Catherine Gouttas, head of Thales's CeNTAI lab
What are the main research priorities at the CeNTAI laboratory, which you manage?
Our research focuses on three closely connected areas: Big data, Big analytics and Visual analytics. The lab's mission is to develop components and pre-industrial processing sequences for Thales's business lines, primarily in the defence and security sectors.
We work closely with all the Thales teams involved in these areas, including the Thales Research & Technology teams in France and other countries as well as Thales operating units. We've also developed close partnerships with the academic community — Télécom Paris, the École Polytechnique, the IT laboratory at Paris VI university, LABRI, the École Polytechnique de Montréal and others — and with SMEs and start-ups, which are particularly active and innovative in Big data and related areas.
How are you different from other French players working in Big data?
Our major differentiators are the type of results we deliver, the methods we have adopted to achieve them, and of course the relevance of our work to Thales's core businesses.
From a scientific and technical perspective, the Visual analytics algorithms and techniques we're developing — particularly for behaviour analysis, anomaly detection and large graph analysis and visualisation — really set us apart from other players. In these areas, we're publishing papers, filing patents and helping to evaluate new technologies and practices.
In terms of our work methods, we've adopted a customer-centric, co-design approach, which is not typical in the Big data market. So the services and solutions we design are based on what customers really need and draw directly on the know-how of Thales's business lines, the insights of our academic partners, and the innovative potential of SMEs.
In most of Thales's markets, this Big data expertise is a differentiator in itself. Thales has the ability to combine advanced capabilities in big data analytics, security and secure cloud computing with in-depth knowledge of our customers' business processes. This makes Thales unique in the marketplace. It puts us in a very strong position with respect to the major IT specialists and gives us an edge over our traditional competitors.
What types of researchers work at CeNTAI?
The team comprises about 20 people with very different profiles. We have data scientists with expertise in advanced data and statistical analysis techniques, new database and computing technologies and tools. They understand the new ways of implementing algorithms and have an in-depth understanding of Thales's businesses. We have Big data architects, who implement the architectures for the processing sequences we develop, and who benchmark technologies and manage the laboratory's platform. We also have specialists in visualisation techniques and software integrators, who ensure that the results of our work can be integrated into operational solutions.
It's a young, highly motivated team. They're highly creative people, active members of the Big data community, and they have the ability to adapt amazingly quickly. For Thales, like the other players in the Big data field, the challenge is to identify the brightest people — data scientists, Big data architects and visualisation specialists — and above all to get them to come and work for us and stay! We need to innovate in this area too. We need to embrace more collaborative management methods that encourage individual initiative and creativity.
 Further reading: Big Data, Big Analytics, Visual Analytics: what does it all mean?