The never-ending quest for interoperability

From the Pony Express to tools for the intelligence community, it's still about aggregating and recognizing patterns in data

While some companies may have developed an interesting technology or two, their roots and history go no further back than Sand Hill Road.

But then there's Cody Systems, not only named after Buffalo Bill Cody but given the name by Buffalo Bill's grandson, a friend of the founder and current president David Heffner.

[ How important is data cleansing and validation? Read "The perils of dirty data" and beware ]

Cody Systems is a company that focuses on the collecting, sharing, and analysis of data for first responders and the intelligence community. Heffner, who worked for U.S. Army Intelligence before he founded Cody Systems in 1979, added the interesting fact that Wild Bill's grandson was a founding member of the OSS (Office of Strategic Services).

Now that's the kind of background you want for a company that offers means to link up disparate networking systems owned and operated by first responders, as well as investigators and intelligence agents. Among its tools are a case management and analysis system to help intelligence agencies follow all aspects of a case using advanced tools for data mining and data analysis.

What brings Cody Systems to the fore now is the fact that President Obama stated as one of his administration's goals the intent to "modernize public safety networks."

Whoever put that into the Democratic platform was right when they said that our current hodgepodge system is "antiquated 1970s- and 1980s-based technology." While useful, the data coming into the FBI's National Crime Information Center takes anywhere from two to three weeks to populate the database. It is useful for keeping statistics on everything from serial killers to drug smuggling operations, but it is practically useless as a tactical tool, says Heffner.

What Cody Systems does is provide a middle layer that adds interoperability to the dozens of different first-responder databases now in use. This interoperability gives first responders at the local, county, or regional level the capability to aggregate data and recognize patterns.

Heffner points out that the Washington, D.C., snipers, John Allen Muhammad and Lee Boyd Malvo, were stopped on three separate occasions for traffic violations. If there was the kind of software from Cody Systems available back then, there might have been some clue in the pattern of stops or in what was said by the assailants that could have led to their arrest sooner rather than later.

What takes Cody Systems out of the area of niche products, however, is the fact that all of a sudden one unnamed financial institution, very large, has approached Heffner. Suddenly, they too are looking to recognize patterns. Well, it's about time.

The gaming industry in Las Vegas is also interested. There are 70 different companies running casinos, and their systems don't talk to one another directly. If someone is on a no-fly list, so to speak, at the Sands, that name might not show up at the Mirage security console.

While Heffner, true to his intelligence heritage, wouldn't talk much about how it all works, he did tell me it is a small software appliance that the user connects to the data. The company needs to map its fields for various types of data to the appliance, and once that is done, it is all more or less automated.

I wrote my first serious article about interoperability one week after Sept. 11, 2001. I find it hard to believe I'm still writing about interoperability and its benefits in 2009.