By all rights, Michael Corkery should be fast asleep. The Deltek CEO has arrived in the UK on a red-eye from the States, yet by the time our interview takes place later in the afternoon, Mike (as he’s more commonly known) is full of energy and very much on-point in his answers to ERP Today.
The reason for the CEO’s visit was Deltek Project Nation Live, a customer conference held in London’s South Bank area. The event, as you can guess, was the first in a while to be held in person, and is the biggest EMEA event for one of the leading brands in the professional services automation (PSA) segment of ERP.
Unsurprisingly, a key point that comes up in our conversation is how Corkery’s company works in Europe and any other region outside of the States. Deltek, for the uninitiated, made its name in the USA’s government contractor or “GovCon” space. In fact, from its Virginia headquarters located just outside of Washington, D.C., Deltek technology still rules the roost in market intelligence and contract management for federal government contractors. The unaware may also like to note that there are few points of comparison between the workings of the U.S. government and the public sector in other nations. For starters, U.S. government procurement law requires contractors to track costs by individual contract, in some cases drilling down to task orders and line items. This compliance need, Corkery underlines, is something which Deltek offers “out of the box”.
“It’s entirely different,” Corkery continues when describing the unique nature of U.S. federal law. “The U.S. government will audit these contractors for how they’re complying with all these various rules and regs. We say, maybe rightly, our software is the most audited software in the world because there are so many government audits that happen.”
Deltek’s end customers in this regard are contractors that deliver projects to the federal government. As Corkery explains, “Sometimes people get confused and think we sell to the government. We don’t. We deliver solutions to the contractors that deliver projects to the government.”
This space spans architects, engineers, construction firms, aerospace, defense and more. In fact, almost all of the verticals that Deltek has made its mark within Europe and worldwide, as evident from the stalls and talks that made up Project Nation.
Things are more polarized now in the States than they’ve ever been
“[GovCon projects] have more of a manufacturing connotation, so we have some manufacturing capabilities,” the CEO continues. “But a lot of the things that differentiate us in the professional services markets are the same in GovCon. [For example] much more acute project visibility project control out of the box.
“The thing that’s different about our solutions in government contracting is there are compliance requirements for the federal government that the contractors have to comply with that our solutions deliver straight away.”
For Corkery, the story is the same worldwide. Deltek’s PSA solutions come with innovation, usability and predictive capabilities. Those solutions even feature a sprinkle of robotic process automation (RPA), with Deltek having a partnership with bot leader UiPath.
The CEO notes “the dirty word around bots”. But in his view, automation – whether of the PSA, RPA or even the AI variety – is a shift for the workforce to “something that is more valuable than the mundane. That’s the way we try to make it work and it works for us and our customers, too.”
As for competitors in reaching those worldwide customers, Corkery points to names such as SAP, Microsoft and Unit4. The difference between his company and those ERP players, as he sees it, is that Deltek is “the largest pure play project-based solution provider”.
“That’s all that we do,” he explains. “That’s where all of our innovation muscle goes, after the needs of those project based-businesses. [As such] our solutions and our target markets have more depth and breadth than our competitors. Just no question. And they’re more purpose built for the user community.”
Speaking with Mike, I learn how this journey to the PSA pinnacle covers everything from Capitol Hill to the permanent and “parental” home behind Deltek’s ever-developing dimensions.
America and administration changes
For Deltek to get to its dominion of PSA is arguably very much down to its experience in GovCon tech. Set up in 1983 by accountant Donald deLaski as Deltek Systems (with Deltek short for deLaski Technologies), the company’s USP from the start was developing software to help government contractors stay compliant with regulation. It was a shrewd move, as over time Washington accelerated its shift to private contractors with each administration.
Today, according to a Deltek spokesperson, the company captures 95 percent of public sector spending across the entirety of the U.S. federal, state, local, and education (SLED) market, as well as public sector spending in Canada. It boasts the details of over 600,000 government contacts, and, according to the Deltek website, is “trusted” by almost 10,000 GovCon firms, most likely counting each of the 100 top federal contractors as a client (it has certainly claimed up to all but two of them based on the Washington Technology’s 2021 Top 100 Federal Contractors List).
Our software is the most audited software in the world
A flagship product for the GovCon market is GovWin IQ, described by Corkery as a market intelligence platform that provides information related to agency contract opportunities, spending and budgets. Deltek allows government contractors to search for opportunities, with a data feed showing where those opportunities are.
“That’s something that we’re looking to bring to the professional services side,” says Corkery.
Many a consultancy might like such a tool when clamoring for a hot contract to avoid ending up in the so-called “column fodder” pile. In Corkery’s view, PSA itself can help consultancies become more competitive and efficient in the field.
“If anything it’ll give you more visibility into how projects perform, it’ll make you more adept at choosing the right project. It’s something consultancies really should focus on.”
Consultancies already help make up the Deltek client base outside of the U.S., alongside some of “the largest creative agencies” in Europe. Architecture and engineering represents another strong customer base for the brand’s PSA solutions in Europe and beyond.
In total, Deltek’s worldwide revenue runs in excess of $800m, with U.S. GovCon making the majority of that total. As Corkery puts it, there’s “fast currents of spending” in Washington.
“The part of the government spending environment that we support is discretionary spending,” he explains. “There is no wiggle room, they have to spend it. The discretionary spending is where the budget for the administration resides. And so there are different priorities for an administration.
“The spending in general has continued to increase. The good news is because we are the leading provider across the vast majority of those areas, we support all the vertical markets.”
Not that everything goes like clockwork in the hubbub of Capitol Hill, of course. As the CEO says, “It’s an ongoing negotiation all the time [and] things are more polarized now in the States than they’ve ever been.”
With such wrangling, more recent appropriations have been released later than usual. For the latest budget though, Corkery notes they’ve been released on time, early even, after the start of the fiscal year. This is earlier than in some recent years, giving contractors the visibility of where the work is “for them to go win”.
“You don’t want that ecosystem to have that uncertainty waiting to see where the appropriations and the spend is going to be… The fact that the appropriations got released earlier than in years past, you can see the momentum in the market is resolved.”
All of our innovation muscle goes after the needs of project based-businesses
Deltek and the Roper playbook
Such punctuality can explain the weight behind Deltek’s latest turnovers, and no doubt the continued approval of Roper Technologies, Deltek’s parent company. With Roper and others, Corkery has braved his own sea changes when it comes to Deltek’s administration: prior to Roper was Thoma Bravo, which acquired Deltek from New Mountain Capital in 2012.
This was two years after Corkery joined Deltek as its CFO, pivoting from a seasoned chief financial career in communications. He would go on to become president and CEO of Deltek at the start of 2013, with 2016 seeing Deltek change hands to become part of the Roper family.
On stage at Project Nation, the CEO joked about Roper being a “daddy” of sorts. Clearly, the relationship with Roper is a rosy one; Corkery points out that Deltek is the largest company in Roper’s portfolio, and that he’s a group exec at the parent company, overlooking three other names in its software portfolio.
All companies, in his view, could benefit from the permanent capital approach carried out by Roper Technologies, one which is very different to the Thoma Bravo playbook.
“Thoma Bravo’s capitals are always temporary, right?” as he reminds me. “They buy the business to sell it, because that’s what they do. Private equity firms trade businesses for profit. [While] Roper buys businesses to continue to make them better over the longer arc of time. So, they’re our permanent home. There’s something really galvanizing about that for our customers, our employees.
“With Roper, we accelerate investments that are good for the business. It’s about long-term health, perpetuity growth,” he continues. “When it comes to acquisitions, our job is to really get [Roper] as excited and have as much conviction about something as we do… Those conversations go really well, because we have a good process and language with the Roper team and that helps us as we scrutinize things that we want to take to Roper for capital allocation. We only take things that we really believe in.”
A few of those acquisitions have been in the GovCon space. Some, like the buyout of field work construction tool ArchiSnapper, have further bolstered Deltek’s already considerable reach in the A&E field. The overall picture, then, is one of quality over quantity, and shrewd, bold plays in the professional services sphere.
Roper buys businesses to make them better. So they’re our permanent home
“More to come,” the CEO promises acquisitions-wise.
Speaking with Corkery, I get a good sense of the future for Deltek: a three to five year growth plan for EMEA, for example, and no plans to establish a direct sales presence in the APAC region beyond Australia.
There is also the small matter of Deltek ProjectCon, as held this October in its usual spot of Orlando (very far from Capitol Hill, one will note). As Corkery puts it, “We like to say it’s the largest gathering of project geeks in the world at any point in time and we celebrate that.”
Perhaps most importantly, the company is “not laying anyone off” in the near future. This statement, made by Corkery on the Project Nation stage prior to our interview, ties in with how he celebrates the Deltek team in our conversation. When I ask how he’s found his journey from communications to leader of one of PSA’s biggest names, Corkery believes it’s all about “conscious capitalism”.
“It wasn’t necessarily a personal journey that I aspired to in any way,” he reveals. “It just kind of happened. But, you know, I would never look back and never not want to do this job, right? It’s been fantastic.”
Corkery is most proud of the culture he’s helped build at Deltek. A home, as he calls it, where “great talent can come to build their career”.
“Culturally,” he adds, “we celebrate being good people… We’ve got a set of values in the way that we treat each other and a way that we engage with customers. And if those values aren’t that important, we might not be the right place for you quite honestly.”
In other words, Deltek might very well be the most people-centric PSA brand out there, and Corkery a CEO undaunted by any kind of administration change or business upheaval. In other words, a professional brand helmed by a professional leader.
Even sleep doesn’t faze the exec, and that’s a big advantage when you have the world in your sights.