Without Linkurious, the Panama Papers may not have been revealed. It’s the data visualization software of this French start-up that enabled the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists to unearth the massive tax avoidance scandal. Since last April’s revelations, the interest in Linkurious has exploded. DirectIndustry e-magazine spoke with its CEO, Sébastien Heymann.
DirectIndustry e-magazine: Linkurious can process significant amounts of data, but such tools already exist. What makes your software specific?
Sébastien Heymann: We’re interested in qualitative data. Our software cross-links enormous amounts of data and presents them in graphic form. This makes it possible to examine very quickly the connections within the data. The Panama Papers spell out the relationships among the intermediaries of offshore companies.
DI e-magazine: It is the user that tells Linkurious what to look for?
Sébastien Heymann: The client creates a database and connects it to Linkurious to enable its in-house professional analysts to find interesting connections within the data. It’s up to the user to think it through. The software facilitates the search, but it’s the analyst who must direct the hunt as a function of the questions asked. Our goal is to democratize the data investigation methods traditional in the national intelligence and apply them to varied domains. We provide interfaces that enable professional analysts to find data relationships without being technical experts.
DI e-magazine: What kinds of requests are you currently handling?
Sébastien Heymann: In the biomedical sector, we’re helping a start-up supply an interface for doctors to explore information on pathologies and patients. They will use the product to visually suggest or even identify the cause of certain symptoms more rapidly and without necessarily using pharmaceutical industry databases.
We’re also working with the French Finance Ministry on VAT fraud detection.
DI e-magazine: In the industry, big data facilitates optimization of manufacturing processes. How does Linkurious enable that?
Sébastien Heymann: To optimize, you need knowledge of the systems. This requires assembling significant amounts of data and a lot of work for the CIO. We’re currently involved in a project with a French industrial company to propose a complete, precise overview of the entire production process, including the applications and IT systems used. It will allow the company to control the evolution of its information system smoothly.
DI e-magazine: Can Linkurious improve cyber-security?
Sébastien Heymann: One of the problems is to identify the weak spots in a system. To do that, a company will put probes into its IT system to monitor information flow and internal connections, so that it can identify suspicious behavior. To quickly understand such complex situations, those who follow these data need visual representation of the system state to understand the loopholes that are being exploited. An initial automatic process will reveal potentially suspicious activity. Then a person will determine whether the alert constitutes an attack or normal behavior.
DI e-magazine: You’re also working with NASA to build better search engines.
Sébastien Heymann: NASA wants to use Linkurious to improve access to critical information. Project managers write mission reports on past events and problems and all goes into a database. This is public information available on the Internet. The problem is access to this information. How can other project managers retrieve it and, especially, find what is pertinent in a large number of documents? For certain complex searches, 20 keywords are required to narrow the search sufficiently to proceed to the reading stage!
So we proposed a visual search engine. Instead of returning a Google-type list of results, it will offer a visual interface, which presents documents as a function of their relationships—Are the subjects, the authors the same? It won’t provide instantaneous results, but it will reduce search time from several hours to several minutes.
DI e-magazine: Might Linkurious become a search engine, then?
Sébastien Heymann: This would work when searching for data covering the entire working life of a nuclear power plant. Or for technical documentation on an airplane or a submarine. The goal is to provide a new way to get access to information in a relevant way. But we want to remain at a professional level and not go into general public.