For one American defense contractor, ensuring liberty for all isn’t simply a line from the Pledge of Allegiance. At Polaris Alpha, it’s the mission.
Founded in November 2016, the company provides innovative technologies and solutions in the domains of land, sea, air, space, cyber and the electromagnetic spectrum. Polaris Alpha may be young, but it has deep roots. Two years ago, a private equity firm called Arlington Capital Partners, based in Washington, D.C., began buying up top-shelf solutions providers for the national security industry. Each new member came to the group with years, even decades, of valuable experience and a set of specialties.
EOIR Technologies, a market-leading smart sensing technology company, was first, followed six months later by data analytics experts Intelligent Software Solutions, and Proteus, which offered advanced cybersecurity services. Together, they became Polaris Alpha, and went on to acquire two other companies, Intelesys and Solidyn Solutions, in 2017.
Now a mid-sized company with 1,300 employees, Polaris Alpha has major offices in Colorado, Maryland and Virginia, and an annual revenue of $300 million. Based in 38 states across the U.S. and up to seven countries throughout the world, staffers are, for the most part, software developers, software engineers and project managers. Many are retired members of the military – bringing in subject-matter experts who also have security clearances is an acknowledgment of the customer base’s particular needs.
Intelligent Software Solutions (ISS) – which, with a complement of 550, was the largest of the five merged companies – was started in 1997 by a small group of software engineers who believed they could do good. They wanted to build an organization that was a family, with the common goal of making the world a better place.
Shelley Warner, Polaris Alpha’s Director of Human Resources, is a former ISS staff member and a champion of that unifying vision, which has been carried over to the new company. “We are still a small enough organization that employees remain involved in the big picture,” she says. “We are all aware of the part we play in making things run effectively and in allowing our teams to do what they need to do. We can take great comfort in knowing that what we’re doing on a daily basis is helping to make the world overall a safer place.”
Polaris Alpha partners with the U.S. military and intelligence agencies to develop hardware and software solutions that are often deployed into the field. The results provide precise, real-time data, which is not only essential but urgently needed. They enable the military to move bases if necessary, and transport employees as efficiently as possible. The people on the ground can trust that they have access to more information than they normally would – and that the information isn’t 30 days old – giving them the freedom to focus instead on the task at hand.
Staffers at Polaris Alpha work diligently to protect the warfighter and allied communities. For Warner, the payoff is clear. “When you see the news reports of tragedies throughout the world, you know that our people are doing what’s necessary to identify when a potential terrorist is going to show up in Paris or London or New York,” she says. “You have a sense of pride because you know what you’re doing is right.”
Doing the right thing isn’t restricted to work hours. Leading by example, Polaris Alpha encourages employees to undertake acts of philanthropy – its annual Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS) golf outing has raised upwards of $500,000 for families suffering from military-related loss. Misfortune, whether local or international, is a burden best shared. And fulfillment found through community involvement can reap benefits in both the personal and professional spheres.
As positive as the transition from five individual companies to a single entity has been, no marriage is without its challenges. In 2016 and 2017, one of the key issues facing all members of Polaris Alpha was figuring out how to keep what was great about their old companies and further solidifying those elements within the new one.
“Each company had their own culture and they were very proud of that. Part of the reason each of us as individual small businesses was successful was because of our culture,” says Nikki Herman, Polaris Alpha’s Chief Administrative Officer.
So, the new leadership made it a priority to focus on fostering a spirit of togetherness. Ultimately, a thriving partnership – forged through teamwork without ego – would benefit both the company and the customers. In a twist on the old adage, five heads really are better than one.
“For example, we have a cyber business unit that specializes in developing custom cyber tools for full-scale cyber operations,” says Herman. The different companies spent years focused on their individual strengths, all of which can now be developed and delivered by the larger team. “The companies coming together has had huge benefits for the defense industry, which is now getting more capabilities and more visibility into technologies,” she says.
From a human resources perspective, one of the biggest challenges has been deciphering what’s appropriate for all employees, across generations. “The person who grew up without cell phones receives and processes information very differently than the person who grew up with constant access to technology,” says Warner. “We are figuring out what can be applied to that whole base and how to capture and understand all of those components.”
Since the creation of Polaris Alpha, HR has mostly been about the basics, such as making sure the payroll and timekeeping systems work. For 2018, training initiatives – determining which are best suited and which will engage employees – are on the docket.
As are, if all goes according to plan, more mergers. “We’ll need to understand how best to bring on additional companies,” says Warner. “Rolling them into the fold and making them feel like part of the team as soon as possible will be a priority.”
Navigating multiple mergers requires hard work, preparation, agility and more than a little ingenuity. And so too does navigating the complex world of global security, especially if you’re looking to be the compass – the North Star – that helps guide the defense and intelligence communities.
“We want to be the best at what we do,” says Herman. “It’s about always keeping your eye on that ball.” Not that the CAO is worried: going above and beyond expectations to get the solution out to the customer comes naturally to her team. “We were all good before we came together – that’s why we’re here,” she says.
Polaris Alpha is a first-rate constant in an ever-changing world.
As told by Shelley Warner, Director of Human Resources
Intelligent Software Solutions (ISS) completed its migration to Dayforce on July 1, 2016. When ISS merged with the other organizations and became Polaris Alpha, the decision was made to remain with Dayforce. ISS was the only company of ours already using Dayforce so its original staff has been in the unique position of migrating a second time.
Polaris Alpha went live with Dayforce on Jan. 1, 2018. Dayforce was chosen because it has the most flexibility and could provide infrastructure for what we wanted to do. A couple of the smaller organizations that joined were using more modest HRIS systems that couldn’t keep up with our new demands. We’re currently at 1,300 employees and that could grow upwards of 2,000, so we required a solution that can scale with us as we expanded.
Because we were already using Dayforce, we knew it could deliver the tools we needed in the format we needed. Simply put, it’s the right fit for us. It has ease of use. It’s intuitive and not so overwhelming that a new user won’t catch on. Perhaps most importantly, it’s reliable.
Each of the Dayforce modules provides different unique pieces. HR is easy to use – it has self-service so our employees can access the information when needed. Payroll, because it’s cloud-based, can be run wherever we are. We just started using Onboarding and it’s a fantastic tool – it allows our new hires to get in and look at their teams and understand more about the organization. It also enables them to complete their paperwork early – they’re still excited about doing paperwork at that point, so we need to take advantage of that. Workflows, also new to Polaris Alpha, have great potential to automate and streamline processes.
I’m a big proponent of eliminating redundancy. For example, what paperwork were we sending around in PDF form for which we could now create a workflow? You enter the data once into the system, and when you get the approvals, the data is already there and you’re not creating another form, you’re not having to send that around and then wonder where things are in the process. We have gotten rid of our physical employee files and are now completely digital. Dayforce has allowed us to keep track properly, streamline processes and eliminate paper.
Throughout this experience, Ceridian has been there every step of the way. There is a dedicated team that has a standing call with us each week. During implementation, you have to do your regular job and fulfill a bunch of additional responsibilities on top of that. Ceridian has been phenomenal at keeping us focused, breaking down tasks into smaller, more manageable chunks. With Ceridian’s help, we’ve kept moving forward.