using a company’s products or services after a breach.

From advanced persistent threats linked to foreign governments to insider threats made by disgruntled or corrupted employees, economic espionage is a growing concern. The White House has responded by issuing an executive order calling for the creation of a framework to reduce risk to critical infrastructure and ease sharing of threat information with the private sector. But individual organizations must find their own balance: Strong “need-to-know” control mechanisms must be enforced yet somehow tempered to allow collaboration. In PwC’s survey, more than 80% of respondents said protecting customer and employee data is important. Still, the percentage of respondents who reported an accurate inventory of employee and customer data remains below 40%.

To address gaps like these, the SI provides customers with technical advice and consulting around protecting national assets from the threat of cyberattack. Large corporations, banks and power companies may be dealing with thousands of attempted attacks per day, and Reagan says the SI is equipped to weather the storm. The company employs a Threat Operations Center (TOC) in Laurel, Maryland, to monitor its financial accounting system, human resource management system, payroll and internal email. It also has a separate TOC that’s focused on its customers’ needs, constantly monitoring, detecting and fending off cyberattacks from the outside. “All of our systems that have touch points to the Internet are protected,” says Reagan, who notes the SI customers’ data is kept on closed systems.

“In our work we’ve found significant evidence of Theft of Trade Secrets (ToTS) in our monitoring efforts. If sensitive material is not categorized and properly labeled based on the impact of unauthorized disclosure or dissemination—and personnel are not trained in the culture of information security—then it is very difficult to protect sensitive information and intellectual property,” Perez says.

The concerns are real, and new regulations to protect privacy and address issues of consent, collection, use and misuse of data are sure to come. As more data becomes available for more applications, challenges will undoubtedly continue to present themselves. But Reagan and Perez agree: Big Data’s power can’t be underestimated. In defense and intelligence, it’s proved to be an indispensable tool. Now in the private sector, Big Data has the potential to be nothing less than transformational. “Once you turn this stuff on and implement it,” Perez says, “you rule the market.”

 

As published in Keyword Vol. 09, PwC's Alumni Magazine.