$88m big data research centre to comb Defence's data haystack

The newly launched Data to Decisions Cooperative Research Centre will assist Australia's Defence and National Security agencies to sift through their data to help them make more critical, faster, and accurate decisions.

Unisys, BAE Systems, Pivotal, and SAS are among 14 industry partners that will be involved in the new Data to Decisions Cooperative Research Centre (D2D CRC).

Launched today and headquartered in South Australia with teams in Victoria and New South Wales, the D2D CRC will research and develop tools that will help extract intelligent "big data" from Australia's Defence and National Security agencies to help them make more critical, faster, and accurate decisions.

Sanjay Mazumdar, CEO of D2D CRC and the Defence and Systems Innovation Centre, a joint venture between the University of South Australia and the University of Adelaide, told ZDNet the original concept of the research centre came about when it took the initiative to understand what challenges Australia's defence and national security agencies were expected to face in the future.

"We quite quickly realised that one of the challenges they've all got is in relation to the amount of data that they actually have within their organisations or have access to, and how they can manage, store, and translate that data into information intelligence so they can actually do something about," he said.

"That challenge is becoming greater and greater as the amount of data continues to grow. I often use the analogy it's like what they're trying to do is find the needle in the haystack, but the problem is the data haystack is growing a phenomenal rate, and there's a lot more complex type of data available, like images that are far more complex than just reports. So as we started to speak to various groups in defence and national security, we quite quickly realised there was a technological challenge that they were facing.

"The other aspect we quickly realised we needed to help them with was the policy element of that and how they can find balance between the need for national security and the need for privacy and data protection."

The D2D CRC represents a combined AU$88 million investment that will be funded over the next five years — AU$25 million by the federal government through its Cooperative Research Centres program, and the outstanding amount from participant contributions.

Other participants of the D2D CRC were seven Australian universities, including the University of South Australia, University of New South Wales, Deakin University, University of Adelaide, and Carnegie Mellon University, as well as government departments including the Attorney-General's Department, the Australian-New Zealand Counter-Terrorism Committee, Department of Defence, and Federal Police.

Mazumdar expects the CRC will help achieved projected goals related to analytic capabilities, and employ 189 staff, educate 50 PhD students, and train over 1,000 data scientists over its five-year funding period.

He also said there's potential for the CRC's research findings to be transitioned to other sectors.

"Whilst we're quite focused on national defence and national security, we think we're going to create big data capability and people know how that can flow out into other sectors as well. We're already working with a couple of other areas looking at how these sorts of techniques can be applied in other sectors like mining and health."

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