Interview With Bill Annibell on Big Data: Breaking Down Information Silos Here and Abroad

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Bill Annibell, Sapient

WashingtonExec had the opportunity to sit down with Bill Annibell, Chief Technology Officer at Sapient Government Services, about combining open source with big data initiatives and collaborating in the cybersecurity fight.

Annibell also discussed what big data looks like and how Sapient is empowering its customer through mobility.

WashingtonExec:  Can you tell me a little bit about your background in IT and your duties at Sapient?

Bill Annibell: I started in the Information Technology field in 2000 supporting the help desk at the Department of Commerce.  After about two years, I moved into an R&D group where we focused on integrating collaboration platforms, early versions of the tablet PC’s, mapping software and GPS integration.  From there, my career advanced to an engineering role deploying predominantly SharePoint, within BAE Systems and then for the Defense Intelligence Agency while working for Accenture. After Accenture, I worked for Microsoft as a consultant, a Program Manager and then an Architect designing and deploying a variety of Microsoft technologies across the Department of Homeland Security.    About three years ago, I joined Sapient becoming Sapient Government Services, Chief Technology Officer. In this role, I am responsible for the quality and the delivery of our technology solutions to our clients, developing capability offerings, and growing our people’s specialized skills & talent around emerging technologies.

WashingtonExec:  How do you think the consumerization of information technology is affecting current trends in federal IT pilot programs?

Bill Annibell: The consumerization of IT is the driving force behind many of the initiatives the Federal government is adopting. Be it ‘mobile first’, customer satisfaction, to the recent release of the U.S. Digital Strategy, the consumerization of IT is changing the game in the Public Sector.  There’s no doubt federal budgets are starting to compress putting a lot of pressure on CIOs and organizations to leverage the power of the consumer products; smart phones, tablets, are giving people the ability to access information at any given time.  These mobile devices and the apps developed by various agencies are both internally facing and externally facing to support their customers, wherever they may be.  The consumerization of IT is making the data and information stored within an agency consistently accessible and actionable.

WashingtonExec:  How do you see mobility improving customer service?

Bill Annibell: Mobile devices empower the customer – that’s the easiest way to put it.  By leveraging mobile devices, customers are no longer bound by traditional business hours. That is a huge paradigm shift for many organizations in both the private and public sector.  Mobile is forcing organizations to define their customer segments to great depths – more so than in the past in order to provide superior customer service.  An organization cannot implement an effective customer service strategy without first defining the needs of all of their customers. The Federal government has put a big emphasis on recognizing that they serve both internal customers and external customers. That is a great first step but why stop there? Recognizing and understanding the diverse nature of all of their customers and the expected, specific needs within those two segments is the key to being successful.  Customers that leverage mobile devices expect immediate results.

Organizations will be forced to develop relationships with their customers. Like any relationship, trust must be earned. At first, organizations may find they are reacting to their customer’s needs. In time, and as the relationship evolves and trust builds, organizations will begin to anticipate the needs of their customers. When they reach the point that they are giving customers what they need before they realize they need it is the point when agencies will know they have implemented a successful customer service strategy.

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“Big data has big potential. Every organization has tremendous amounts of data stored internally and that are growing exponentially on a regular basis.  Data discovery will be key to understanding what data is available so that it can be made actionable.  It is a big opportunity to break down the silos within the organization and leverage these in datasets, as well as the near and real-time datasets.”

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WashingtonExec:  Big data seems to be the big buzz word this year.  How would you describe it and what does big data look like to you?

Bill Annibell: If you were to ask five different people to describe big data, you will get five different answers — kind of like cloud computing was several years ago.  The kicker is the concepts and the functions of big data have existed for years in both the financial and health related research sectors.  The analysis of large sets of historical research data for the purposes of trend and predictive analysis, genome mapping, research quality, disease prevention is really nothing that new.  It’s just become more main stream within the enterprise because the recent advances in IT have made it reasonable to leverage distributive processing and storage for enormous data sets.  Big data has big potential. Every organization has tremendous amounts of data stored internally and that are growing exponentially on a regular basis.  Data discovery will be key to understanding what data is available so that it can be made actionable.  It is a big opportunity to break down the silos within the organization and leverage these in datasets, as well as the near and real-time datasets.  It is also an opportunity to define how data is collected, stored and tagged in the future so that it is easy to find and easier to use.  Ultimately, if you are successful, Big Data initiatives will result in organizations being able to better informed decisions in support of their mission.

WashingtonExec:  Since there are a lot of consumer products made outside of the US do you see any need for new and updated cyber security laws and regulations?

Bill Annibell: I believe public and private collaboration and cooperation is crucial to the success of any cybersecurity initiative.  Privacy is a big key when dealing within an organization in the government space.  Cybersecurity is being fought on too many fronts.  The private and public sectors need a collaborative and coordinated defense to truly enable these initiatives to make them successful.  The House has introduced the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protect Act and the Senate has introduced a similar bill; The Cyber Security Act, with a lot of focus on sharing information between the private and public sectors.  The important component is privacy of course, but there is no mandate for private organizations to share cybersecurity information with the government, even when there is a huge incident.  Sharing that information and learning from each other will be critical to the success of any cybersecurity initiative. I would hope that any laws and regulations the government might enact as it relates to cybersecurity are implemented in such a way that make them agile enough to respond appropriately to real-time threats.

WashingtonExec:  You are the big advocate for open source.  Do you see big data and the use of open source is changing the way the intelligence community operates?

Bill Annibell: Absolutely. The obvious advantage of open source technologies is they are freely available to anyone to use and enhance supported by a community that promotes such improvements and the sharing of these enhancements broadly.  I know this philosophy is being adopted across the Federal space but specifically by the intelligence community. By combining open source with big data initiatives the analysis and correlation of huge data sets from a variety of sources can enhance the missions of all of our intelligence agencies. These missions are by no way easy, but better, actionable data typically equals quicker decisions which often save lives.

WashingtonExec:  I take a look at your blog and it has some great photos.  Is that a hobby of yours?  What else do you do when you are off the clock?

Bill Annibell: I definitely enjoy taking photos, mostly with my iPhone to remember different places or experiences.  In terms of other things that I do – I coach my son and daughter’s lacrosse and soccer teams in the spring and the fall.  Believe it or not I sing and perform as a member of our own Sapient band.  Every once in a while I’ve been known to enter a mountain bike race or two.

WashingtonExec:  What is the best piece of business advice you’ve received or heard?

Bill Annibell: Technology is the easy part; solving the underlying business problem of an organization is the hard part.  That’s the best advice that I’ve ever received and its advice that I share with my clients regularly.

WashingtonExec:  We know that Sapient has a lot of clients abroad.  Big data is a big thing for the United States government, are you seeing this trend abroad as well or is there a different need?  Is there a comparison?

Bill Annibell: There are definitely comparisons between the U.S. government and our clients around the world when it comes to big data. We engage with many clients across the globe to provide Social listening & analytic services for large, international brands, as well as governments abroad. These engagements focus on analyzing large amounts of social data to provide social research, strategy and experience type services. These engagements allow our clients to make sense of the streams of data created on social platforms about their organization. From social engagement and influence to sentiment analysis to reputation management, these types of social listening engagements are very beneficial to for-profit businesses, non-profits and government agencies, alike. Social listening & analytics brings together a specialized use of big data to understand what is being said about an organization or their brand in near real–time. This type of analysis is new in the public sector but it will become increasing utilized as organizations become more brand aware and engage in reputation management to truly measure the return on investment of social initiatives.

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