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An intelligent approach to visualisation systems

last modified Dec 16, 2013 06:43 PM
In a world where organisations hold and use an ever-increasing amount of data – and much of it is highly sensitive – it is not always easy to understand the connections in that information.
An intelligent approach to visualisation systems

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Joe Parry has worked on visualisation and graphics systems for intelligence work for more than a decade, in software development, design, systems architecture and more experimental research projects. While at i2 (now owned by IBM), he worked with the intelligence communities of the UK, US and other countries.

In May 2011, Joe founded Cambridge Intelligence. It makes innovative visualisation software to help organisations understand the network structures in their data. Their software is browser-based and works on desktops, tablets and smartphones.

Cambridge Intelligence’s first product, KeyLines, was released in February 2012. It is a toolkit for visualising and analysing networks such as social networks, communication networks and computer networks – it is used for fraud detection, cyber security and military intelligence. Keylines found immediate success in the US security market and the company continues to grow.

Joe Parry – theoretical and practical

Before working in the security sector Joe was a theoretical physicist and holds a PhD from Stephen Hawking’s research group at the University of Cambridge. He was still at i2 when ideaSpace first became part of his plans.

Joe says: “I first contacted ideaSpace while working out my notice period on my previous job. I’d been there a couple of times for seminars on how to start up companies, and I liked it. Following a chat with the director I joined as a hot desker a couple of days after starting the new company.

“After trying out a few desks and meeting fellow members, I moved in with the FonLeap team. They were a bit further on than me but we were all working on software, building something brand new – we got on straight away.

“A few months in, and much quicker than I expected, I got a licensing deal. I became a co-worker and spent three months coding night and day, seven days a week. The 24-hour access was a lifesaver at this point.”  

From hot-desking to US incorporation

Around this time, Joe says he had some interest “from some bigger players, including Oracle”.  He says: “I reached out through the ideaSpace network to some experienced entrepreneurs who'd done it all before – Robert Brady and Robert Samson (of the Cambridge Angels investment group) were particularly helpful. They helped me build a strategy for those difficult early meetings.”

One year after founding, Joe had three customers, two in the US, but it was still essentially him doing everything. He recalls: “I needed some help. That summer I recruited two people to help out with the coding. It was fantastic that I didn’t have to worry too much about space at this point: the ideaSpace admin team are great and always super-helpful. They reorganised the desks so that the new guys could join ideaSpace. Now we were able to code side-by-side on new features.”

Joe turned his focus to the commercial side and tried to recruit sales and marketing staff. He says: “Everyone wanted to work for us – maybe it was the plush office and the view – but in the end we decided to incorporate in the US and hire there, nearer to the action.  

“As ever, the advice of the members was really useful at this point, explaining the possible pitfalls we could face both here and abroad.”

Newsnight interviews and international awards

The US office, opened in February 2013, is based in Reno, Nevada. Joe, the company’s CEO, sets the overall agenda from both commercial and technical perspectives. Cambridge Intelligence now has 15 major accounts on both sides of the Atlantic, with clients including the US Army and CIFAS, the UK’s fraud prevention service.

In March 2013, Joe was invited by Newsnight, the BBC’s flagship current affairs programme, to discuss the impact of Big Data analytics on UK law enforcement, including footage of KeyLines in action. The report initially focused on the use of visualisation to disentangle vast networks of criminal activity. Joe demonstrated how the visualisation of information through KeyLines helps to analyse and identify suspicious behaviour from large data sets.

A month later, CIFAS deployed KeyLines so members could interrogate the National Fraud Database and visually explore the complex network of fraudulent activity within fraud cases.

Around the same time, Cambridge Intelligence was named a ‘Killer50’ company – the list recognising the 50 hottest disruptive technology companies in the East of England.

In October 2013, KeyLines was named the Most Innovative Graph Application in Visualisation at an awards dinner in San Francisco. The GraphConnect Awards, also known as ‘The Graphies’, recognise innovation and achievement within the graph database community in which products from around the world are used to help to solve complex data problems.

Cambridge Intelligence was one of the first companies to move to ideaSpace City in May 2013. Joe cites the location as a key reason for moving over: “When the new facility in the city centre opened, we were very keen to be part of it – the location and facilities were just what we wanted.”

The company now has a team of six staff based at ideaSpace City, as well as a permanent salesperson in the US.

Joe says he is now in the position of giving advice to newer ideaSpace members: “We will always want to help out here. ideaSpace has been flexible with things while we’ve entered the lengthy commercial negotiations for leases. This is a fantastic help.”

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