Thought for the day:The same but different

Outsourcing and communications expert Martyn Hart looks at a hot issue of the day.When you're searching data you usually look for...

Outsourcing and communications expert Martyn Hart looks at a hot issue of the day.When you're searching data you usually look for things that match. You may, for example, look for all customers who purchased hammer drills in the Chatham area. So why would you look for something that doesn't match, something that's different? Because it turns out that differences can be a key to greater data-mining success than looking for the same thing.

It seems that when we look for matches we collect significant quantities of data that we mostly throw away as the search is narrowed down.

One place where this is really important is in intelligence data mining, supporting front line investigations. US researchers have hit upon a method called Outliers that can drastically reduce the time of searching and increase accuracy.

While running a couple of workshops at a law enforcement conference in Colorado, I picked up some of this background. It could mean that for the first time a police officer in the front line can have access to useful and fast intelligence sources.

So when stopping a red Ford Escort with a blue wing, the officer can access any known information before even approaching the car.

Apparently Stephen Hawking first mooted the idea when searching interstellar data. (If you search for Outliers on the Internet you'll find plenty of background material.)

What particularly interested me were the results that had been produced using this form of data analysis, where information on suspects and had been mapped over time for a number of solved cases.

The researchers found that cases could be solved three times quicker and with greater accuracy, which they judge as four times as good, so that the whole process is very much faster.

If I can see the commercial possibilities of this it probably means that someone out there is working on it.

Should we worry?

What's your view?
Are there other techniques that our boys in blue could use? Let us know with an e-mail >>
CW360.com reserves the right to edit and publish answers on the Web site. Please state if your answer is not for publication.

Martyn Hart is chairman of the National Outsourcing Association and practice director at Mantix, a consultancy that delivers value from complex programmes.
This was last published in July 2002

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