As Palantir hits the stock market, it continues to target government work

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Big data analytics company Palantir hopes that going public Wednesday will help it to further scale work with one of its biggest customers — the U.S. federal government.

Palantir will continue to build relationships with the federal government as a critical part of its business strategy and growth, Shyam Sankar, the company’s chief operating officer, told FedScoop in an interview Wednesday after the company’s direct public listing on Wall Street.

A prime example of this strategy: The company won another federal contract with the Army Research Lab worth nearly $100 million this week. And over the weekend, it scored a deal with the National Institutes of Health to continue building out a data enclave for COVID-19.

“The goal … is to have deep, scaled relationships with customers,” Sankar said. Speaking on the company’s public listing, he said, “I think it will give us more opportunities to focus and scale” in the public sector.

Those deep relationships often start with smaller task orders and contracts that seem to roll in almost daily for the company, which has yet to turn a profit.  Palantir works with several branches of the U.S. military, competing with old-guard defense contractors for major deals, and has had long relationships with the U.S. national security apparatus. On the civilian side, it has worked with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for nearly a decade, winning big in recent months as it works on data related to the spread of COVID-19.

Palantir has earned a reputation at times as a secretive and polarizing company for partnering with defense and law enforcement agencies. For instance, the latest contract with the Army will focus on artificial intelligence model integration, a source familiar with the work said — but other details remain scant, in typical Palantir fashion.

“We understand discretion, and our customers value that,” Sankar said.

Palantir’s business model of not shying away from the government’s tough problems or wonky procurement processes has opened the door for other Silicon Valley companies to follow suit. Recent technology startups like Anduril, Shield.ai and others have followed in Palantir’s footsteps as they look to the government as a customer in which they can find revenue and mission. Meanwhile, other tech mainstays like Google and Microsoft have faced internal revolt over taking such work.

“We are an American company, we do believe in protecting Western values” Sankar said. A part of that goal is not working with adversarial governments like Russia and China, he said.

Despite its large government contracting focus, the company’s support of major private sector firms makes up half of its work. But even commercial work feeds back into Palantir’s government-focused capability delivery, Sankar said. The money earned from commercial contracts provides a research and development base to bring new capabilities to its government work.

The company ended its first day on the stock market at $9.73 per share, giving it a market value of roughly $16 billion.

With news of the company’s direct public listing, vocal members of Congress have called for Palantir to be investigated by the Securities and Exchange Commission for its business practices and work with foreign governments.

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Army, big data, contracting, Department of Defense (DOD), Palantir, Shyam Sankar
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