Web Intelligence: The Great Equalizer

November 3, 2013 • Chris Sailer

Editor’s Note

The following interview is with Chris Sailer and is from our Web Intelligence Perspectives Series. Chris is Senior Manager of Risk Management & Analysis for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

What is it about Web intelligence that is so important opportunity to you?

Risk mitigation is critical to our work, and effective risk management does not occur in a vacuum; it is highly dependent upon surveying the external environment for the weak signals of emergent risk. Since the world external to the institution is a dynamic system — complex and constantly changing — real-time assessment and meaningful measurement can only be accomplished by sensoring the environment with systems.

In this sense, the Web is a database that can be retrofitted with instruments that serve to monitor the scope and scale of events and the pulse of sentiment over time, assessing trends for the telltale indicators of emergent risk.

What drives the interest in Web intelligence in your community? What hole in your world does it fill?

Web intelligence holds the tantalizing promise of enabling predictive analysis, and every industry covets the capacity to peer into the future, however limited the timeline might be. The web is an unlimited archive of data that has not been thoroughly exploited by any given government, industry or discipline; it can answer questions that have not yet been asked.

What does a critical insight from Web intelligence look like?

Sometimes critical insight looks like a benign anomaly, but there may be hidden links between what appear to be unrelated entities. Pattern analysis and link discovery can serve to change our first impressions. Our impression of incidents taken in isolation changes when events are captured in aggregate over time, are infused with useful meta data and then compared against other trends. Under additional scrutiny aided by software, apparently unrelated events may exhibit features that suggest some level of previously unknown correlation or causality.

What is your vision for how Web intelligence could be used?

Risk is specifically linked to the notion of uncertainty, but accurate, credible and timely intelligence serves to reduce uncertainty, define the current state of the environment and render the world more knowable; therefore Web intelligence can be utilized as a source of competitive advantage by both individuals and groups.

Web intelligence is inherently disruptive when utilized by disempowered actors to achieve influence parity with larger, more established actors such as corporations and governments. Witness the recent use cases of social media as an instrument of transformative power in the Middle East, or hacktivism employed as a mechanism to force government transparency by enabling unlimited, universal access to previously safeguarded data; each group exploited the web for intelligence and harnessed the democratizing power of the internet to inform their respective constituencies and to drive their own unique agenda. This is web intelligence in the role of the great equalizer.

More conventionally, Web intelligence can be utilized as a feedback mechanism to better inform decision-makers within institutions, leading to more informed choices and better strategic planning. In the case of risk management, it can be utilized as practical tool to realize business opportunities represented in the upside of risk, while simultaneously informing control efforts to avoid the downside.

Chris Sailer

Chris Sailer currently serves as the Senior Manager, Risk Management & Analysis (RMA) at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, responsible for the daily monitoring and assessment of the organization’s external risk environment and developing long-term strategies for mitigating future threats. He is a Certified Criminal Intelligence Analyst (CCA) with the International Association of Law Enforcement Intelligence Analysts (IALEIA), serves on the Advisory Board for Saffron Technology of North Carolina and is a Fusion Liaison Officer (FLO) for the Washington State Fusion Center (WSFC).