Inside In-Q-Tel's latest tech scouting find

CIA venture arm In-Q-Tel's newest partnership with AI-driven data analytics outfit Forge is another example of the broader tech scouting function agencies and industry are on.

The intelligence community’s venture capital arm has made another pact as part of its broader tech scouting function to search for and identify companies whose products in key priority areas may have promise for government agencies.

In-Q-Tel’s latest partnership is with Forge.AI, a two-and-a-half year old company backed by other venture capital investors that focuses on taking unstructured information and making it structured through the use of artificial intelligence.

Any partnership a firm like Forge can, for lack of a better word, forge with In-Q-Tel is certainly a validation and endorsement of a company’s technology as possibly applicable in the public sector. Cambridge, Massachusetts-based Forge also focuses on customers in the financial services arena such as banks and mutual funds, which like government agencies also have to handle large swaths of data.

“One of the reasons we went to the financial landscape (is) because they invest tremendous amounts of money in machine learning infrastructure,” Forge Co-Founder and CEO Jim Crowley told me via phone Tuesday.

How does that concept apply to the government sector as Forge partners with In-Q-Tel?

“Their customers… the use cases are perhaps different, but the information challenge that they’re facing is very similar,” Crowley said. “There was a natural consistency between what we’re doing commercially and what we’re doing on the government side, so from our perspective it only makes sense.”

When it comes to the tech scouting function, there are generally two sides of the story: organizations like In-Q-Tel, systems integrators and contractors that go out on behalf of the government into the commercial marketplace to find new technologies.

The other side includes firms like Forge that want to grow their public sector footprints and see the technology grow in use across multiple agencies with groups such as In-Q-Tel acting as an entry point. That general trend aligns with the overall thrust across the government to incorporate more cutting-edge technologies like AI and data analytics, plus cloud computing.

As Crowley described to me, organizations operate with the assumption that 80 percent of generated data is in unstructured formats.

“Right now specifically at this point in time, there is a significant inflection point happening where the historical means of working with data and information has been adequate for history but it’s not sufficient for the future,” Crowley said.

Forge designed its platform to take in that unstructured information typically formatted for human consumption -- like regulatory filings, news, websites and broadcasts for instance -- and turn it into what Crowley dubbed “structured intelligent event feeds.”

Forge also links users to the data through a cloud computing environment so customers do not have to deploy the infrastructure on their side. While not necessary to enable the data ingestion at scale, Crowley acknowledged the cloud aspect does help in that respect.

“It makes life easier for everyone involved in the value chain and I think that’s generally true when you look at how so many pieces of infrastructure have moved into the cloud, it’s for that very reason,” Crowley said. “We are doing this at scale and doing it in the cloud just makes everything go faster for our customers.”

The partnership with In-Q-Tel is one part of Forge’s story to grow in the government market. Forge also announced that retired Army Lt. Gen. John Mulholland has joined the board of advisers to help steer its government strategy. Mulholland is a former associate director for military affairs at the CIA and also was deputy commander of Special Operations Command.