Bam! Pow! Zap! Palantir Steps Up Fight with US Army

September 25, 2016

Many moons ago I worked at that fun loving outfit Booz, Allen & Hamilton. I recall one Master of the Universe telling me, “Keep the client happy.” Today an alternative approach has emerged. I term it “Fight with the client.” I assume the tactic works really well.


I read “Palantir Claims Army Misled to Keep It Out of DCGS-A Program.” As I understand the Mixed Martial Arts cage match, the US Army wants to build its own software system. Like many ideas emerging from Washington, DC, the system strikes me as complex and expensive. The program’s funding stretches back a decade. My hunch is that the software system will eventually knit together the digital information required by the US Army to complete its missions. Like many other US government programs, there are numerous vendors involved. Many of these are essentially focused on meeting the needs of the US government.

Palantir Technologies is a Sillycon Valley construct. The company poked its beak though a silicon shell in 2003 and opened for “real” business in 2004. That makes the company 12 years old. Like many disruptive unicorns, Palantir appears to be convinced that its Gotham system can do what the US Army wants done. The Shire and its Hobbits are girding for battle. What are the odds that a high technology company can mount its unicorns and charge into battle and win?

Image result for comic book pow zap

The Palantirians’ reasoning is, by Sillycon Valley standards, logical. Google, by way of comparison, believes that it can solve death and compete with AT&T in high speed fiber. Google may demonstrate that the Sillycon Valley way is more than selling ads, but for now, Google is not gaining traction in some of its endeavors. Palantir wants to activate its four wheel drive and power the US Army to digital nirvana.

The Defense News’s write up is a 1,200 word explanation of Palantir’s locker room planning. I noted this passage:

The Palo Alto-based company has argued the way the Army wrote its requirements in a request for proposals to industry would shut out Silicon Valley companies that provide commercially available products. The company contended that the Army’s plan to award just one contract to a lead systems integrator means commercially available solutions would have to be excluded.
Palantir is seeking to show the court that its data-management product — Palantir Gotham Platform — does exactly what DCGS-A is trying to do and comes at a much lower cost.

I like the idea of demonstrating the capabilities of Gotham to legal eagles. I know that lawyers are among the most technologically sophisticated professionals in the world. In addition, most lawyers are really skilled at technical problem solving and can work math puzzles while waiting for a Teavana Shaken Iced Tea.


The article also references “a chain of emails.” Yep, emails can be an interesting component of a cage match. With some Palantir proprietary information apparently surfacing in Buzzfeed, perhaps more emails will be forthcoming.

I have formulated three hypotheses about this tussle with the US Army:

  1. Palantir Technologies is not making progress with Gotham because of the downstream consequences of the i2 Analyst’s Notebook legal matter. The i2 product is owned by IBM, and IBM is a potentially important vendor to the US Army. IBM also has some chums in other big outfits working on the DCGS project. Palantir wants to be live in the big dogs’ kennel, but no go.
  2. Palantir’s revenue may need the DCGS contracts to make up for sales challenges in other market sectors. Warfighting and related security jobs can more predictable than selling a one off to a hospital chain in Tennessee.
  3. Palantir’s perception of Washington may be somewhat negative. Sillycon Valley companies “know” that their “solutions” are the “logical” ones. When Sillycon Valley logic confronts the reality of government contracting, sparks may become visible.

For me, I think the Booz, Allen & Hamilton truism may be on target. Does one keep a customer happy by fighting a public battle designed to prove the “logic” of the Sillycon Valley way?

I don’t think most of the DCGS contractors are lining up to mud wrestle the US Army. I would enjoy watching how legal eagles react to the Gotham wheel menu and learning how long it takes for a savvy lawyer to move discovery content into the Gotham system.

My seeing stone shows an messy five round battle and a lot of clean up and medical treatment after the fight.

Stephen E Arnold, September 25, 2016


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