Software helps users connect six degrees of separation

Software helps users connect six degrees of separation

Conventional wisdom dictates it's not what you know, but who you know that matters. In the world of identity resolution software, that adage is particularly relevant.

Identity resolution software finds relationships between individuals -- demonstrating obscure links between people who could be in cahoots, or discovering that two or more individuals thought to be separate people are in fact the same person. It's a market that's gotten a lot of attention since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks of 2001.

Most recently, IBM made its interest clear in the technology by acquiring SRD for an undisclosed amount.

SRD developed analytics software that specializes in gleaning information about individuals' identities and discovering obscure associations -- such as if someone is bouncing checks at five banks using five different names or identities.

The software can sift through and identify multiple records that might appear to describe different people, but in reality are related to a single person. The software also detects suspicious relationships -- such as a hazardous material licensee sharing an address with a suspected terrorist.

"We're talking about discovering the (Drug Enforcement Agency) agent's college roommate's ex-wife's current husband is the drug lord kind of connection," says Jeff Jonas, SRD's founder and now IBM employee.

SRD originally built its software in the late 1980s to help credit and collections agencies figure out how to find bill evaders. "There was a problem with people who would go to a hospital and intentionally use their middle name, or change one or two digits of their Social Security number to avoid being billed," Jonas says.

In response, SRD's software was designed to work through unintentional data discrepancies, as well as efforts to intentionally obfuscate identities, Jonas says. The technology later found a place in the casino gaming industry, which is obligated to make sure certain criminals aren't employed by, or doing business with, casinos.

Today, businesses can use the technology to get an accurate view of individuals and relationships in real-time, seeing associations that previously were nearly impossible to discover, IBM says.

Companies could use it to aggregate customer information scattered among multiple systems, reconciling slight variations in a name or address -- 4737 Simeron Drive, vs. 4737 Cimarron Drive for example -- along the way, to create a single view of a customer. The information might come in handy during a background check of a job applicant or when a high-valued customer makes a purchase, for example.

With its acquisition of SRD complete, Big Blue now offers two software products based on SRD technology, with a third on the way:

-- DB2 Identity Resolution: Unifies disparate information to pull together a complete picture of all that is known about an individual.

-- DB2 Relationship Resolution: Detects obvious and non-obvious relationships from myriad data sources.

-- DB2 Anonymous Resolution: Detects individuals' relationships while protecting certain personal information. It is in beta testing and will be available in the second half of this year.

Pricing for the available products starts at US$155,000 per CPU, plus US$100,000 per 1 million data source records.

SRD's software can run on IBM and non-IBM data platforms, including Oracle and Microsoft databases. The software operates in real-time, correcting information about a person as new information becomes available.

"A company might get two records in and not be able to tell with certainty that they are related to the same person. Weeks later, another record might provide new information, making it clear that all three of the records are the same person," Jonas says. "Identity Entity resolution grows this understanding. We accumulate context about identities."

IBM plans to integrate SRD's operations into its information management software group. SRD is the 20th company acquired by IBM's software division since 2001, and the seventh for its DB2 information management division.

SRD's competition included Language Analysis Systems, which specializes in multi-cultural name recognition. Its LAS NameHunter software helps government agencies search and recognize foreign names, screen potential terrorists and perform background checks, for example.

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