Air Force veteran Duane Piper transitioned into the private sector through Science Applications International Corp. before joining General Dynamics and later, Silverback7, leaving to help found GovCon firm PiperCoughlin in 2015.
In 2018, when Sunny Singh approached him to join Artlin Consulting, it seemed a natural fit. Singh had recently purchased the firm, which focuses on the mission of supporting military acquisition management — exactly the space Piper had been working in both before and after leaving the armed services.
Now, he is helping Artlin Consulting enter its next phase of maturation, putting in place the infrastructure to support future growth.
The Procurement Landscape
“We are high-level advisers to senior-level Defense Department officials,” Piper said. “The DOD is continually evolving, streamlining its acquisition policies and procedures. We have high-level consultants that are embedded with DOD officials to advise them and assist in that effort, helping to develop the systems that are going to make them more efficient in the future.”
To do that more effectively, Piper is helping the consultancy to future-proof its own systems, putting in place the processes and protocols to support future growth.
“Folks mistakenly believe that if you’re a smaller business, you’re not as mature,” he said. “In this case, that is far from the truth.”
Along with the other four members of the executive leadership team, Piper led the firm to engage with professional employer organization Insperity.
“We did that because we absolutely insist upon taking care of our employees,” he said. “I wanted to make sure that we had personnel administration, payroll, human resources as well as the benefit programs that we’re able to offer to our employees. I wanted to get the very best that we could get and also get something that would help us efficiently deal with our human resource issues.”
In addition to handling the heavy lifting around HR issues, the outsource solution also allows the firm to tap into Insperity’s economies of scale.
“While we’re a $25 million business, we get the benefit of their size and scale in terms of the benefit programs and our 401K accounts,” he said. “That’s a huge benefit.”
As a further step toward corporate maturation, the firm also has sought and secured a range of external validations, including International Organization for Standardization 9001, ISO 20000 and Capability Maturity Model Integration Level 3.
“That helps us enhance our quality of delivery to our customers, and it also feeds our growth strategy,” Piper said. “The government has moved toward best-in-class vehicles, and a lot of these quality standards are almost necessary in order to compete for these programs.”
With rigorous systems in place, the company was able to transition into the COVID-19 era without missing a beat.
“None of our contracts were frozen,” Piper said. “None of our people were laid off. Our customers didn’t stop paying us.”
At the same time, the firm has made some concrete adjustments to ensure communications keep flowing smoothly — both internally and externally — in this time of remote work.
“We changed our measurement standards to our employees: Our client managers stay in constant contact with their clients,” he said. “We instituted a series of meetings. Every day at 12:30, the five senior executives are all together. Then Fridays, we do a stand up with all of our client managers.”
The constant flow of communication helps the team to stay on top of DOD’s most pressing acquisitions needs.
“There are very talented folks in our federal government,” Piper said. “But I don’t think any one person can solve every problem individually. We can bring a very different skill set to the table. They see the problem from where they sit, but we can see the same problems quite differently.”
Going forward, the company aims to leverage that capability in support of the military services of DOD as well as on behalf of civilian federal agencies. The key to future growth: relationships and a commitment to client delivery.
“Our senior-level folks are parked right beside some incredibly high-level folks within the DOD space who have their fingerprints all over how government acquisition is performed,” Piper said. “Those relationships are incredibly important: You want to be close to the decision-makers, the ones who ultimately decide how things are going to get done.”
Relationships also are the core of the firm’s recruitment and retention strategy, amid a highly competitive contest to attract top talent.
“Our senior management core, we’ve all spent a great deal of time in larger organizations,” he said. “We all have our networks and we spend a great deal of time keeping our networks fresh: Getting out in the community after duty hours, going to some function, staying current in the community. Then, when we have a need for that unique man or woman, we know where to turn to.”
The company also is deeply engaged in community service, whether it’s laying wreaths at Arlington National Cemetery, doing a walk for breast cancer or supporting local education efforts. With the coronavirus making in-person volunteering difficult, the firm has started a college scholarship fund, matching employee donations with corporate funds.
All those pieces come together to help the company meet its mission — a mission that is personal to Piper as both a military veteran and a long-time professional in the world of defense acquisitions.
“I just have a love for our country and for doing this work,” he said. “Continuing to serve our Department of Defense and to support its mission is something that’s just inherently important to me.”