In-Q-Tel Investment Signals Intel Community Focus on Data Sharing


Deal with Socrata could help intelligence agencies share information more efficiently.

The CIA’s venture capital arm is investing in cloud software provider Socrata Inc., a company that aims to “democratize” access to government data by making information more accessible to the public as well as internally to agency managers.

Under the terms of the deal, Socrata Chief Executive Officer Kevin Merritt said he could not disclose the value of In-Q-Tel’s investment, but noted it was among the participants in the company’s recently closed Series B round of financing, which raised $18 million.    

In a technical sense, Socrata’s work with In-Q-Tel won’t be significantly different from its work with other public sector clients, including the Health and Human Services Department and the cities of New York and Chicago, Merritt said.

“What Socrata offers is a cloud-based platform that makes it easy to put data in and in literally minutes have some basic understanding of what that data is telling you,” he said. “If you think about how any agency would try to analyze data using legacy technology, there would be some pretty significant barriers assembling servers, installing software and getting the data loaded to make sense of it visually or make sense of the geospatial data.”

The In-Q-Tel investment will allow the company to accelerate plans to adapt its software to other computer clouds and improve the geospatial and visualization capabilities of the platform, Merritt said.

The intelligence community has long struggled with how to share critical information more effectively among multiple agencies. The Intelligence and National Security Alliance, a government and industry group, in February released a paper calling for a common technology architecture based on input from 16 intelligence agencies. But earlier this summer, the Defense Intelligence Agency appeared to back away from that goal with a more limited solicitation exploring a common desktop environment.     

Ian Kalin, director of open data for Socrata and a former White House innovation fellow in 2012, said the partnership with In-Q-Tel will allow intelligence agencies to work together more efficiently: “Getting the right information to the right person at the right time -- it’s hard to overstate the value of that.” 

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