From time to time we check in with search analyst Steve Arnold. Over much of the past few years, he has spent quite a bit of time analyzing Google. Particularly, he looks at what patents the company files to help understand the company's closely held business plans.
Recently Arnold published a book, titled "Google, The Digital Gutenberg," which provides an overview of how all of Google's various offerings, such as dedicated YouTube channels and Google Books, work together like one gigantic publishing system.
One of the interesting things Arnold has unearthed is a new Google undertaking called dataspaces. "Dataspaces are a way to manage information and make it possible to run certain types of queries impractical in traditional indexes and databases," he writes. "Dataspaces are constructs that integrate many separate indexes, their metatags and data."
Dataspaces tackles the age-old problem of making sense of unstructured data — all the Web pages, e-mail, word-processing documents and anything else that hangs off the Internet but isn't filed into a properly architected, structured database. Today, Google already makes a mint from indexing such unstructured data and serving the results up in search queries. But if the company can find some way of making all this stuff machine-processable, its services can become even more valuable to people, or so Arnold's theory goes. This is the work of dataspaces.
Where did dataspaces come from? In 2005, Google acquired a small company called Transformic Inc. which had technology that could merge structured and unstructured material into a single repository. There are plenty of companies with software that could do this sort of thing, so Transformic must have some sort of special sauce for it to be gobbled up by Google.
Tarnsformic's technology was largely developed by Dr. Alon Halevy, largely while at Bell Labs, according to Arnold. Halevy focused on how to extend database-quality queries into ambiguously defined data using lineage, statistical likelihoods and a number of other fuzzy-logic-like reasoning. A dataspace system can not only process ambiguous data, but also incorporate new information as a search increases its scope and reconcile conflicting sets of data to derive more definitive information.
If such a system were to work, it could change the enterprise software market profoundly, Arnold asserts. "The challenges of petabyte data sets have hamstrung many organizations trying to make traditional work processes and relational databases work in a cost-effective way. Google could use its existing infrastructure to perform automatic transformation, advanced processes based on smart software, and introduce new types of queries to users."
In short, the dataspace invention makes possible new types of auto-generated outputs because the system can deal with uncertainty and varied lineage of information," he argues. Such queries could say build complete dossiers on people or organizations, which would certainly be of interest to intelligence and law enforcement agencies. Investors could use the technology for ranking investment advisers. Consumers could use it to build a better, more customized profiles of some product of interest.
Of course, Arnold is making a lot of leaps of faith here. Many smart people have been trying to tackle the problem of making sense of unstructured data, with middling results thus far. And even if such a sorting technology could work, it is another question entirely if it could be ramped up to the scale needed to serve millions of people on a daily basis. In the book, Arnold doesn't go into the specifics of how this technology works or what makes it better from everything else on the market. And even if it does work, whether Google will have success with it is far from given.
Nonetheless, "Google: The Digital Gutenberg" is a good primer for understanding the direction that the search giant may be taking, which is especially valuable given how tight Google itself is with sharing such information. For a deeper dive, you may wish to check out a talk that Arnold will be hosting in a few weeks.
On Sept. 23, Arnold, along with Arpan Patel, director of Somat's Information Engineering practice, will explain dataspaces technology in more detail, a briefing " Change 2010: Responding to Real Time Information, Open Systems and the Obama IT Vision," to be held at the National Press Club in Washington. Robert Steele, chief executive officer of OSS Inc. and founder of the Marine Corps Intelligence Center, and Jim Orris, director of Adhere Solutions, the Google partner responsible for U.S. federal government sales, will also speak.
Posted on Aug 31, 2009 at 7:05 PM0 comments
Some in the information technology industry are concerned about agencies recruiting their employees into government jobs, as Washington Technology’s David Hubler recently reported.
More on this topic from GCN:
Feds accused of 'poaching' contractor employees
Stan Soloway, president and chief executive of the Professional Services Council, said, “I have never heard so much concern about it as I hear today,” and questioned the “heavy-handed tactics that are being used.”
“It’s not just the recruiting and poaching of employees,” Soloway said. “It’s the targeting of individual employees in what would appear to be violations of the Merit System’s hiring and other procedures.”
"It raises some ethical questions for us where you have a direct business relationship, where you’re actually soliciting employees of your supplier," Soloway said. "In the commercial world it is very common to have no-solicitation clauses" in contracts.
GCN readers, however, showed little sympathy. Many of those who posted comments to the story said, in essence, what goes around comes around: Industry has lured government employees into its ranks for years and now the tide has simply turned. And rather than look at it from the point of view of the employer – whether government or industry -- many readers look at it from the perspective of the employee’s opportunities and job security.
Here are a few of their remarks:
- The contracting companies are whining in the wind. As a former contractor and current government employee I have seen the other side of this. It is not the salary or even the so called job security that attracts current contractors to go to the government side of the house, it is the contracting companies not valuing their employees. They do treat you like a commodity with little if any say so if you happen to disagree with either a business practice or your client's (government) improper or ill advised decision. You are more empowered and respected working from the inside for change.
There are two classes of contractor employee: corporate and "the contract workers." The corporate employee has, generally, much better benefits -- medical and retirement -- as well as bonuses and other perks. The "contract worker"? Well, let's just say that they are treated as third class all around. But which group is getting "poached"? The "contract worker" because they possess the requisite skills. Who's complaining? The corporate employee and the corporation.
This is ridiculous. As a former SAIC, Lockheed and IBM employee, I can testify from experience that we IT professionals have seen all vestiges of job security disappear. A chance to be on the other side and hopefully make meaning contributions that really make a difference for the nation is something many of us as individuals dream of. Not just earning a living as an IT professional. There is no difference between the federal government recruiting us or a competing company offering us a better position. And BTW – GS-15 jobs are posted daily – subscribe to the announcements, and you most certainly can sue the federal government – that’s what the U.S. Court of Federal Claims is all about. Thank you for the opportunity to state my views.
Poaching.....Get a grip, people! "The Government" is YOU!! Your Tax Dollars!! I feel the government should be required to "Try Before You Buy" as someone else stated! Do you want your tax dollars paying for someone who can't perform the job? It is the RIGHT of that contract employee to be solicited by ANY possible employer!!! As a matter of fact it should be Illegal for any employer to take any action against an employee that has been solicited by any possible employer government or otherwise. As far as effecting the economy, lets see, the job did not go away just changed hands, the employee now has a more secure employer, typically better benefits and pay...where is the down side? Come on!
Poaching is killing animals who'd probably prefer not to be killed. This is hiring people who would prefer to work for the government and not their current company. The people complaining are just unhappy because this cuts into their billable hours. With the unemployment where it is, they should have no problem filling vacancies.
The same thing happens the other way around. Contractors "poach" government employees all of the time. One of my soldiers went to an IT course and at the end of the course he was scooped up by an electronic communications company. Why is it OK for the contractor to do it, but when the government does it then it is not OK. If we are going to ban the practice, then it should be banned by both sides.
You have got to be kidding me. 25 years in DOD IT seeing good government IT staff "snatched" away from us by contractors who paid more and promised the moon. Now the economy turns down and the shoe is on the other foot. All I can say is what kind of cheese do those contractors want with their whine.
But contractors have their defenders. Several readers cited what they feel is government’s unfair advantage, particularly with regard to small companies.
- "No one loses an employee that is happy, well paid and treated well." -- Unless they are threatened with their contract being canceled. We've seen a lot of that lately: contractors who have worked for years in a position being "poached" (or whatever you want to call it) as the agency converts those positions to federal jobs. The contracting companies can not backfill, as the position no longer exists. One contracting company lost 5 of 6 positions in one year. Do the math: this is a devastating blow in an already bad economy. Sue? Sure, but you'll never get another contract within the government. Do the contacting companies recruit/poach federal employees? Sure, especially at retirement. However, they can't threaten those employees with losing their jobs as a means to entice them away as the government can. Sure, there are probably agencies that request that a contractor hire someone until the paperwork can go through to hire them as a fed -- but that sounds like it is pre-agreed upon, and is an indication of other problems within the federal hiring process. This is an unfair practice since -- especially for smaller companies -- there is little or nothing they can do about it.
Whether they work for the government or a contractor, some IT professionals just want a good deal.
- It's about time Engineering Professionals receive what they need and deserve: excellent pay, good benefits and security. It's time that unnecessary middle layer of excess gets removed from the system, such that the fruits of hard labor go to those who deserve it most, the workers themselves.
Posted on Aug 28, 2009 at 7:05 PM1 comments
Who was surprised about recent allegations of misconduct at the Veterans Affairs Department? Not many of our readers, if the number of comments we've received is any indication.
According to two reports from VA’s inspector general, high-ranking officials abused their authority, misused their positions, engaged in prohibited personnel practices, improperly administered awards and engaged in nepotism while working in the department’s information technology office.
VA officials, in response, said they are “aggressively pursuing a thorough review of the situation.” (To learn more, read “VA IG finds abuse of authority and ethical breaches in IT office” and “VA responds to IG reports of misconduct in IT office”.)
But it’s all in a days work at the VA and other agencies, according to reader comments.
* The VA corruption is another example of why civil service is not an effective way. Regardless of ability, people are promoted, and never seem to be fired even when they're corrupt such as at the VA. In private practice these corrupt workers would have been fired.
* This has been going on for quite time now, not only at VA, but within other federal agencies. With VA's reputation, I'm not surprised. Politics as well as greed plays a vital role in what has happened. Hopefully other organizations will take heed and begin to clean house.
* This is exactly the type of report that casts doubt on VA's ability to maintain the integrity of their procurement process. Now, let's see what action is actually taken by VA leadership. VA contractors, and hopefully Congress, will be watching to see what happens to the individuals cited in the report and if impartiality and fairness are reintroduced to the process.
-- VA Contractor
* The government is rife with the cited practices. You merely need to scratch below the surface to find the criminal mismanagement of personnel and the HR environment. The system has been so "diversified" that it can no longer even be recognized as a system. It is created and run to respond to the political hacks desires du jour. To bad it too is so in the VA.
* The VA will appear to cave, scurry around with a lot of high-profile activity, and continue with business as usual. (You have to lay low for a while, but that is only temporary.) That word "alleged" in their statement is the critical clue that VA is going to string this out until even the IG is fed up with it.
* Translation: VA will do the minimal to make this go away. They'll overcomplicate the response and hope it blows over. Meanwhile, veterans wounded in combat will continue to suffer poor service, in part due to inadequate information technology. (You can't even do a chat with VA, and they send me all sorts of snail mail.) Meanwhile, OI&T employees will continue to screw the veteran, while apparently "engaging in inappropriate relationships" with each other while using dollars supposed to be used for the veteran.
-- Iraq Vet - VHA
* What does this mean for the hundreds, if not thousands, of individuals that put in for VA IT jobs and were told that they were qualified, but not selected? I am a certified Project Manager with a high achievement record of excellence, but I was never chosen for a job. Can we have a recount? Probably not.
-- Justice4All Texas
* I applied for a job with the information protection group. I have 6 industry certifications in that profession, 2 Master's and a PhD, also in that profession. After 3 months I received a letter, "Oh, we're not going to fill that position." PEH! I say, we all know what happened: my qualifications hammered their preferred candidate AND I have 10 point preference as well. YES, there is nepotism and favoritism in that office.
-- Tet Vet USA
* It's not just the VA. But everyone continuously turns a blind eye to the truth, unless of course it serves the immediate interests of their particular political party to clean house.
-- Beltway Contractor
* The IG needs to look into its own abuse of personnel practices. I have to agree that these are just a few of the problems which exist within the VA but these are the tip of the ice berg. The problem is that the IG doesn't have a clue where to start looking. And when they do, it's political.
Some readers were especially concerned with allegations of discriminatory hiring practices.
* I think you skipped one of the most important issues from the report. A disabled veteran was passed over for a position within the VA for a friend of the individuals that was not qualified for the position. This is an organization that is supposed to help disabled veterans.
* We must not forget that this is not solely discrimination against one particular minority. Hispanics and Asians have been severely overlooked in the federal management ranks especially in the VA. Look at the statistics of hired managers in contrast to the employee ranks. Many of those Hispanics, just like myself, hold a Masters Degree or a B.A. and are also overlooked disabled veterans. Hopefully, this shameful event will clean up the hiring practice within the VA and other agencies.
* Unfortunately, nepotism and racism runs rampant in the federal sector. Often managers are found violating rules, but rarely are they disciplined for the rules they break. Many educated and qualified African-Americans have filed non-selection complaints throughout government. Such complaints are often lodged because managers freely engage in discriminatory treatment. Although "favoritism" reportedly is not against the law.....it definitely has an adverse impact on African-American employees.
However, a few readers took pains to differentiate between the ethical misconduct of a few individuals and the hard work done by the majority of VA employees.
* I agree that this is somewhat common across the VA and other government agencies. Keep in mind that there are good, honest, ethical employees at the VA and their focus is care of our veterans. They fulfill their mission with the utmost respect and integrity. It is a shame that people like this tarnish the other employee’s reputations. I am proud to work for the VA and serve our veterans as proudly as they served for me.
* For all those hard working folks at VA doing your job, keep doing it. You serve a very deserving group of people.
* The previous response unfairly labels all OI&T employees as people who have intent to “continue to screw the veteran...” A 27 year VA computer professional, the Vet knows nothing about me and my professional and dedicated behavior on my job. The people in the IG report were cited for unethical, unprofessional, and possibly illegal practices. No label of OI&T or any other service line in any government agency deserves that generalization just because of what the service line's mission is to deliver.
Posted on Aug 27, 2009 at 7:05 PM5 comments