Thermopylae Sciences and Technology is "Silicon Valley in the Beltway"

March 21, 2012

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Thermopylae Sciences and Technology (TST) may not be a geospatial company you hear about every day, but its unique culture and work with partners like Google means it’s a company worth knowing. Directions Magazine interviewed President AJ Clark (pictured at right), who focuses on team development, product awareness, and delivering quality and innovation for the company and its customers.

Directions Magazine (DM): Thermopylae Sciences and Technology serves the defense and intelligence communities, but has a unique culture. How would you describe it? How does management maintain or redirect the culture, if necessary?

AJ Clark (AJC): The Thermopylae culture can be described as “silicon valley in the beltway.” One cultural rule is that the organization is built around the technical team members.  They are the ones who differentiate us from other companies in the D.C. area and their input is encouraged.  The team concept is strong at Thermopylae and the common theme is that we can accomplish more collectively than we could individually.

We draw a variety of analogies to the Battle of Thermopylae within our organization and the concept of interlocking shields keeping a team strong is one of them.  If a strong team has to carry the weight of one person who is not at their skill level it could bring the entire group down. Keeping disciplined as an organization to ensure the right new team members are applied in the right positions is critical in maintaining our culture.

DM: Federal defense cuts are likely to cut into TST’s bottom line in the coming year(s). Which technologies can the company take to other sectors?

 AJC: Federal defense cuts will likely compress the growth in the defense industry.  We do believe that it is prudent to take advantage of the common denominator technologies we’ve focused on over the last five years and expand the customer base that uses them. Our strategy when we formed in 2007 was not to cater to the lucrative contracting positions in Iraq or Afghanistan, but to come up with ways to use emerging technology to solve problems for a soldier or a CEO.  Geospatial and mobile technology naturally bubbled to the top and every time we spent a dollar on independent research and development (IR&D) we asked ourselves, “How would this technology be useful in the government or commercial sector?”
Our technologies are in use with racetracks, baseball stadiums, tennis opens, energy companies, media companies and universities.  We just acquired a mobile software development company that had a significant customer base in the commercial sector, which not only strengthens what we can offer the government but significantly increases our commercial footprint and potential.

DM: iSpatial, your “wrapper” for the Google Earth Browser API (plug-in), enhances the core tools available in Google Earth. Why do your customers prefer a browser-based experience? Will plug-ins be around for long? Many are fading such as Flash, Sliverlight, etc.


iSpatial wraps and enhances Google Maps and Google Earth.

AJC: Sometimes I wish that plug-ins would fade faster, to be honest, but I’ll get to that in a minute.  There are a couple key points to make, though.  Our iSpatial software works with the Google Maps interface or the Google Earth plug-in, so we try to avoid a lock-in situation with plug-in technology.  That is a unique element of the software because it allows users who connect to enterprise Google products to toggle back and forth between the two options while seeing their exact same data over both views.  Our customers prefer a browser-based experience because of the collaborative elements Web-based experiences provide. A user seeing a map is great, but a user looking at a map that everyone else in their organization or a collection of organizations is looking at has more power.  It has even more power when all of the users looking at the map can start drawing on it and immediately sharing their collective intelligence about an area.  

I do think plug-ins will be around for a while for a certain community.  That community is the government and commercial enterprise customers (large companies).  These customers run on large firewalled internal networks and strict security rules are put in place for what goes on those networks.  It is not uncommon to find a government customer running a version of Internet Explorer that is three full version releases behind what is standard on open networks.

DM: A lot of your company’s work requires quick deployment (days!). What are the limiting factors to rolling out a new customization of iSpatial even faster?

AJC: The main limiting factor to rolling out iSpatial even faster was really having a cloud-based instance of the software with adequate user rules and permissions and a B2B model (or even B2C if the consumer is a real nut for spatial data display or management) that supported instantaneous transactions to keep up with net speed demand.

DM: Ubiquity 2.0 allows users to build their own mobile “apps” from a series of widgets. This sounds like it follows the lead of other “programming without programming” efforts such as Yahoo! Pipes or today’s ifttt (“if this, then that”). While those (and others) were nice tools and were heavily used by specific communities, can that vision be more broadly applied? Can, and perhaps should, the soldier in the field be building his or her own situational awareness tool?

Ubiquity provides an easy-to-use tool to build custom mobile apps.

 AJC: I think we have to look at the mobile domain with a very broad and open perspective. I think we are often times shortsighted in the field of IT and let the past cloud our vision of what the future will look like.  For example, a tool like Yahoo! Pipes was a very cool concept but it has not had mass appeal. However, the concept of downloading lots of applications onto a phone has been heavily adopted by the masses.  I think the point is that it is very hard to predict how the commercial and the enterprise space will fully leverage the mobile domain.  

I think that mobile application management at an enterprise level has the potential to really gain adoption in the next 12-24 months.  Understanding where organizations will place value in their mobile domain, though, is a hot question that we’ll all learn the answer to over the next few years. 


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