Ross Wilkers

COMPANIES

Perspecta Labs provides innovation engine for broader corporation

From inception, Perspecta has touted its chops as a more formidable market player through both added capacity and an emphasis on innovation to get an early start on potential future opportunities.

The latter strategy also held true at Vencore -- one of the companies that merged into Perspecta last year -- through the internal Vencore Labs applied research-and-development organization picked up through an acquisition nearly six years ago.

Little has changed in that core mission for what is now Perspecta Labs since the corporation formed in June of last year, but being within a larger entity has opened the aperture for more work with agencies.

“We’ve gone from a $1 billion company to a $4 billion company (with) a lot more customers,” Perspecta Labs President Petros Mouchtaris said. That equates to “a lot more opportunities for taking our research and applying it into problems that customers have.”

Being part of a larger corporate infrastructure has also given the Basking Ridge, New Jersey-headquartered organization room to expand its physical footprint.

Perspecta Labs has signed a lease for a new facility in Silver Spring, Maryland that should be operational late this spring or early in the summer. Mouchtaris told me that in the last few years, the organization been able to hire a fair amount of people” in the Washington, D.C. region ahead of that facility’s launch. Many are currently either working remotely or at customer sites.

Mouchtaris said the new hub aims to help facilitate closer dialogue and collaboration with government customers, plus inside the company itself given the Herndon, Virginia headquarters and concentration of employees in the region.

“Many times Perspecta wants to bring customers to visit us and coming up to New Jersey is kind of a long trip,” Mouchtaris told me.

The Silver Spring hub helps Perspecta in “being able to give demos down there and have labs for our technologies” that government decision makers can see first-hand, Mouchtaris added.

“This not only allows us an opportunity to attract a new geographic talent base that will augment the innovation occurring at our long-standing location in New Jersey, but it demonstrates our commitment to work side by side with our federal customers,” Perspecta CEO Mac Curtis told me via email.

Perspecta Labs is technically the smallest organization in the company at around $85 million in annual revenue, but leadership has clearly laid out their view of its outsized role in Perspecta’s journey over the past year on current work and with an eye toward the future.

“Sometimes customers require knowledge on the technology that we are very strong in,” Mouchtaris said. “Then the team that’s executing the contract for Perspecta may call us in.”

The Labs group performs applied research for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, Defense Department research laboratories, intelligence agencies and others.

Core technology areas of focus include cybersecurity, data analytics, advanced networking and wireless tools. Spectrum management and artificial intelligence have also grown in importance for the group over recent years, Mouchtaris told me.

While much attention has been on work Perspecta is defending, the company earlier this year threw its weight at and won an almost $900 million contract with Army Cyber Command to help them set up programs and initiatives.

Perspecta Labs was a key part of the bid both through offering new technologies and personnel, Mouchtaris told me.

“In most of the big proposals Perspecta puts together, one way or another we get engaged in it,” Mouchtaris added.

That is the work for today, but Perspecta Labs also looks to get engaged early on when the government identifies a problem and well before drafting a contract for industry to bid.

One example of that approach was seen last year in an exercise as part of DARPA’s Rapid Attack Detection Isolation and Characterization Systems program -- or RADICS -- that Perspecta Labs supported.

First started in 2015, RADICS exercises see DARPA and industry participants simulate a cyber attack on the U.S. power grid and test technologies to help restore the grid.

Mouchtaris said DARPA engaged Perspecta Labs and others in industry before RADICS’ start on the problem of a grid potentially being taken over by an adversary. That actually happened in 2015 when Ukraine’s grid was the victim of a cyber attack by Russia, which also reportedly installed malware inside IT systems supporting the U.S. power grid.

My conversation with Mouchtaris also focused on how industry and government are factoring in risk and embrace initial failure as part of R&D and the larger innovation approach.

Agencies are doing that in pockets through so-called “Other Transaction Authority” agreements or other types of contracts that encourage prototyping and experimentation before proceeding to a larger procurement.

Perspecta Labs is where the prototyping, learning, incubation and experimentation happens within the company. Those are simply a natural part of the innovation cycle and agency mindsets are changing to embrace that, Mouchtaris said.

“With all research and development projects, there is an element of trial and error to get to a bona fide proof of concept. I believe the conceptualization and experimentation aspect of the Labs environment is one of the key attributes that attracts bright scientists and technologists, the majority of whom are Ph.D.’s, to our team,” Curtis said in his email to me.

“We know that their perseverance will contribute to lessons learned and, ultimately, lead them to identifying new, innovative approaches that solve the challenging problems our government customers face every day.”

About the Author

Ross Wilkers is a senior staff writer for Washington Technology. He can be reached at rwilkers@washingtontechnology.com. Follow him on Twitter: @rosswilkers. Also find and connect with him on LinkedIn.

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