Friday, 18 December 2015

Podcast interview with John Mark Suhy, PureThink

Over the past couple of years, it's become very clear that there are lots of very cool use cases for graph databases like Neo4j - especially and particularly with government organisations. It's be super interesting, and I even wrote a bit about how these POLE (person-object-location-event) databases are starting to attract a lot interest. That's why we have started to work together with some very specialised organisations that regularly work with Government organisations - like for example the US-based outfit PureThink. They helped us create a "Government Edition" of Neo4j that is gaining a lot of traction - you should check it out.

So for the podcast, I had a great chat with PureThink's founder John Mark Suhy. Listen to the discussion below, or read the transcription at your will...

Here's the transcript of our conversation:
RVB: 00:02 Hello, everyone. My name is Rik - Rik Van Bruggen - from Neo Technology, and here we are again recording a podcast session together with John Mark from PureThink. Hi, John Mark. 
JMS: 00:14 Hey, how's it going? Thanks for having me. 
RVB: 00:15 Yeah. It's great to have you on the podcast. Thanks for coming on, and I hope you're feeling better. I know you were sick for a couple days [chuckles]. First of all, John Mark, why don't you introduce yourself because most of our listeners won't know you yet? 
JMS: 00:32 My name is John Mark Suhy, and my company is called PureThink. We're a U.S. government integrator here in the Washington, D.C. metro area. Our background is software development, system integration, and whatnot. 
RVB: 00:54 What's your relationship to the wonderful world of graphs? Do you mind explaining that to us? 
JMS: 01:01 Yes. We've been looking at innovative technologies to bring in to the government to help them address certain problems that they're having - same type of problems that big companies that use Neo are addressing as well - and we came across Neo and Neo4j. We realized that they didn't really have a government focus or any initiatives, and so we started working with them and setting it all up, trying to drive adoption in the U.S. government. That's our role in Neo, is we're making sure that the U.S. government can adopt it and that addresses making sure that it can be procured, addressing FISMA which is a big part of government procurements. 
RVB: 01:57 Is this mostly federal government then or also state and local government, or is this mostly federal? 
JMS: 02:03 Yeah. We're mostly focused on federal government. 
RVB: 02:06 What kind of use cases are you seeing there? What kinds of group uses do you see for the graph database in federal government? 
JMS: 02:15 Actually, there's a huge amount of use cases around cyber. Cyber is a huge area in the government and addressing-- there's attacks going on all the time. You've heard of all these stories about some agencies being hacked and huge amounts of data being lost. They're pretty sophisticated, and there's a need for having a technology like graph databases to be able to track down, control it, be able to take evasive measures and whatnot. Also, around logistics and around financial crimes, so that's a big area too. 
RVB: 03:05 So when you say cyber, you mean cyber security, right? That's [crosstalk].
JMS: 03:08 Yes, I'm sorry. Cyber security, yes. 
RVB: 03:11 So it's a lot of things that have to do with things like fraudulent behavior, or risky behavior, or those types of things that you're trying to track, right? 
RVB: 03:21 Yeah. With cyber when attacks are happening in real time, they're pretty sophisticated. They can come from different places, and the technologies being used right now have to go in and process stuff in the background and come up and try to identify patterns. So there's a need to be able to identify things that are happening in real time so you can actually address them, and that's where I think Neo is going to be a big fit. 
RVB: 03:48 Is it just the real-time aspect then or are you guys also looking at visualization technologies and stuff like that? What does the mix look like in that domain? 
JMS: 03:59 Real time and certain areas for the actual continuous monitoring in the actual, I guess, investigation side of things. Visualization is pretty important because you don't know what you're looking for, and you can use a bunch of AI technologies to identify patterns, but having that visual aspect of things is being able to actually go in and see what's happening and identifying patterns. You're able to do that from a visual perspective that you might not be able to do just looking at data. That's a big area. Another area would be-- just trying to think. 
RVB: 04:45 But when you look at all this and there's also a big part of it that has to do with governments being able to purchase it - and I know you guys have been active on enabling government purchases to be done more easily - can you tell us a little bit more about that? 
JMS: 05:05 Sure. Any procurement or sales to the U.S. federal government is pretty complex, and there's a lot of bureaucratic stuff. There's a lot of rules that you have to adhere to. One of our first focuses was to make sure that we set up the structure to be able to get around all these hurdles that need to be jumped over, and so we've addressed everything from being able to do sole source procurements, which speeds up the actual procurement time, to being able to address FISMA. If you're not familiar with FISMA, U.S. agencies that want to put systems into production, and these systems may use Neo4j as part of an overall system, they need to go through a process and get authority to operate. It's important to be able to support that process, and so our goal is to actually provide the services and the framework around Neo4j to be able to support FISMA. Without doing that, the U.S. government agencies pay a huge amount of money just for maintaining the security on top of the fees they pay for the subscription. If you don't address that, it's going to be harder to drive adoption in the U.S. government. One of the focuses around FISMA, for example, is ensuring that you can support certain categorizations. You have a low, medium, high, and different systems that are using this have different controls that need to be implemented, and so if you're able to support the implementation of those controls, you're going to cut down the total cost of ownership for that agency. 
RVB: 07:09 Yeah, that's makes sense. 
JMS: 07:10 It's something a lot of people, a lot of software vendors, that start off in the government don't realize and don't really put a focus on because it's not something that in the commercial areas you'd have to worry about. 
RVB: 07:25 I understand. Cool. So that means that just both from a technical and use case perspective but also from an administrative point of view, there's a lot of things going for it, and there's a lot of drive in the U.S. government towards this technology. 
JMS: 07:41 Oh, yeah. The adoption right now, it's starting off slow and it's been picking up recently and the extent that as more agencies realize the power of Neo4j and what they can do with it, they're starting to identify areas that they've been having issues with where this can actually come in and solve their problems. It's really just getting out in front of them, letting them know these technologies are there, and that it's set up to be able to be procured pretty quickly. 
RVB: 08:15 It just reminds me of I was talking to guy in our community in Holland yesterday. We were talking about once you get people to talk about graph databases, once you get them exposed to the technology, then relational databases, they appear like a youthful sin. I still love that quote [chuckles]. It's a great way of positioning it, I think. John Mark, where do you see things going? Where do you see the future both from a technology point of view and use case point of view? What's the hot thing that you see around the corner here? 
JMS: 08:53 I definitely see larger federal agencies using it in areas of logistics, financial crimes, for example - tax evasion, the Treasury, and IRS, for example. You've probably never filed U.S. taxes, but it's-- 
RVB: 09:18 No, I didn't. 
JMS: 09:20 --it's something I think that there's a lot of things that this is going to help streamline for the government. Most of the new projects that will leverage it are going to be-- it's not going to be legacy systems. They're going to be new systems that are being developed so we have the ability to come in at an early stage and actually help the project teams understand the power and how to best leverage Neo4j. That's something we've got in our favor right now is that most new work and most agencies that are going to be using Neo4j are going to be doing it with new projects. You can mold them and give them the right training to use it right. 
RVB: 10:08 Is there anything you want to point out if you're starting out a new project like that, things that you definitely should do or shouldn't do? 
JMS: 10:18 Yeah. Reach out. If you're a government agency or if you're a developer working on a team for an agency, reach out to Neo. You'd be surprised what resources they'll have for you. Our goal is to drive U.S. federal government adoption so if you have a question about how to leverage it or if you want to discuss certain concepts or whatnot, reach out. We're open - Neo, and us, as well. We're open to answering any questions you have. 
RVB: 10:59 Absolutely. I'll put some links on the blog post that goes with the podcast so that people can reach out more easily. It's a little bit like what Emil, our CEO, always says, "Don't be a lonely document. Connect right" [chuckles]. Definitely that's something we want to advocate, as well. 
RVB: 11:20 Cool. John Mark, any final comments? Any final remarks? Because we're going to wrap up the recording in a couple minutes because we want to keep these things short and snappy anyway. Any final remarks? 
JMS: 11:32 Sure. Yeah. I wish I could talk more about our current [end?] user base, but unfortunately it's something we're not able to do, but it's-- be on the lookout. I think that adoption's going to be increasing, especially in the military/DOD area in the upcoming year. 
RVB: 11:55 Thank you so much for coming on the podcast. Really appreciate it, and I look forward to working with you guys in the government space, and I'm sure we'll see and hear more about this. 
JMS: 12:06 Thank you. Thanks again for having me. 
RVB: 12:08 Thank you. Bye-bye. 
JMS: 12:09 Bye.
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