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Agencies Find What They're Looking For

For FBI analysts, among the most popular features of Convera's software is that it automatically notifies them when a new document matching a search query is added to the bureau's database. The software also searches for patterns within data, identifying relationships buried in thousands of separate documents. And it allows analysts to save and retrieve search results easily for future review.

In August, the FBI, which has struggled for years with handling data, chose Convera to provide it with new software systems to search internal documents and information agency-wide, including the capability to search audio and video archives in more than 45 languages.

CEO Patrick Condo said Convera will stay focused on government needs. (Courtesy Convera)

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The FBI awarded the contract after relying on Convera for a year to manage its new "investigative data warehouse," which the bureau created after Sept. 11, 2001. Since Convera software is used by numerous law information and intelligence agencies, it also offers the potential to address some of the major problems cited by the 9/11 Commission, including the failure to analyze and share important data gathered by different federal departments.

Outside the intelligence community, RetrievalWare is being used at the Food and Drug Administration, as officials search medical research and other data when problems arise with existing medicines or drug companies seek approval for new products.

While versions of Convera software have been used by some inside the FDA for a number of years, officials recently decided to make it available across the entire agency after converting about 20 years of documents into digital files that can be accessed electronically by those with proper clearance.

"It has helped us in our regulatory review and research responsibilities," said Helen Mitchell, head of enterprise search for the FDA. Mitchell cited one researcher doing a fertility study who used RetrievalWare to identify all on-going and previous studies done by the FDA.

"Before, people couldn't find everything if things were misfiled or they didn't have the time or resources," Mitchell said. "With the Convera software, and the technology for searching documents and patterns, they can find documents even with misspellings."

As it refocuses its energies on the government sector, the company has plenty of money on hand as a cushion until it begins to turn a consistent profit, Condo said. Convera raised $10.3 million through the private sale of stock earlier this fall and recently reported $22.7 million in cash on its books. The company has been slashing costs and booked a restructuring charge of $518,000 in its most recent quarter.

Convera's stock closed yesterday at $4.79 a share on the Nasdaq Stock Market, up 11 cents. The stock has traded as high as $5.72 and as low as $2.16 over the past year.

Convera got its start as a small research and development firm named Excalibur in 1980 and developed software for identifying patterns among computer data. In 1994, the company bought another technology firm named Conquest that had created software to do word searches on databases used by the intelligence community. The acquisition gave the combined company greater access to government customers.

Nevertheless, Convera has struggled financially in part because the flow of revenue has been erratic, Condo said. Some quarters showed major surges from sales tied to new government contracts while other periods showed steep drops.

For example, Convera's recent decline in third-quarter revenue was mostly because of a comparison with a successful quarter last year, when it won a $3.4 million federal software contract.

"The government business has its ups and downs but continues to grow," Condo said, "You will see us focusing more and more on that segment."

The company is also seeking to profit by building on its core strengths. Convera is developing software that would allow military and intelligence agencies to search the public Internet in a way that would cloak their activities from potential eavesdroppers. The Pentagon has set aside funds for the program, and Convera is busily indexing Internet pages in hopes of snaring that money.

In addition, Convera plans to make its Internet search engine available to regular computer users for free sometime next year. In that business segment, Convera would seek to profit through the sale of online advertising, which is growing. Convera's search results, based on proprietary technology, would be different from those provided by Google and Yahoo, Condo said.

"We have applied technology we built for the intelligence community to an advanced development project to index the Web," Condo said.

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