Business Intelligence: Optimism and Palantir

June 28, 2010

Business intelligence is in the news. Memex, the low profile UK outfit, sold to SAS. Kroll, another low profile operation, became part of Altegrity, anther organization with modest visibility among the vast sea of online experts. Now Palantir snags $90 million, which I learned in “Palantir: the Next Billion Dollar Company Raises $90 Million.” In the post financial meltdown world, there is a lot of money looking for a place that can grow more money. The information systems developed for serious intelligence analysis seem to be a better bet than funding another Web search company.

Palantir has some ardent fans in the US defense and intelligence communities. I like the system as well. What is fascinating to me is that smart money believes that there is gold in them there analytics and visualizations. I don’t doubt for a New York minute that some large commercial organizations can do a better job of figuring out the nuances in their petabytes of data with Palantir-type tools. But Palantir is not exactly Word or Excel.

The system requires an understanding of such nettlesome points as source data, analytic methods, and – yikes – programmatic thinking. The outputs from Palantir are almost good enough for General Stanley McChrystal to get another job. I have seen snippets of some really stunning presentations featuring Palantir outputs. You can see some examples at the Palantir Web site or take a gander (no pun intended by the addled goose) at the image below:


Palantir is an open platform; that is, a licensee with some hefty coinage in their knapsack can use Palantir to tackle the messy problem of data transformation and federation. The approach features dynamic ontologies, which means that humans don’t have to do as much heavy lifting as required by some of the other vendors’ systems. A licensee will want to have a tame rocket scientist around to deal with the internals of pXML, the XML variant used to make Palantir walk and talk.

You can poke around at these links which may go dark in a nonce, of course: and

Several observations:

  • The system is expensive and requires headcount to operate in a way that will deliver satisfactory results under real world conditions
  • Extensibility is excellent, but this work is not for a desk jockey no matter how confident that person in his undergraduate history degree and Harvard MBA
  • The approach is industrial strength which means that appropriate resources must be available to deal with data acquisition, system tuning, and programming the nifty little extras that are required to make next generation business intelligence systems smarter than a grizzled sergeant with a purple heart.

Can Palantir become a billion dollar outfit? Well, there is always the opportunity to pump in money, increase the marketing, and sell the company to a larger organization with Stone Age business intelligence systems. If Oracle wanted to get serious about XML, Palantir might be worth a look. I can name some other candidates for making the investors day, but I will leave those to your imagination. Will you run your business on a Palantir system in the next month or two? Probably not.

Stephen E Arnold, June 27, 2010



One Response to “Business Intelligence: Optimism and Palantir”

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