Government is awash in data, and yet agencies struggle to turn all that information into actionable intelligence.
Manual processes aren’t up to the task. “You can’t just hire more humans, add a few hundred folks to your workforce and expect they will understand the data, synthesize it, process it, apply it using the same outdated systems,” said Primer Federal President Mark Brunner.
Given the enormous amount of unstructured data that could potentially inform government operations, it makes more sense to take an automated approach, one informed by artificial intelligence.
“At Primer, we’ve built a machine learning/artificial intelligence solution using a technology called natural language processing,” Brunner said. “We ingest large volumes of text, audio files, video files, other data sources. We run it through our engines, and what used to take a human analyst several days, we can do in several minutes.”
The defense and intelligence communities are leaning heavily in this direction. Brunner, for instance, points to a recent memorandum from Secretary of Defense Kathleen Hicks directing the Pentagon and its departments to implement an AI and machine learning strategy.
“In fact, they’re dedicating $200 million in just this fiscal year alone for our major military commands to use AI to more efficiently conduct their business and government processes,” he said.
Primer addresses the need through a multipillar strategy for AI-powered situational awareness and decision support that encompasses strategic analysis, threat detection, information operations detection and countermeasures (e.g., mis/disinformation campaigns), audio extraction and summarization, and training and deploying custom AI models.
What does that look like in practice? Take, for instance, strategic analysis. Suppose a national security entity wanted to dig deep into an area like illicit finance or weapons detection. Primer’s tools offer “the ability to operate on an enterprise scale, where you could analyze over 1 million documents per day,” Brunner said.
“For most of us who have worked in and around government, the ability to ingest and process and synthesize that volume of data is really incredible,” he added. “At Primer, we use machines to do the hard, tedious work that is physically impossible for humans to do.”
Bringing such a solution to government comes with certain inherent challenges.
“When you have such cutting-edge technologies, engaging a large department like the Pentagon is not easy,” Brunner said. “In the commercial sector, if you have the best technology, you’ll have customers who simply want to buy it because they know it accelerates their business.”
In government, there are hurdles around things like Authority To Operate, and Primer is working on its
Federal Risk and Authorization Management Program authorization to overcome those. At the same time, the company is looking for alternate routes. In particular, Primer is working with a number of departments to pursue the ATO in parallel with initial pilot projects.
“We are currently partnering on a project with Special Operations Command that is progressing extremely well,” Brunner said. “We’ve also found some very good adoption in the intelligence community. That approach has proven to be successful.”
In each of these cases, the mission need is driving government to explore modernized solutions.
“They all have large volumes of data that they’re struggling with — how to use it, how to apply it,” Brunner said. “That’s where our solution comes in. And we’re agency agnostic. Our models can operate as effectively with the Army as with the VA or the Treasury — anyone who’s managing significant volumes of data.”
In support of that effort, the company is putting a heavy emphasis on recruiting and retaining top players.
“It is challenging to find the best data scientists in America,” Brunner said, adding that the advanced nature of Primer’s solution helps to close that gap.
“Because the problems that Primer is working on are so technically advanced, there is an excitement about coming to work for Primer,” he said. “That’s how we’re able to attract the folks who are able to build literally the most advanced analytic solutions in the world.”
It helps, too, that Primer is addressing issues critical to national security.
“We tend to attract people who are proud of the mission we’re doing,” he said. “If we can produce processes to help make government more efficient, people get excited about that.”
This has come to the fore as Primer has supported Defense Department efforts to untangle the mass of disinformation swirling around the conflict in Ukraine.
“We can tell you whether it’s coming from a bot, and we can tell you who and where it’s come from,” Brunner said.
“We’ve got a product called Command that provides real-time situational awareness 24/7 across the globe, ingesting hundreds of data sources. And we’re ingesting social media, so we’re going several levels deeper than what you would see on the front pages of the paper,” he added.
As Brunner sees it, not only government agencies but GovCons, too, stand to benefit from this approach. Primer partners with a range of contractors to embed its analytic tools with their solution sets.
“Adding that capability into an RFP can be a tremendously compelling proposition,” he said.
On a personal level, Brunner said he’s pleased to be bringing the latest technological tools to government.
“I’m someone who spent time in the military, served overseas in a diplomatic post, worked on the Hill and also operated in the consulting space,” Brunner said. “What’s really exciting about working for Primer is being on the absolute cutting edge of a technological revolution. We’re giving commanders a tool that provides them real-time situational awareness.”