Meet Joanna Alexis, President and CEO of Navstar, an IT Services and Innovative Enterprise Consulting Solutions firm that provides Software Development, Systems Engineering and Data Management to federal agencies.
With her knowledge and expertise of securing contracts with the Intelligence Community, Alexis has led the company to be recognized as one of the Top 25 Small Technology companies in the Washington Business Journal, Top Woman Owned Businesses in Virginia and 500 Top Women Owned Businesses in America.
Alexis spoke with WashingtonExec about challenges the government faces with high volumes of big data, key players who can influence how data analytics are analyzed as well as how to connect data end users with the various amounts of big data.
WashingtonExec: What are the latest needs across the government in big data?
Joanna Alexis: The Government requires new storage techniques and IT tools to more quickly and productively analyze huge volumes (multi-petabytes) of information to sort through and identify “actionable intelligence”. In addition to the technology and tools, new processing models and innovation in thinking, organization and comprehension is also needed.
The government is looking for ways to make sense out of the avalanche of information that is coming down. Navstar is involved in the many phases of the big data process. We provide people who can write the algorithms to query the data, people who can find correlations from disparate data sets, and those who understand how to take the data a step further and exploit the data – those who can pass knowledge on to those who take action based on the findings. We also have the engineers who understand how the data is stored, administrators who can ensure the integrity of the data, and developers and visionaries who can provide a platform for the end user (an analyst, someone in the field, or whoever else) that receives the information in a digestible manner.
WashingtonExec: What roles are new tools and techniques playing in making big data analytics a reality?
Joanna Alexis: System Engineers and Developers who create the tools and apply innovation to legacy applications; Data scientists who define the requirements and help to filter the information such that it is usable. Administrators/Network Engineers who understand that the information in their care is not just for their organization’s consumption, but for OGAs (Other Government Agencies) as well The open source movement has been steadily proving its worth, and big data and the tools surrounding it are no exception. By allowing administrators and developers direct access to projects (Apache Hadoop is the prime example in this case), two benefits immediately come to mind: (1) ‘Crowdsourcing’ allows for the ‘best of breed’ solutions to evolve out of many ideas, and (2) the ability to customize an implementation for an organization can provide a targeted solution, rather than the 80% solution given by COTS vendors.
WashingtonExec: What are the challenges and opportunities?
Joanna Alexis: The primary challenges are space, data organization and accessibility which have to scale from manageable data and solution sets to the previously unimaginable volumes with which we are now and will be working in the near future. Using storage on demand and commercial and custom applications for search and retrieval, Government users may take advantage of industry, commercial products and services in a “private” cloud implementation.
Another challenge is deciding how to provide the data to the end users. This can take two main tracks of concern: the first deals with how to present the data (virtual desktops, client apps, web-based, etc), the second deals with the role of the end user (analyst who wants to be able to connect the dots, data scientist who is concerned with how well the system that accesses the data is performing/accuracy of results, manager who is concerned about system stability, etc).
Perhaps the biggest opportunity is sharing lessons learned in standing up and operationally hosting big data. By having various organizations providing access to their data among partner agencies, a ‘best of breed’ can take place, where hosting standards, data access, and even infrastructure decisions down to the network topology, can be shared and disseminated, providing a place where discussions can occur, and lessons learned result in cost savings to the agencies involved, from an infrastructure and data access point of view.
WashingtonExec: What are the future partnering opportunities around big data?
Joanna Alexis: Every agency or department within the government can partner with one another to create solutions to collect and provide data that is mutually beneficial to all parties involved. Some of these joint efforts are more organic than others, based on the definition of the data concerned. Both large and small companies can also form strategic partnerships with solutions vendors to provide solutions to the government.