As part of a regular series powered by Microsoft, BetaKit interviews prominent Canadian CTOs speaking earnestly on the biggest challenges they face in their role, as well as future technology predictions in their space.
It’s no secret that tech companies across all verticals are tapping into big data and machine learning to drive results for their customers. It’s rare, however, to find organizations leveraging cutting-edge technology to make the world a safer place.
For Allan Bedard and the Media Sonar team, that’s just another day at the office.
Founded in 2014, and based in London, Ontario, Media Sonar works with public safety and humanitarian organizations to provide them with actionable insights from large amounts of open source (i.e., data that is open and publicly available) and deep web data. On any given day, that could mean filtering through hundreds of thousands of open source posts during a natural disaster to better help response teams, or scouring the deep (and dark) web looking for evidence of human trafficking.
To do that, Media Sonar needs to be able to solve the problem of capturing vast mounds of data, but also properly filter through it to provide pertinent results; not only finding the needles, but building the haystack.
“It’s big number crunching to identify trends,” Bedard said. “We don’t want to be presenting them with millions of posts, we want to give them the five posts that are the most actionable.”
Media Sonar needs to be able to solve the problem of capturing vast mounds of data, but also properly filter through it to provide pertinent results; not only finding the needles, but building the haystack.
Without a dedicated CTO at the company, Bedard’s role as VP of Product Management requires him to bridge the demands of cutting-edge tech and Media Sonar’s customer needs. On the technology side, Bedard says his primary concern is the speed at which Media Sonar can bring new features and functionality to market – not only vetting the latest image or video recognition technology, but providing the platform and backend architecture to support it. For other technology companies, this might feel like pushing to add a new feature bullet-point to the marketing material; at Media Sonar, it could help save lives.
“The main thing is that you have to keep your thumb on the pulse of technology,” Bedard said. “Working at a company of this size, on a technology that needs to stay leading-edge because of what we’re trying to accomplish, I think it’s really important to be continually learning, staying on top of new technologies, making sure we’re implementing and pushing forward on anything that can be a benefit to our customers.”
However, the latest technology means nothing unless it can provide actionable information. In many cases, that means simplifying the delivery so that an analyst with a secure web browser can quickly grab the required information and dispatch it to those who need it. While Media Sonar’s product management team is small, Bedard indicated that an early commitment to working closely with customers to understand their workflows has paid dividends in ensuring that the hard work crunching big numbers isn’t wasted.
“The clients that we’re dealing with, whether in the corporate or public safety arena, are not always heavy technology users,” he said. “Because what they do is so important, we want to make sure that there’s not a disconnect between what we’re building and what they actually need.”
Beyond the tech, working in the public safety sector means constant diligence in the face of compliance and privacy concerns. Forthcoming GDPR and PIPEDA regulations are top of mind, as are the needs for constant uptime and rapid scaling for when the next natural disaster hits.
While Bedard admits, “it’s a lot of late nights and always being on,” he was quick to praise the company’s cloud technology partner for sharing the load.
“It was absolutely the right decision to go with Azure and a cloud-based system,” he said. “Having a solution that can scale with the volume of data processed is critical to our success. If something has happened, we can get alerts and be available to tweak stuff really quickly.”
While Bedard is required to constantly shift focus between his customers’ needs and the technology that supports them, it’s clear the VP hasn’t lost sight of Media Sonar’s overall goal.
“The absolute main vision is helping our clients make the world around us safer.”
For more on Media Sonar, read Microsoft Canada’s interview with CEO David Strucke.