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Machine data for good: How Splunk is partnering with firms to make the world a better place

Machine data firm Splunk expands its Splunk4Good pledge to help military veterans and young people train for tech careers and end human trafficking

In 2016, machine data specialist Splunk pledged to donate at least $100m worth of training, support and software licences to not-for-profit organisations over the next 10 years.

The company has since expanded its Splunk Pledge programme to offer 10GB-term licences with standard support to any not-for-profit organisation in the world.

Among the firms benefiting from the Splunk Pledge are the Global Emancipation Network, which aims to prevent human trafficking, and not-for-profit NPower, which helps to train military veterans and young people using the partnerships it has gained through its Splunk4Good initiative.

Global Emancipation Network

The Global Emancipation Network (GEN) works to spot and prevent cases of human trafficking such as forced adoption, domestic servitude and forced marriage.

Though social services organisations and police forces are trying to tackle the issue, GEN says they work in data silos, making it difficult to spot patterns that could lead to the prevention of cases.

Founder and executive director of GEN, Sherrie Caltagirone, says the not-for-profit uses Splunk to analyse data such as text, images and transcripts of interviews with victims to spot patterns and identify trafficking indicators to stop current problems, as well as prevent future activity.

“The alerts can tell us not only that there is a problem, but can begin to predict what might happen next, so we can take a proactive as opposed to a solely reactive position,” says Caltagirone. “Hopefully then we can take action before a problem is present.”

As one of the first organisations to partner with Splunk as part of the Splunk Pledge, GEN’s aim over the past year has been to use big data to consolidate banks of data from different organisations and use Splunk to search this data to find trafficking indicators that can be used by as many organisations as possible to prevent further crimes.

Caltagirone points out that data, which is collected by most organisations, can be a valuable commodity – but is often misused and consequently loses value.

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Using Splunk to make this data searchable and usable, GEN analyses the data to predict where victims might go and what routes traffickers appear to be using, then informs policy makers of these findings.

Much of this is made possible because traffickers use the internet. “We’re really lucky in that traffickers are using the internet – it’s something we can exploit because this is their business model,” says Caltagirone. “They have to get their product, which in this case, sadly, is human beings, out in front of their customers.”

Patterns of internet use can flag up a potential trafficking problem – for example, if a suspect violates landspeed by logging in at several locations in an impossibly short time or using specific language – some common examples are “fresh” or “Lolita” – in adverts and posts.

By participating in the Splunk Pledge, GEN has gained a platform for these searches, and Splunk employees have volunteered to help the not-for-profit develop searches and dashboards to make the information needed as easily accessible as possible.

Part of this process was to automate some processes and “take away the human” to make the time to rescue as short as possible.

“We’re trying to find ways to automate any lengthy human processes, and Splunk allows us to do that in an easy and seamless way,” says Caltagirone.

NPower, Splunk and Warriors to Work

One of the more recent additions to the Splunk Pledge is NPower, an organisation that offers training for military veterans and young adults from difficult socio-economic backgrounds to help them to return to the workplace.

By partnering with Splunk as part of the Splunk4Good initiative, NPower can offer those taking part in its programmes free Splunk training to either a “basic user” or “power user” certification level.

“Our partnership allows our students to get access to their e-learning platform so they can complete their training. Splunk provides access to all of the training material labs for our students to take the training,” says Mo Raghbeer, director of NPower training programmes.

Diversity has been proven to make technology teams more innovative and successful, and Raghbeer says everyone, regardless of ethnicity, gender and socio-economic background should have a clearer access to the paths they could take towards being part of the technology workforce.

When developing the curriculum for programmes designed to train minority groups to take up roles in the technology industry, Raghbeer says the main goal is to ensure those taking part in the programme get jobs at the end of it, which Raghbeer calls the “bread and butter” of NPower’s training programmes.

This can also include soft skills such as properly communicating and operating in a workplace, which can sometimes fall by the wayside when developing training programmes.

“It’s not just to train students and then hope they get jobs,” says Raghbeer. “We work with the job description first and then build the curriculum to match it.”

Why do good?

Rather than label Splunk4Good as a “tech for good” initiative for the sake of ticking boxes, Corey Marshall, the director of Splunk4Good, calls the initiative a “social impact programme”. All of the support given to partners as part of the Splunk Pledge is philanthropic.

The firm hopes to achieve some measurable outcomes through its work with not-for-profits to factually demonstrate the impact Splunk is making for particular social issues.

“I don’t want to have people confuse our motives,” he says. “I want people to know we’re at the table for authentic reasons.”

Marshall admits the goals of Splunk and the not-for-profits may sometimes be in alignment. For example, workplace training initiatives can help resolve industry skills gaps and train more Splunk experts.

In most cases, Splunk tries to partner with organisations which support job skills as well as technology skills to ensure people receiving training will not only gain technology skills but also be successful when entering the workplace – something that can be difficult for certain groups, such as veterans who will not be used to a traditional workplace.

“We don’t want them coming in with insufficient technical skills to even take it up, nor would we want them coming out the other end with none of the other jobs or interpersonal communications skills they would need to be successful,” says Marshall.

Working with partners

But because of the scale of the programme, as much as Splunk provides free training and licences, plus support for many not-for-profits, it has to work with partners to reach as many people as possible.

Such initiatives not only help to fill skills gaps – the digital skills gap in the UK alone is costing its economy £63bn a year – but they also increase diversity in the technology industry by training and integrating people from various backgrounds to take up roles in tech.

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