FAST becomes D.C. search overlord

Washington, D.C., will deploy a Norwegian company's search engine across the city government's entire information technology infrastructure.

Officials from Oslo-based Fast Search and Technology (Fast) said the city’s Office of the Chief Technology Officer will deploy the company’s search platform, starting with Washington’s administration, public safety and planning agencies.

"It's cutting across all the services, but you want to start with something that's real to prove the technology and grow organically, and that’s something our software does better than any," Andrew McKay, the company’s senior vice president of sales, said.

Initially, Fast officials said they implemented the technology so users could search the city’s intranet. But now, they are implementing the technology for public safety officials.

The idea is to "embrace criminal content in a real-time fashion, pushed into essentially what you might call a real-time data warehouse, and then that is monitored through a bunch of filters," McKay said.

Eventually, officials could use the technology to find alerts or patterns and pass that data to the Homeland Security Department, he said. The criminal content component is in a phase of development, "which we can’t actually publicly state because of the nature of the content," he added.

McKay said governments have the largest volume of content, reaching the neighborhood of terabytes, petabytes or even exabytes, in some cases. For public safety officials, finding patterns is crucial to an investigator’s searches.

“Now those patterns can be anything from ferreting out child pornography rings to looking for the illegal trading of rare plants to the general accumulation of criminal content and then raising alerts that might trigger a warning or something that should be sent off to” DHS, he said. “It is not something that comes out of what you might call the lowest common denominator of search, which is simply the ability to show popularity.”

Several federal agencies have deployed the Fast search platform, including the General Services Administration for its FirstGov Web portal, the U.S. Agency for International Development and the Defense, Labor and Agriculture departments, among others.

The company’s platform also supports the British, Norwegian, German and Japanese governments and 77 different languages, said Ali Riaz, the company's chief operating officer. "Apart from the linguistic aspect is the scalability of our software where we can take an enormous amount of information and provide sub-second query response on it," he said.

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