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BLOG: Analytics: Learn from Vegas casinos

Forrester (via Computerworld UK) | June 4, 2013
How to get smarter about data analytics

Ever wonder how Las Vegas casinos catch card-counting teams at Blackjack tables, like the MIT team immortalised in the film "21" with Kevin Spacey? They use many techniques, some of which are confidential, but one we know about is their use of Entity Analytics on many intersecting streams of information about their patrons or potential employees.

I recently had the chance to learn more about Entity Analytics and Big Data from one of the top industry thought leaders, Jeff Jonas of IBM.

This opportunity came when Marcel Jemio, Chair of the Fiscal Service Data Stewards at the US Treasury Dept. (and a Forrester client), invited me to a presentation Jeff gave at a special internal event at the Fiscal Service in Washington, D.C. So of course I leapt at the opportunity! Marcel opened the session with an overview of why Treasury is interested in data and analytics: Treasury is charged with helping the nation guard against the kind of national or global financial collapse that triggered the 2007-2009 recession. Therefore it's crucial that the stewards of the nation's financial data, like Marcel and his colleagues continuously improve the insights we gain from this data.

This data is more connected and interoperable all the time, across multiple public and private sector organisations with common goals. Making key insights from this data available more openly, but securely, increases transparency and visibility of potential issues to key decision makers in government and commercial enterprises. But to link all this related data, to gain these insights, requires the Fiscal Service to leverage global industry data standards to gain deep insights into integrated information. If you can't link and reuse data, it's much less valuable!

A Lifetime Spent Linking Data Together
Jeff invented a really cool way to link information called NORA (Non Obvious Relationship Awareness), and he's implemented it multiple times on different platforms in different eras since the first version in the mid-80s, through the course of his career as an innovator, scientist, and entrepreneur. Jeff also found time to found Systems Research & Development (SRD), later acquired by IBM in 2005, which is how Jeff ended up as IBM Fellow and Chief Scientist of the IBM Entity Analytics Group at Watson labs.

Vegas casinos used a version of NORA to bring down that MIT card-counting team led by Bill Kaplan, through surveillance of live Blackjack play. Casinos routinely aim to connect eighteen or more different lists of people who are known to have defrauded or otherwise attempted to take advantage of the casinos, and they do this through the kind of entity matching that NORA enables. For example, I may connect information about a person who was arrested for a crime under an alias, with a person applying for a job as a croupier under her real name, because they both have the same phone number. Jeff also helped intelligence agencies deal with the "connect the dots" problems they faced after 9/11.


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