Chris Westphal lives and breathes data analytics. So when this one-time co-founder and CEO of the data-mining software company Visual Analytics was approached by DataWalk to join the software company as chief analytics officer, the move was a natural next step that built on an already ambitious track record.
At Visual Analytics, Westphal pinpointed complex data patterns to identify and analyze frauds, crimes and other anomalies. He guided the organization through its development and growth before it was acquired by Raytheon in 2013. He then served as a vice president of analytics at Raytheon for three years. Now comes Westphal’s next big move, with DataWalk.
“Based on my experience, I see a significant need for an open, scalable, extensible software platform for connecting and analyzing a large number of data sets,” Westphal says. Learn where else this industry expert sees data analytics headed next.
WashingtonExec: What prompted you to join DataWalk Inc. as chief analytics officer?
Chris Westphal: Hands down, it is the technology and team. My previous experience founding and growing a high-tech analytical company significantly contributed to my knowledge and insights for applying analytics to a range of domains including law enforcement, financial crimes, intelligence operations and fraud detection.
The next-generation technology-stack built by DataWalk is impressive. It’s a commercial-grade, big-data engine that delivers exceptional performance, scalability and fault tolerance. DataWalk is changing the analytics landscape. It handles big data without any downgrade in performance, throughput, fidelity, or accuracy — answering complex questions that were previously impossible to ask, much less process.
DataWalk wouldn’t exist without the dedication and expertise of our team. From the CEO to the developers, engineers and the support team, we are universally passionate about our company, our product and our mission. Our dedication is focused solely on the success of our user community. Our motivation and drive come from knowing our platform helps make the world a safer and better place.
WashingtonExec: What are your top priorities in your role?
Chris Westphal: My first priority is to announce to the world that DataWalk is substantially changing the delivery of analytics. Our product makes analysts’ jobs easier. It saves considerable resources and funding. It reduces time spent on investigations and fraud losses. Our powerful engine enables and supports analytical methods and techniques that were previously unattainable.
My priority is to enhance our capability and continually find fresh ways to solve complex problems for our user community. We’ve successfully correlated data from totally unrelated sources (temporally and geospatially), discovered indirect, hidden and convoluted pathways among targeted entities, and combined risk scores across enterprise data. These features are currently not available in competing products.
My priority is making DataWalk the best user-centric analytical product on the market. We are doing this by continuously listening to our users to help influence, direct and adapt our platform to meet the future needs of our community. Our goal is to deliver high-quality results using simplified and intuitive interfaces. We are actively searching for new ways to innovate the automation of analytics, where possible. Our focus is to research new forms of predictive and prescriptive analytics, and innovate new ways to detect and expose suspicious behaviors.
WashingtonExec: Walk your target audience through the economics of scalable data analytics — why is a new way of thinking so important?
Chris Westphal: It’s essential to combine all your data, more efficiently, accurately and to identify patterns faster. Instead of buying into a single-vendor ecosystem supported and maintained through a rigid and unwieldy platform, DataWalk focuses its approach on remaining nimble, flexible and expandable through the use of APIs.
Our design keeps DataWalk from becoming “bloated” trying to cover the universe of potential capabilities and functionality. As a result, this considerably enhances the speed of delivering new features to our user community. The DataWalk analytical engine remains optimized for speed and scales to “massive” volumes of data. Plus, it doesn’t require an expensive army of consultants to implement and maintain. Our flexibility and speed of deployment result in direct, significant cost savings to our user community.
The economies of scalable data analytics with DataWalk are achieved by combining local and enterprise data (plus any remote/API content) into a single and flexible platform. DataWalk eliminates limitations and restrictions of data-silos, quickly importing multiple sources into a unified view of all content and activity.
Through the use of simple visuals, users easily create ad-hoc queries, define complex workflows, and blend data in ways not readily achieved using other software. DataWalk’s user interface exposes more extensive and more complete patterns, delivers more consistent and reliable results, and saves significant time and money.
DataWalk is unique because the platform records all actions a user takes to generate their outcomes; archiving the sequences of queries (workflows) that produce user-specific results. For example, a workflow may focus on identifying targets with multiple travel events to specific foreign countries during a distinct time frame that conduct cash transactions within a defined dollar range and have indirect relationships with people on a particular watchlist. The workflow may span several data sets, filter on distinct values and aggregate content, including imported or ad hoc data.
Reusing these workflows vastly simplifies the training and productivity of new analysts, ensures consistency of results, helps justify (audit) outcomes and expands the efficiencies of our clients’ operations. These workflows allow users to operate “easy buttons” continuously delivering high-quality results for actionable intelligence. Based on their privileges, users interact with a dashboard of predefined workflows to generate reports, outputs, link charts, timelines, or maps. The organization has granular control of its data, regulating who has access and what data they can access, with a complete audit trail of user activity.
Now, saving the best for last; the workflows form the foundation of the DataWalk Scoring Engine. Our users create different risk scores from high to low (e.g., terrorist financing, human trafficking, money laundering, fraud/corruption probability, etc.) and apply these values to the workflows they use to generate these scores. Scoring provides superior insight into investigations based on a combination of dozens (or hundreds) of specific queries (workflows) that are customized to meet your mission objectives. It’s incredibly compelling. It’s a game changer. Scoring positively affects the future direction and efficiency of investigations in the most significant of ways.
WashingtonExec: Which target market(s) — law enforcement, intelligence organizations, financial institutions, anyone else? — could best be helped with this new approach (i.e., open, scalable, an extensible software platform for connecting and analyzing a large number of data sets)?
Chris Westphal: Without a doubt, all of them will benefit enormously. It’s not about selling a new widget; it’s about solving pivotal problems within our user community. For too long, the analytical market space has been stagnant with narrowly confined options. Dominating the market today are costly, unwieldy, aging proprietary systems. We are changing this situation by simplifying the process, delivering high-quality and affordable products to help agencies meet their mission needs. The community will benefit significantly from using DataWalk in their daily operations because there is:
- No overpriced software;
- No expensive internal or external IT staff;
- No unpredictable maintenance bills;
- No complicated training or rigid interfaces;
- No proprietary systems, formats, or controls; and
- No waiting months (or years) for results.
DataWalk currently provides intuitive interfaces for the senior analysts to define workflows, discover meaningful patterns and rapidly consolidate multiple data sources. For newer analysts, including staff in rotation positions, using the workflows along with “easy buttons” and risk scoring outputs make it simple to use. No technical expertise is required.
Currently, we are developing a set of flexible management dashboards to deliver insight into the use, accuracy and efficiency of the system. If you can’t measure something, you can’t improve it. It’s a win-win-win situation.
WashingtonExec: Personally, you have 30 years’ experience in the data analysis space. Where do you see this space headed to next?
Over the past 30 years, a lot of systems have come and gone. I have seen successes and failures. I know what works and what doesn’t work. DataWalk is shaking up the status quo and giving our user community back its analytical power and control. We do this without the need for high-end data-scientists or expensive IT consultants to generate complex queries and customized reports.
Deploying DataWalk, with its open and flexible integration of all data — internal/local, enterprise and remote content (subscriptions, social media, open-source) — moves us in the right direction. Defining, building and layering-in the organizational knowledge creates baseline analytics and sharable results. Combining this functionality for our user community results in inevitable success, enhancing their ability to adapt rapidly to new challenges and circumstances, on the fly.
For today and the future, our focus is real-world results, creating better operational baselines, automation where possible and challenging the status quo. Our ability to innovate continuously, deliver scalable analytics and find answers to “wicked problems” is where we surpass the competition. Anyone can claim a better mousetrap — the proof is in how many mice they catch.
WashingtonExec: In the midst of that forecast, what can we expect next from you, as your role with DataWalk unfolds?
Chris Westphal: We’re changing the world — one analysis at a time. I have worked on hundreds of engagements, involving thousands of data sources, representing billions of records. Every project, I learn something new. It could be discovering a unique pattern or trend, calculating data content differently, or interpreting results in a new way. I plan to take my base of experience and embed it into the DataWalk platform.
I advocate partnering and prefer working with vendors, consultants, technologies and companies, where each contributes their expertise and experiences. I specifically want to partner with system integrators to deploy DataWalk into vertical marketplaces throughout the public sector, servicing law enforcement, homeland security, accountability offices and the intelligence community.
[System integrators] provide the infrastructure, personnel, contract vehicles, security clearances and qualifications while DataWalk delivers the analytical platform and support necessary to ensure success. Our roles are clear, complementary and transparent. Together, we will provide an actual solution to solve the hardest problems for our client base.
My goal is to make DataWalk the acknowledged standard in analytical platforms used throughout the user community.