Rob Sheen of Novetta: Internal R&D Innovation Fosters Better, Cleaner Data for DOD, Intelligence Customers

Rob Sheen, senior vice president of client operations for Novetta’s Information Exploitation business unit

Rob Sheen, senior vice president of client operations for Novetta’s Information Exploitation unit

By now, everyone knows data is growing exponentially. But even as vendors provide data storage options to federal customers, the need to make sense of often unstructured data is equally important. That’s where the advanced data analytics company Novetta is making a critical difference.

“We don’t just help you store data; we help you clean data, and do analytics against it,” says Rob Sheen, senior vice president of client operations for Novetta’s Information Exploitation business unit. With a federal customer base that spans entities such as the Defense Department and the FBI, the group’s mission is clear. “We help our clients make decisions on how to use the mass amounts of information they’ve collected over the years,” Sheen says.

That ability has been the focus of Novetta’s Information Exploitation group since its launch five years ago. While many companies focus on buzzwords like analytics, Novetta reaches for its own vocabulary — the group’s mission is all about data “exploitation,” leveraged in groundbreaking ways that offer actionable insights.

That’s critical for agencies that face mounds of data triggered by end users who overload fields or leave them blank. In that mix rests a treasure trove of data, spanning target demographics, that runs the risk of being overlooked. Tapping disruptive technologies in critical areas like machine learning and natural language processing helps customers avoid missed opportunities.

Better, More Accurate Data

In the five years since the Information Exploitation business unit launched, Novetta has deepened its analytics expertise through the introduction of two additional business units: Mission Solutions and Cyber. In all, more than 650 data analytics experts and software engineers bring their ingenuity and skills to these groups.

In guiding these units, Sheen sees a critical, overarching purpose.

“The common thread — across Mission Solutions, Cyber and Information Exploitation — is a focus on the data that our clients have, the data that our clients want to get to and the data that our clients are trying to protect,” Sheen says. Novetta helps on all fronts.

“We pull data together, to help our customers exploit the right information — and make active decisions,” says Sheen, an industry veteran who’s been with Novetta since July 2011. “We make sure customer data is as good, and as clean, as it possibly can be, so our customers are referencing relevant data and not disregarding important data that could change the result.”

Internal R&D Ingenuity

Mission success rests on a company culture that encourages innovation. That starts with people. This past year, Novetta was named among the Top 50 Great Places to Work. A rigorous vetting precedes recruitment.

“We have a reasonably intense interviewing process — in terms of asking individuals to write code on the fly, or document hard-and-complex problems that they’ve worked on,” Sheen says. Once onboard, technologists find a culture that encourages ideas. Internal research-and-development efforts are woven into the fabric of Novetta operations — a key differentiator in a crowded marketplace.

“We advance new technology internally first — make sure it’s working — and then, once we’re experts on it, only then do we take it to our clients,” says Sheen, noting advances in areas such as object detection and machine learning guide those efforts.

To encourage innovation, the company provides a platform for internal R&D. The 10^27th Innovation Challenge, as it’s called, invites company technologists — and anyone else companywide — to submit their best ideas for the opportunity to have their project funded and then to lead it through the R&D process.

Fostering ideas spurs a culture where everyone is encouraged to try — and fail — quickly. This agility benefits customers, Sheen says.

“We’re not working on a year-long project, only to find that industry has passed,” he says. “We continue to evaluate R&D — and results — that we’re getting, both internally, as well as directly, with customers.”

Center of Excellence — and Amazon Distinction

Innovation takes center stage in other ways, too.

This past July, Novetta launched its Machine Learning Center of Excellence. Staffed by data scientists and software developers, the center is home to an innovation lab — it’s here interactive demos show government and industry partners alike new machine learning capabilities to advance data needs. Momentum is growing.

Novetta's Machine Learning Center of Excellence

Novetta’s Machine Learning Center of Excellence

“We’ll be testing various algorithms,” Sheen says. “How they work across the data side, as well as within object detection, and diametric, realms.”

This “continuous exploration,” as Sheen puts it, hasn’t gone unnoticed. That’s evident through Novetta’s high-profile partnerships.

Four years ago, the company joined the Amazon Web Services Partner Network. Then this past May, Novetta became the first contractor in the national security space to achieve AWS machine learning competency status. By running tools in the Amazon ecosystem, Novetta can more efficiently extract and cleanse data.

Looking Ahead

Eyeing achievements like the Amazon partnership, Sheen plans to keep business focus squarely on data. A continued push into R&D will accompany those efforts, he adds.

“We’re continuing to make decisions about our role in the R&D marketplace, and regularly evaluating [our contribution]so we stay leaders — and maintain relevance — to our partners and clients,” Sheen says. “We’ll continue to use — and protect — data differently, to help meet the mission needs of our customers.”

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