Insight by Palantir

Interoperability is key to agile software development

One of the most common mistakes that leads to failed software building approaches is starting with the front end. Often, software developers prioritize the front end, making the interface look nice, over the more crucial element of ensuring users can interoperate their systems in dynamic, effective and scalable ways.

“We try to have a beautiful front end too, but what we actually do is behind the scenes, and that’s the operating system that pulls it all together,” said Doug Philippone, global defense lead for Palantir Technologies. “And so in that sense, our whole job is making systems and data formats interoperable with each other. And this is where many government programs have gone to die … you have these constellation of systems that were never meant to talk to each other. How do you connect them in a way where the user gets to decide how you join these things together in terms of the modeling?”

This tendency to overlook interoperability is prevalent across government. Individual systems are often created in response to niche requirements. While they may perform well individually, such systems often lack the ability to be configured to interact with the data landscape. When required to perform a function or in an environment for which it wasn’t originally designed, these tools break. Given the size and scope of government systems involved in decision making, lack of interoperability is a huge challenge and vulnerability.

In the defense space, interoperability is necessary, particularly for big data platforms and joint concepts like Joint All-Domain Command and Control and the Air Force’s Advanced Battle Management System. These platforms are intended to link and share data between not only multiple disparate systems, but between services as well. That means interoperability must be built in. Otherwise, there’s no point implementing an interface for warfighters to view data on the ground if they can’t get that data in the first place.

Implementing interoperability requires partnership. That’s why Palantir works hard to ensure that its software platforms are interoperable across a breadth and scale of both legacy systems and new technologies. When working with customers, Palantir focuses on connecting systems so that when it gets to the front end, the user is empowered to access, analyze and model the data in open and extensible formats, and able to move it into other systems as needed. Data lives on the customer’s networks and streams from systems to user; Palantir does not keep data.

Enterprise resource planning (ERP) serves a critical function for the government but is expensive and lacks agility to keep pace with changing missions. To work within this existing system while addressing its limitations, Palantir offers an ERP agility layer so that government customers can manipulate data within the layer and respond quickly to unforeseen problems.

“What Palantir can do is lay out the operating system layer on top of that ERP. The data flows out of the ERP through the pipelines and Palantir,” Philippone said. “And then you can have external companies or federal employees work on that data in a different way and enrich it, you can apply AI to it, and then you can pipe it back into the ERP. And so it adds an agility layer to an ERP that you never had before. That’s an exciting thing that we’ve been working on quite a bit.”

Palantir’s ethos of partnership extends beyond customers to vendors and other companies involved in AI and ERP development. Other companies can plug in their algorithms or architectures to be extensible, contributing to the creation of an ecosystem of companies that allows the government to embrace speed and agility as they solve their hardest problems.

Palantir focuses on understanding a customer’s problem – where they’re falling short of interoperability – and crafting a solution tailored to their needs and specific environment, be it on-premise, hybrid cloud, or multiple cloud providers.

“There’s no one answer, but the important thing for the government to understand – that they understand probably painfully at this point – is that when most companies make their applications for a cloud provider, that doesn’t necessarily work in a different cloud provider,” Philippone said. “And so you can’t necessarily guarantee this. But Palantir recognizes that we had to have, as a hedge for our own security as a company, the ability to make sure that we could change as companies changed, where we could work in any of the cloud providers if need be.”

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