Primer’s Mark Brunner gives DOD the tools it needs for real-time situational awareness.

Mark Brunner, Primer

The government is inundated with data, yet agencies are struggling to turn all that information into actionable intelligence.

Manual processes are not up to the task. “You can’t just hire more humans, add a few hundred people to your workforce, and expect them to understand the data, synthesize it, process it, apply it using the same outdated systems,” he said. Federal President of Primer, Mark Brunner.

Given the massive amount of unstructured data that could potentially inform government operations, it makes more sense to take an automated, AI-informed approach.

“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 and other data sources. We run it in our engines, and what used to take a human analyst days, we can do in minutes.

The defense and intelligence communities lean strongly in this direction. Brunner, for example, points to a recent memo from Secretary of Defense Kathleen Hicks directing the Pentagon and its departments to implement an AI and machine learning strategy. “In fact, they’re spending $200 million in this fiscal year alone to have our major military commands use AI to run their business and government processes more efficiently,” he said.

Primer addresses the need with a multi-pillar 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 synthesis, and custom AI model training and deployment.

What does this look like in practice? Take, for example, strategic analysis. Suppose a national security entity wants to dig deep into an area like illicit finance or weapons detection. Primer’s tools offer “the ability to operate at enterprise scale, where you can analyze over a million documents per day,” Brunner said.

“For most of us who have worked in and around government, the ability to ingest, process and synthesize this volume of data is truly amazing,” he added. “At Primer, we use machines to do the difficult and time-consuming work that is physically impossible for humans.”

Bringing such a solution to government comes with some inherent challenges. “When you have cutting-edge technology, engaging a large department like the Pentagon is not easy,” Brunner said. “In the commercial sector, if you have the best technology, you will have customers who will simply want to buy it because they know it speeds up their business.”

In government, there are hurdles around things like permission to operate, and Primer is working on his
Authorization from the federal risk management program and authorizations to overcome them. At the same time, the company is looking for alternative routes. In particular, Primer is working with a number of departments to continue the ATO in parallel with the initial pilot projects.

“We are currently working in partnership on a project with Special Operations Command which is progressing extremely well. We also found a very good uptake in the intelligence community,” he said. “This approach has proven successful.”

In each of these cases, the need for the mission drives the government to explore modernized solutions. “They all have big volumes of data that they struggle with — how to use it, how to apply it,” Brunner said. “That’s where our solution comes in. And we’re not dependent on the agency. Our models can work just as effectively with the military as they do with the VA or treasury – anyone who handles large volumes of data.

To support this effort, the company places a strong emphasis on recruiting and retaining top players. “It’s hard to find the best data scientists in America,” Brunner said, adding that the advanced nature of Primer’s solution helps bridge that gap.

“Because the issues Primer is working on are so technically advanced, there’s an excitement to come and work for Primer,” he said. “That’s how we can attract people who can create literally the most advanced analytical solutions in the world.”

It is also useful that Primer addresses issues critical to national security. “We tend to attract people who take pride in the mission we accomplish,” he said. “If we can produce processes to help make government more efficient, people will be delighted.”

This has come to the fore as Primer has supported Defense Department efforts to unravel the mass of disinformation swirling around the conflict in Ukraine. “We can tell you if it’s from a bot, and we can tell you who and where it came from,” Brunner said.

“We have a product called Command that provides 24/7 real-time situational awareness across the globe, ingesting hundreds of data sources. And we ingest social media, so we go several levels deeper than what you would see on the front pages of the newspaper,” he added.

According to Brunner, not only government agencies, but also GovCons stand to benefit from this approach. Primer partners with a range of entrepreneurs to integrate its analytical tools into their solution sets. “Adding this capability into a tender can be an extremely compelling proposition,” he said.

On a personal level, Brunner said he was happy to bring the latest technology tools to government.

“I’m someone who has spent time in the military, served overseas in a diplomatic post, worked on the Hill and also operated in the consulting business,” Brunner said. “What’s really exciting about working for Primer is being at the absolute cutting edge of a technological revolution. We’re giving commanders a tool that provides them with real-time situational awareness.

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