IBM Buys Identity Company to Nail Down Whos Who

By Lisa Vaas  |  Posted 2005-01-07

IBM Buys Identity Company to Nail Down Whos Who

You have a Richard Smith of Maple Street who once ripped off your casino. Now, Dick Smith of Maple Avenue wants a job as a cashier. Is there a connection, should you worry, and do you have the software that even suggests a possible link?

Thats the type of scenario IBM hopes to address with its acquisition of the privately owned identity resolution company SRD, announced Friday. The financial details of the deal were not disclosed.

IBM is already marketing SRDs products, which include ERIK: Identity Recognition Software, to be renamed IBM DB2 Identity Resolution, and NORA: Non-Obvious Relationship Awareness Software, to be renamed IBM DB2 Relationship Resolution.

The Identity Resolution product accepts data from multiple sources and databases and melds it together, using built-in heuristics techniques such as name stemming and address variations, to compare disparate renditions and let you know whos really who.

NORA, on the other hand, analyzes non-obvious relationships to identify whos associated with whom or with what other organizations. For example, if your felonious Richard Smith of Maple Street shares an address with a job applicant named Mary Smith, NORA is designed to point out the potential relationship and its potential risk to an organization.

According to Richard Wozniak, IBMs director of BI (business intelligence) marketing, the ability to draw records from, say, a Department of Motor Vehicles database and compare it with a database of parolees names is vitally important for a wide variety of businesses.

That list includes any business that must concern itself with fraud and/or that needs to know exactly who its customers, clients, employees or visitors are, such as those in the sectors of government—particularly national security—financial services, health care and insurance.

With this newly acquired technology, as users add more and more data sources, accuracy goes up, Wozniak said. "Once you have a database of resolved identities, it can find people across multiple layers of separation," he said.

"It might say that Joe Smith has the same phone number and address as Susan Kelly, and if Joe Smith is a known casino cheater, then its very important to know that if Susan Kelly comes in to apply for a job as a card dealer, you get a match. … As a hiring person, youd be interested in knowing she was living with someone who was a convicted casino cheater."

In terms of IBMs overall BI strategy, this is just one piece of the puzzle, according to Dan Vesset, an analyst at IDC, in Framingham, Mass. The acquisition will extend the analytic capabilities of IBMs Information Management software portfolio, which it has been bolstering with acquisitions as of late. For example, it acquired Alphablox Corp., a maker of analytic tools, in July.

Next Page: How the SRD acquisition fits in.

Fitting In

The SRD acquisition is just the latest in a series of moves that IBMs Information Management division is taking to strengthen its position as a document-handling giant. For example, as IBM Information Management General Manager Janet Perna told recently, the company is quietly plugging away at what its calling the first-ever hybrid native XML and relational database, which is as yet unnamed.

On top of that, IBM is planning to release in the second quarter a version of Data Warehouse Edition that finally integrates its hitherto disparate collection of BI parts, including the DB2 database, DB2 CubeViews, Information Integrator, Intelligent Miner, Warehouse Manager and OfficeConnect.

Keith Gile, an analyst at Forrester Researchs Westport, Conn., branch, said the SRD acquisition addresses a "huge area of BI that really hasnt been addressed by too many folks"—namely, the area of operational data when youre talking about time-crunch mode.

Operational data analytics pertain to situations where workers have to make smart, data-dependent decisions in real time. For example, an airline worker checking in travelers has to make safety-related decisions based on what she thinks of a given traveler—a decision that should ideally be based in part on criminal records.

"Car dealerships, tellers in the bank, an insurance agency—there might be something about a human that hasnt been included [in one set of applications, for example], and thats where this type of technology, with large sets of data from really strange sources, can tell you theres an anomaly, so pay attention," Gile said. "There are so many times a decision has to be made based on what I think of you."

Now, IBM is adding an engine to help scrub lots of inconsistent data, not just by cleaning it but by setting some profiling and establishing some benchmark by which a human being can be judged against some set of criteria, Gile said.

That has huge ramifications in the realm of privacy, of course, as individuals get identified in various databases and then potentially experience discrimination based on analytical interpretation. Wozniak said SRD has a product in beta testing, called Anonymous Resolution, that addresses such concerns.

Anonymous Resolution is designed to allow organizations to compare identity data without making that data visible to other organizations. Such a tool will allow organizations to check identities to protect themselves but still protect the privacy of customers or clients, he said.

SRD, based in Las Vegas, has some 50 employees, most of whom will be absorbed into IBM, Wozniak said. Details of when SRDs products will be incorporated into Information Integrator were not immediately available.

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