In a recent buzzfeed piece, NYPD goes to the mat with Palantir over their data. It seems the NYPD has recently gotten cold feet.
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As they explored options, they found an alternative that might save them a boatload of money. They considered switching to an IBM alternative called Cobalt.
And I mean this is Silicon Valley, what could go wrong?
Related: Will SQL just die already?
Who owns your data?
In the case of Palantir, they claim to be an open system. And of course this is good marketing. Essential in fact to get the contract. Promise that it’s easy to switch. Don’t dig too deep into the technical details there. According to the article, Palantir spokeperson claims:
“Palantir is an open platform. As with all our customers, their data & analysis are available to them at all times in an open & nonproprietary format.”
And that does appear to be true. What appears to be troubling NYPD isn’t that they can’t get the analysis, for that’s available to them in perpetuity. Within the Palantir system. But getting access to how the analysis is done, well now that’s the secret sauce. Palantir of course is not going to let go of that.
And that’s the devil in the details when you want to switch to a competing service.
Who owns the algorithms?
Although the NYPD can get their data into & out of the Palantir system easily, that’s just referring to the raw data. That’s the data they ingested in the first place, arrest records, license plate reads, parking tickets, stuff like that.
“This notion of how portable your data is when you engage in a contract with a platform is really, really complex, and hasn’t really been tested” – Tal Klein
Palantir’s secret sauce, their intellectual property, is finding the needle in the haystack. What pieces of data are relevant & how can I present the detectives the right information at the right time.
Analysis *is* the algorithms. It’s the big data 64 million dollar question. Or in this case $3.5 million per year, as the contract is reported to be worth!
The nature of software as a service
The web is bringing us great platforms, like google & amazon cloud. It’s bringing a myriad of AI solutions to our fingertips. Palantir is providing a push button solution to those in need of insights like the NYPD.
The Cobalt solution that IBM is offering goes the other way. Build it yourself, manage it, and crucially control it. And that’s the difference.
It remains to be seen how the rush to migrate the universe of computing to Amazon’s own cloud will settle out. Right now their in a growth phase, so it’s all about lowering prices. But at some point their market muscle will mean they can go the Oracle route a la Larry Ellison. That’s why customers start feeling the squeeze.
If the NYPD example is any indication, it could get ugly!
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Also published on Medium.