Spies in Cyberspace
Companies with once hush-hush technologies for intelligence gathering now want everyone to know about their tools for doing business on the Internet
Information-gathering technology the U.S. government once used to spy on foreign and domestic groups is now working for companies gathering their own forms of intelligence.
The same companies that provided U.S. intelligence agencies with information agents and filters are now offering similar commercial products for the business community. Several companies, including TRW, E-Systems and TASC, have recently introduced Internet search engines and other information systems that are meant to tap the increasing need for business intelligence, a market considered a vital part of the $892 million electronic software document management marketplace.
'Traditional intelligence companies are moving into this market because there's less money available for defense- or intelligence-related projects,' said Jennifer Mitchell, an analyst with Dataquest, a San Jose, Calif.-based market research firm. So they are using their intelligence expertise to develop new commercial goods, especially for searching the Internet, she said.
Search engines that use the Internet to find key words are standard today, but these new tools search for information more intelligently. For example, if a simple search engine can go through a document, database or the Internet to search for the word fruit, a more intelligent retrieval product would come back with all the times apple, orange, guava and all other fruits are mentioned. This technique is called 'fuzzy searching.' Among other things, it uses an arm of artificial intelligence known as 'neural networks' for detecting patterns in much the same way the human brain is thought to detect patterns. Many intelligence contractors perfected such techniques for target recognition as well as tapping and searching enemy communications.
'We've transferred our tools, techniques and resources developed in the intelligence community and are now applying them to the potentially large market of business intelligence,' said Jon Schupp, manager of the business intelligence sector of Reading, Mass.-based TASC Inc.
TASC recently launched a new Internet tool that links electric power industry professionals with information resources available on the Internet. TASC's diskette provides energy executives and analysts with a catalog of more than 150 World Wide Web sites that contain the latest news about regulatory filings, new products and services, market trends, changing government policies and competitive developments. The disk provides a familiar format for users and also acts as a friendly interface to the Web.
This product is geared toward the power industry because that's a sector TASC already sells other information products to, but the company plans to introduce a similar Internet searching tool for other businesses, including the chemical industry. 'There is tremendous interest right now about what's happening in the Internet, especially for business,' Schupp said. 'Our product is the result of a unique combination of tools, technology and timing.'
But TASC and many other defense contractors don't have either the name recognition in the commercial world or the marketing expertise needed to commercialize a technology. TASC addressed these problems by teaming with a company that has those talents, the Utility Data Institute, a division of McGraw-Hill Companies.
TRW handled these concerns by forming a separate company called Paracel. The Pasadena, Calif.-based spin-off was set up in 1992 with the sole purpose of commercializing TRW's Fast Data Finder technology, an intelligence-gathering tool developed in the mid-1980s by the Systems Integration division of TRW.
Paracel has developed a World Wide Web interface-cum-search-engine that creates and displays customized daily briefing reports from multiple and multilingual sources. Using its technology, Paracel has helped the state of Georgia create GeorgiaNet, a comprehensive online service featuring legislative and regulatory information. Paracel's search engines -- revved up by powerful parallel processing technology first developed by the Defense Department's Advanced Research Projects Agency -- filter through the vast resources of the Internet to find information relevant to the state's citizens. 'We've applied existing technology to address the problem of information overload,' said Anthony Hall, a vice president at Paracel.
Paracel is also exploring other new products using its information retrieval technology, such as a document-tracking system that gives each electronic document an identity that can be traced. The future product may have a role in enforcing copyright violations of material filched from the Internet, Hall said.
'There's a lot of interest in the text retrieval sector now because that's the way we'll be able to access not just documents, but movies and other things, said Dataquest's Mitchell. 'Text retrieval is how people will be able to find what they'll want to buy,' she said.
An information retrieval and warehousing system offered byE-Systems, a subsidiary of Raytheon, is targeting the business intelligence market. The intelligence gurus at E-Systems originally developed the search tool to gather internal information from memos, white papers and other types of documents located on their own network. 'It was built about two years ago for our own business intelligence,' said E-Systems' Karen Sokatch, who is program manager for the company's ECLIPS information retrieval system.
E-Systems was looking for ways to diversify and this was an easy technology transfer because 'intelligence is what we are known for,' Sokatch said.
Intelligence is also the key capability of the scientists at the National Security Agency, which is trying to commercialize some of its signal processing, microelectronics and networking technologies. Several companies are licensing NSA technologies with hopes of introducing commercial information-gathering products.
Another firm, Verity Inc. of Mountain View, Calif., has already commercialized some of the information search technology it developed for the intelligence community when it was founded in 1988. The $20 million company recently announced a deal with NetScape Communications Corp. to bring a search and retrieval technology to the Internet.