12 Dec Interview with Zanasi & Partners
Zanasi & Partners is a partner in the NOTIONES project. What is your role within this network of intelligence and security practitioners across and beyond Europe?
The primary role of Zanasi & Partners (Z&P) in NOTIONES is related to the Scientific and Technical Coordination of the project. We supervise all the project’s activities and we continuously monitor the adherence to the work plan, the quality of the work products, the opportunities for improvement and expansion of the network, and the overall progress towards the project’s objectives.
In addition to this, we participate in the research activities. In particular, we are leader of the NOTIONES work package dedicated to the monitoring of innovation through performing horizon scanning on databases of scientific publications, patents, and results of EC-funded projects, as well as monitoring of emerging terrorist threats.
This is a key part of NOTIONES, as it allows our practitioners to periodically receive updated information on emerging technologies that can support them in all the different phases of the intelligence cycle.
How will the engagement of Zanasi & Partners in the NOTIONES project support your business?
Our participation in the project first of all allows us to increase the knowledge and competence of our researchers and of the company as a whole. It also increases our credibility with our international customers, both in the EU and outside the EU, and allows us to propose a more innovative and updated offer in the field of intelligence technologies. Furthermore, belonging to the lively NOTIONES network allows us to make contact with an ever-increasing number of practitioners, organizations, representatives of academia and industry, opening up new possibilities for joint initiatives. In fact, already in the first two years from the beginning of the project Z&P started several new collaborations, including the submission of some project proposals in response to the European Commission’s calls on Security and Defence topics.
Is Zanasi & Partners engaging in other European research and innovation projects?
Yes, we participate in many research projects, especially in our areas of greatest commitment, namely Artificial Intelligence and Cyber-security in the fields of Defence and Security. We are currently engaged in the following projects:
- PopAI (H2020 GA no. 101022001): A European Positive Sum Approach towards AI tools in support of Law Enforcement and safeguarding privacy and fundamental rights
- ACTING (EDF GA no. 101103208): Advanced European platform and network of Cybersecurity training and exercises centres
- SHIELD (ISFP GA no. 101034229): solutionS to enHance Interfaith protEction of pLaces of worship from terrorist Danger
- DECISMAR (EDIDP, GA no. EDIDP-SME-2019-027-DECISMAR): Maritime Surveillance Decision Support Toolbox
- SEAWINGS (EDF GA no. 101102763): Sea/Air Interphasic Wing-in-Ground Effect Autonomous Drones
We also engage in research projects focused on environmental issues, where we bring our expertise in requirements gathering and risk assessment, such as:
- SILVANUS (H2020, GA no 101037247): Integrated Technological and Information Platform for wildfire Management
- NESTLER (HE, GA no. 101060762): oNe hEalth SusTainabiLity partnership between EU-AFRICA for food sEcuRity
What experience does Zanasi & Partners bring to support the delivery of the NOTIONES project?
Z&P has a track record of activities in Intelligence that support the NOTIONES project. My personal experience started in the Carabinieri Scientific Investigations Center where I used forensic science methods and technologies, for example about speaker verification and identification to be used in phone call interceptions. Then I worked in IBM research centers in EU and in the USA where I performed data analysis (data mining, text mining). I transferred this competences and expertise to the security field already in the 2000s’, applying it to critical infrastructure protection and border protection, and to Intelligence in early 2010s’ (RECOBIA, LEILA projects). Z&P started working in defence projects at the end of that decade, being technical coordinator of projects PYTHIA and SOLOMON in the PADR (Preparatory Action on Defence Research) programme. We are specialized in the application of data science to improve defence and security readiness and capabilities: these are versatile and transversal skills, which we have put at the service of the NOTIONES project.
How does Zanasi & Partners assess which research and innovation projects to progress?
Z&P targets mainly research projects on security (critical infrastructure protection, border management, intelligence analysis, counter-terrorism) and defence. Apart from EC-funded framework programmes (Horizon Europe, ISFP, EDF, etc.), we also have a strong dedication to our clients (both governmental and private in Europe and Middle East), for which we carry out research projects, development projects, and advisory services.
In general, we give priority to projects and clients that allow us to work on our points of strenghth, which again are Artificial Intelligence and Cyber-security: these are vast areas and therefore we often find ourselves spending our consolidated skills on relatively new applications, in a continuous search for innovation and transfer of knowledge between different fields. For this reason, every year we try to also participate in projects outside our comfort area, to expand our portfolio and meet new challenges.
Why is the engagement and participation of end-users and practitioners from intelligence and law enforcement agencies important to research and innovation activities?
The perspective of end-users is a critical point when doing research and development at all levels, from the creation of the idea to the deployment of the product. This is true in all sectors, but it is particularly important in those areas on which national and community security depends, where the adoption of new technologies by hostile actors can open up new threat scenarios. it is clear that to thwart this threat it is necessary to introduce adequate innovation also in the organizations dealing with intelligence and security. But to do this effectively we need to ensure that the technology is truly put at the service of practitioners, can be used operationally and meets certain requirements. These needs and requirements must be made explicit, and for this reason the end-users must be accompanied in a definition process supported by discussions with those who study, research and develop the technologies. It is an iterative process, sometimes long, and our goal in NOTIONES is to facilitate this process, optimize it, and make it an integral part of the development path of technologies for intelligence and security in the EU and beyond.
What advice would you give to police, intelligence and security agencies seeking to engage in European security research and innovation projects?
My advice is very simple: to engage more in such research and projects.
As I said before, the perspective of end-users is a key factor. Practitioners should engage deeply in discussions, ask questions to developers, strive to define requirements, identify challenges, judge product functionality, point out problems. Unfortunately, for practitioners, research projects are too often wrongfully seen as lateral activities, and other operational duties take precedence.
This approach should be radically changed, giving more space to projects like NOTIONES, because the time dedicated to this research is time well invested, which allows us to develop truly useful technologies capable of improving those same operational duties.
NOTIONES is trying to achieve this objective thanks to the working groups, which see the participation of practitioners, researchers and technology developers. The discussions are increasingly lively as time passes and we are really achieving good results. The direction is the right one, and we must continue.
What are the key lessons Zanasi & Partners has learned in delivering security research and innovation projects? And what does Zanasi & Partners seek to achieve in 2024?
The key lesson learned is that the cross fertilization and networking are essential to create innovative methodologies and products.
In 2024 we seek to continue carrying out our activities in the projects that are currently active. In addition to this, we seek to achieve an agumentation of our costumer base, especially in the Middle East, and enlarge the scope of our research areas.
Alessandro ZANASI: M.Eng. in Nuclear Engineering and M.Sc. in Economics. Following a period as Italian Carabinieri officer (assigned to the Scientific Investigations Center), he joined IBM (Paris and San Jose’ Research Centres), where he cooperated in developing IBM products. After a brief experience as META Group (now Gartner) Business Intelligence analyst, he co-founded Temis (Text Mining software developer, now an Expert.AI company), winning R&D contracts from customers operating in various domains, from the private (e.g. Novartis, Telecom Italia…) to public (French Ministry of Finance and EUROPOL…) sectors. For 15 years Alessandro was professor of Information Systems Management and Competitive Intelligence in universities in Italy, France and UK, authoring more than 100 publications. He was appointed full member of ESRAB and ESRIF, the two EC committees dedicated to defining EU funding strategies in Security Research. Founder of “Zanasi & Partners” in 2006, he works as an Advisor to private (GEDI, SIEMENS…) and public customers (Saudi Government, FRONTEX, ESA, CIRA).
Zanasi Alessandro srl website: https://www.zanasi-alessandro.eu/, Accessed on 11.12.2023
Zanasi Alessandro srl LinkedIn profile: https://www.linkedin.com/company/zanasi-&-partners/, Accessed on 11.12.2023