Over the past decade or so, an increasing number of businesses have been drawn to the virtues of VoIP. Now school districts are making the switch, as well. Not only does VoIP help cut down on expenses, it also brings security, giving teachers and staff members the ability to report emergencies anywhere in the school with a VoIP solution.
When looking for a VoIP provider, it’s important to exercise due diligence, says Bret Longberry, information technology center director for the Metropolitan Educational Council.
“Do your homework,” says Longberry. “It’s important to do research. Business managers and technology people need to make sure that the provider has the capability to deliver what it promises.”
Smart Business spoke with Longberry, Robert West, account executive at Ohio.net and Bill Swartzmiller, executive director of North Central Ohio Computer Cooperative about the advantages of using VoIP in an educational setting.
How does VoIP help schools?
It allows schools to take advantage of their data circuits and helps them avoid some of the recurring charges that are associated with traditional telephone systems. For most schools, VoIP can lead to tremendous cost savings over the long run.
It is an economically sound way to have telephones in the classroom. This is important for two reasons: security purposes and the ability to contact parents immediately. Oftentimes, teachers would like to contact a parent, but they have to put it off until they have access to a phone. Also, parents can reach teachers. VoIP is a very valuable tool in the classrooms for both security and student achievement.
What is the purpose of centralized call management?
Schools can be free from purchasing the servers and software required for self management of a phone system, whether it be a traditional or VOIP system. Management of a phone system is traditionally expensive and time consuming. With centralized call management, services can be provided to multiple schools, saving money. Also, by contracting with a firm with in-house expertise to maintain the phones, districts receive the necessary high-end technical support that they lack.
Centralized call management allows an organization to add versatility to individual schools. It also allows them to aggregate the SIP Trunks which can turn into a cost savings for the schools. For example, let’s say a school has four lines and a fifth call comes in. With centralized call management, the call could be aggregated across a different trunk, whereas if it didn’t have centralized call management and had the lines going directly to them, the fifth caller would receive a busy signal and wouldn’t be able to connect.
How is utilizing VoIP a good use of technical resources?
Most school districts in Ohio are struggling with how to fund everyday operations, let alone technology. As a result, they are finding it increasingly necessary to outsource technology functions. With hosted VoIP solutions, a district might not have to have a staff member onsite to take care of the voice systems.
There is very little hardware on the local level — you just need to add handsets and possibly a networking switch. The system is easy to manage, so you can free up a full-time equivalent position to retain a teacher. Schools have connectivity in their classrooms so they don’t need to install more lines. VoIP allows them to use the Internet data lines for voice.
Individual schools don’t necessarily have to have technical knowledge of how to run and operate a Cisco CallManager. An expert outside adviser that is flush with technical aptitude and knowledge can work hand-in-hand with a district and provide support.
What are some future uses of VoIP for brick-and-mortar schools or e-schools?
Many schools sill have not taken advantage of VoIP technologies. As hosted solutions become more dependable and accepted, we’ll see more schools going that direction. VoIP eliminates the need for traditional phone lines and equipment refresh so the cost savings for a district can be significant. As districts continue to tighten their belts, they will want to take a hard look at hosted VoIP solutions.
We’re one step away from having video over the phones. Eventually we will have videoconferencing services, as well as voice. The primary reason videoconferencing hasn’t gained traction in schools is because different locations have to be on the same schedule, and it’s difficult for schools to coordinate schedules. However, with E-schools, teachers often work from home. VoIP allows students to contact multiple teachers in different locations.
How can a school make a smooth transition from traditional telephone services to VoIP?
Do a complete inventory of your existing lines. Sometimes there are more phone lines than people realize, such as in an elevator or a life-saving device that requires an outside line. It’s important do an audit of your phone lines.
Schools have connectivity. They just need an outside expert to put a gateway in and buy the phones. They can be up in a week. The exact time it takes to get up and running depends on whether your advisers are porting numbers or obtaining new phone numbers. The typical timeframe to port a number is roughly 30 days and if they are getting a new phone number, it can be done in a much shorter period of time.
What advice would you give to schools about selecting a VoIP provider?
Look at the VoIP provider’s presence in the market. Take a look at their current customer list, talk to some of its current customers and find out if they’re happy with their service.
Find somebody that you are comfortable with and who you trust will be able to provide you with the services you need when you request them. Also work with someone who has experience serving educational institutions, who understand the purpose of the phones and how they will be utilized.
Robert West is an account executive at Ohio.net. Reach him at (330) 658-7581 or email@example.com.
Insights Telecommunications is brought to you by Ohio.net
As health care costs continue to rise, many businesses have scaled back on the benefits that they offer.
However, there are still ways to provide excellent care for employees without breaking the bank. For example, one way that companies are coping with surging health care costs is by implementing wellness plans, designed to encourage employees to take preventive action to improve their health, says Stephen Slaga, chief marketing officer of Total Health Care.
“With the escalating costs associated with health care benefits, employers are having to look at plan design to control the costs of benefits,” says Slaga.
Smart Business spoke with Slaga about how employers can get the most out of their health plans and the elements that make benefit plans attractive to employees.
How can employers make sure their employees are using a benefit plan wisely?
One way is to communicate with your health plan provider to request information about preventive care. Seek information that will tell you if your employees are utilizing the wellness programs available to them to get tests done and discover any potential health problems early. Also, it is key to make sure that employees understand their benefits.
How can employers get more out of their health plans?
Employers need to encourage their employees to use any and all wellness programs that are available to them. The simplest types of wellness programs incorporate basic communications, such as regular newsletters distributed to employees touting the benefits of eating healthy and exercising regularly.
Along with information, a simple wellness plan may also include negotiated discounts at a health club or an annual health fair at which employees can learn about taking better care of their health and where simple screenings can be done.
More aggressive wellness plans mandate participation and follow-up as a condition of participation in the health plan. Such programs identify employees with elevated risk and require that they take certain actions, such as having a comprehensive physical with a physician.
Health risk assessments, which are detailed questionnaires designed to establish a baseline risk level for each employee, are typically available through all plans. By having employees fill out questionnaires, the provider can better understand health histories and serve its clientele more effectively. Questions cover such areas as height, weight, cholesterol levels, blood pressure, alcohol consumption and smoking habits.
The results garnered from health risk assessments are used to target specific education and coaching for employees with elevated risk. When the provider is able to better serve your employees, the result is healthier employees who are present at work and fully productive.
What are some elements that constitute a good benefit plan?
The employer and employees measure this a little bit differently. Employers want predictable, manageable costs and benefits that are attractive to employees so that they can attract and retain top-quality employees. Employees want the best possible benefit for the least possible out-of-pocket cost.
There are a multitude of plan design alternatives to achieve both of these goals, from co-pays to premium contributions. Such alternatives affect employees differently depending upon their own particular circumstances. Healthy employees typically will favor a higher co-pay in return for lower premiums. Those with chronic conditions opt for the opposite because they are accessing health care more frequently and the costs associated with each visit are burdensome.
How has the attitude toward employee health plans evolved?
The traditional attitude has been to use benefits to attract and retain employees. Until the last five or 10 years, there hasn’t been as much cost sensitivity as there is today. People are learning that when the benefit is paid for entirely by the employer, the cost is more difficult to control. As a result, there has clearly been a trend in recent years to shift costs to the employees to the point where they give some consideration to a cost-value proposition. We are now seeing employees who understand and consider the costs of the benefits they are receiving on an individual transaction basis.
How can a company measure whether its benefits program meets the needs of its employees?
Employers should seek input from their employees whenever they can to better understand the experiences that the staff is having with regard to benefits. There is some sensitivity to the issue because people want privacy with respect to their health care. You have to respect those privacy issues, but if you can encourage communication, you will improve employee satisfaction.
How does having a strong benefits package help employers attract and retain key employees?
It can have a very significant impact. Typically, the decision varies by employer, depending upon how aggressively it needs to compete for employees in the marketplace.
Employers should be cautious when shifting costs and responsibility onto their employees. There is a delicate balance between making employees accountable and responsible for the decision making about their health care and shifting so much burden onto them that they become disgruntled with how they are being treated and leave for other employment.
Stephen Slaga is chief marketing officer of Total Health Care.
Insights Health Care is brought to you by Total Health Care
As technology continues to move forward exponentially, end users are flocking to the latest versions of notebooks, tablets, smartphones and other mobile devices.
Against this backdrop, remote data security (RDS) is becoming increasingly important for businesses. Having an appropriate data protection strategy across the board in any organization can help ensure that the company protects its end users, shields its intellectual property and protects its rights.
However, many businesses fail to do so, as convenience tends to trump security, says Steve Carter, president and CEO of ii2P.
“We try to make small and medium-sized businesses aware that it’s a mistake to only focus on convenience,” he says. “Security should never be a subordinate element when transitioning toward remote data platforms.”
Smart Business spoke with Carter about what businesses need to know about RDS to keep their data safe.
What are the challenges associated with RDS?
First, it’s important to understand how the concern of RDS came to be: We, the users, created it. The introduction and proliferation of mobile computing devices put business-centric technology in the hands of an increasingly mobile work force.
In recent years, laptops, notebooks, tablet PCs, iPads, smartphones and other devices have become instruments of the business enterprise. In other words, they became information interchange enablers.
One thing that has remained constant is that data is still the end user’s primary concern. As such, access to and exchange of corporate data — now through remote devices — has surfaced as one of the most pressing needs of businesses.
Safeguarding the transfer of corporate data across remote devices requires controls. However, to an end user, controls mean inconvenience. And inconvenience often translates to, ‘I won’t take the necessary precautions to protecting my data.’ As a result, data is now being transmitted across more open or mobile platforms by users who are sidestepping security in favor of convenience.
Hasn’t technology adapted to address the needs of exchanging corporate data?
Absolutely. In fact, every generation of new mobile technology devices is amazingly more capable of delivering and exchanging data remotely. But that’s not the problem. The problem is that the ability to exchange information is much more effective than our ability to control data security remotely.
Having data secured in a mobile environment is the essential ingredient. It’s not enough just to have it delivered. We are all in support of making data convenient, but it has to be secure, as well. There has to be a balanced strategy.
What is the weakest link with RDS?
In some regards, this is a real paradox. Remote data access was designed for the end user, but the end user is, without a doubt, the weakest link. Something as simple as password management provides a great example of how end users tend to overlook security measures. Users will write down their passwords, tape them underneath the keyboard, use the same one for everything, or store them in the cloud.
The increase in the loss of information, malware intrusion and identity theft is due to the nature of the end user who is unaware of the importance of secure protection in their environment, and has difficulty seeing the value when technology serves as an inhibitor of their convenience. The bottom line is that end users will always default to convenience over security. It will take a behavior change at the end user level to correct this.
Bring your own device, or BYOD, is becoming more commonplace at businesses. How will this affect RDS?
It’s important to keep a close eye on this development. The market initially said, ‘Mobile devices are opening up the dynamics of enabling global business. There is no need to stay confined in the office any longer. This is more convenient for the user.’
Next, the market said, ‘It’s more effective and efficient to allow end users to pick their own technology platform. So let them bring their own device to work. Just make sure they can access their data. This is more convenient for the user.’ Then the market said, ‘Store your data in the cloud, where it’s easier and faster to access and stockpile. This is more convenient for the user.’
Put this all together and there is an accelerating adoption of every mobile computing technology — each calling for faster remote access to business-critical corporate data — residing in virtual data repositories. And if you ask end users which is more important to them, convenience or security, the answer you’re most likely to receive is convenience.
How should small to medium-sized businesses approach the RDS challenge?
The market is calling for a robust solution that secures the end user from a variety of different functionality levels, from remote identity and access management to a secure, portable computing environment on managed and unmanaged workstations or devices. However, because convenience is trumping security at the end user level, businesses should investigate those products that make it easy for the end user to embrace RDS.
Steve Carter is president and CEO of ii2P. Reach him at (817) 442-9292 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Insights Technology is brought to you by ii2P
Although depositions may seem like they are less formal than a trial, they are a critical part of a lawsuit. The answers given at a deposition are legal testimony and, in essence, it is no different from testifying in court.
“A lawyer is entitled to depose an opposing party and all witnesses with knowledge relevant to the lawsuit,” says Andrew Fleming, a partner at Novack and Macey LLP. “Typically, depositions are conducted at the office of the attorney taking the deposition, and the witness is placed under oath to answer questions.”
Smart Business spoke with Fleming about how to properly prepare for a deposition for the best possible outcome.
What is the purpose of a deposition?
Depositions have two primary purposes. First, the examining lawyer often will use the deposition to learn the facts relevant to the case. For example, in a typical breach-of-contract case, the plaintiff’s lawyer asks a series of questions designed to determine if, in fact, the contract was breached. In that regard, the examining lawyer will depose the parties and other witnesses involved in the transaction to discover what each person involved in performing the contract did or did not do. The process provides a very important and useful procedure for obtaining evidence.
Second, a deposition gives the examining lawyer an opportunity to obtain admissions that support his or her case. To obtain this information, examining lawyers frequently use cross-examination techniques when questioning a witness. In many instances, cases can be won or lost at the deposition stage, and as a result, thorough preparation is key.
How can a witness prepare for a deposition?
One of the most important things that a witness must do is to understand the deposition process and make sure that he or she is comfortable with testifying. A witness must first become familiar with the pertinent facts of the case. Oftentimes, this requires a review of the documents relevant to the dispute, such as emails, correspondence, contracts and the like.
Next, the witness needs to review with his or her attorney the ground rules for the deposition — rules that are very important no matter what the case involves. Often, it helps to go through a mock deposition with the attorney to not only become more comfortable with the deposition process but also to give the witness and the attorney a chance to identify and correct bad habits before the deposition takes place.
What are some key deposition ground rules?
The first rule to make sure the witness understands that every question must be answered truthfully. If it is not, the witness may be subject to sanctions and criminal penalties. The witness must also listen carefully to the question and answer only the question that is being asked. Also, as a general rule, witnesses should not guess at an answer.
While these may sound like straightforward rules, they are easier said than done. It takes tremendous concentration and focus to sit for hours and answer only the questions that are being asked. And while it is natural during a normal day-to-day conversation for people to assume that certain events have occurred and to speak about them as if they have, in the deposition setting, it is important that a witness focus only on what he or she actually knows has occurred.
What are some common mistakes made during depositions and how can they be avoided?
In addition to losing concentration and guessing, mistakes frequently occur when a witness is shown a document and asked questions about it. All too often, witnesses will not read the document at the deposition even though they are asked to do so by the examining lawyer. Instead, they will skim through the document thinking they know what it says.
But, often in this situation, a witness will give inaccurate testimony when questioned about the meaning of a particular document. And worse, the examining attorney might exploit this mistake by getting the witness to agree to a particular spin that he or she places on the meaning of the document — a spin that is always in favor of the examining lawyer’s client.
It is easy to avoid this mistake. When asked to read a document at a deposition, a witness should slow down and do just that: Read the document.
In addition, a witness should never let the examining lawyer put words in his mouth. Be especially alert when asked typical cross-examination questions because those are invariably designed to get the witness to agree with the examining lawyer’s view of the case. These questions are not hard to spot, as they usually begin with phrases such as, ‘Isn’t it fair to say?’ Or, ‘Wouldn’t you agree that?’ When you hear such questions, think long and hard before answering, and resist the urge to casually agree with the examining lawyer.
What other traps should a witness look out for?
An examining lawyer will be so cordial that the witness may think the deposition is just a friendly conversation. This is not so. Even though such depositions are more pleasant, a witness must still not let his or her guard down and must always follow the rules discussed.
On the flip side, examining lawyers take a more aggressive approach at depositions, to the point of making the deposition an unpleasant experience. It is important in these situations that the witness maintain a calm demeanor. Becoming upset or even angry at an examining lawyer because of the manner in which he or she is asking questions can never benefit the witness. In fact, if you allow yourself to get upset, you often can lose your concentration and break some of the rules discussed. That is why it is always important that the witness maintain a calm and professional demeanor at the deposition, no matter how the examining lawyer behaves.
Andrew Fleming is a partner at Novack and Macey LLP. Reach him at (312) 419-6900 or email@example.com.
Insights Legal Affairs is brought to you by Novack and Macey LLP
Voice over Internet Protocol, or VoIP, involves delivering voice telecommunication services across a network. Companies that utilize VoIP can realize significant telecom savings. Let’s say your business has offices in multiple geographic locations. With VoIP, you don’t need to duplicate efforts by having different carriers that charge different rates.
“VoIP is a great leveler because it’s geographically independent — the price doesn’t change based on where you’re employing it,” says Alex Desberg, sales and marketing director for Ohio.net.
Smart Business spoke with Desberg about the cost savings that can be realized by utilizing VoIP, how to make a seamless transition, and what to look for in a provider.
How can you stretch your telecom dollars by utilizing VoIP?
Normally, when you have a traditional phone system, there is a maintenance agreement. Every time you need to do an add/move/change with the system, you are paying someone to do it, or someone on your staff is investing their time. In the world of VoIP, because it is a service model, adds/moves/changes are usually included as part of the package. With VoIP, maintenance of the system is removed from the equation, which can lead to significant cost and time savings.
Often, when people are looking to change their technology from traditional to VoIP, it’s because the nature of their business has changed and they need to get a new phone system that isn’t antiquated. With VoIP, there is far less equipment needed than there would be in replacing a traditional phone system. In the past, if you needed to replace or upgrade a phone system, you were looking at software, someone to come out and do the installation, and possible hardware to update the system. With VoIP, all you’re buying is a VoIP phone so the costs are much less.
Also, VoIP services can be cyclical: there are plenty of businesses that have busy and slow seasons. For example, we work with car dealerships who sell more cars during spring, summer and fall than they do in the middle of winter. Car dealerships call us on a regular basis during the winter months and say, ‘Go ahead and scale back our services — we don’t need as many phones or as many lines.’ As a result, they’ll save money over the winter period when they know they won’t be nearly as busy.
This is very hard to do in the traditional telecom world because a contract will hold you to a certain dollar amount per month regardless of usage.
How can VoIP be used to service multi-location companies?
VoIP is geographically leveling the playing field. If I’m going to deploy 100 phones in the VoIP world, I don’t care if there are 100 phones all together in the same physical building or if they are being used by 100 different people in the company spread out across the country at multiple locations. The phone system itself is going to work the same in both cases because it’s essentially a virtualized phone system.
Also, VoIP offers local dialing between all the phones. For example, if I’m in New York and someone in my VoIP partition is in California, I can still do a four-digit dial.
How can a business make a seamless transition from traditional telephony to VoIP?
Training is essential; it is the difference between a clean start with VoIP and a bumpy one. Any time you implement a new phone system, people are going to be uncomfortable with the change. You have to get all of the individuals trained and get them comfortable with the phone before the system goes live.
With VoIP, the transition is seamless because we can have the new system running parallel to a traditional phone system. Once the users become comfortable we do a changeover where their old numbers become live on the new phone system.
After the transition happens, it’s important to have support available. Customer service is an important part of our model. One of the biggest complaints we hear about traditional telecom is that their support is terrible.
What advice would you give about selecting a VoIP provider?
Because it’s technology-related, a lot of young companies think they can enter into the VoIP business and be accepted. In truth, however, they need a stable backing in order to understand the technology they are deploying. In addition, they need to have a support system that can serve their clients. There are fly-by-night VoIP service companies that swoop in and make promises, but then quickly realize that they can’t support their customer base.
Look for a VoIP provider that has experience in your industry. If it hasn’t done what you need it to do before, I would be wary. Also, it should have a good future plan. A big part of our business is understanding what’s next and how to integrate that into a seamless service for our customers.
How are VoIP technologies being integrated into smartphones?
We are integrating to any phone out there, whether it is a smartphone, regular cell phone or landline. We can deploy services that allow calls to be routed to cell networks or home networks. For example, we work with a small government agency that has case workers who work from home. We just did our first installation for a remote case worker who is never going to step into the home office, but needed office connectivity.
It doesn’t matter what phone is on the other end. Let’s say you have an iPhone, one of your coworkers has a BlackBerry and another has a landline — you still want to be integrated. In order to allow integration, we built the service into the VoIP system rather than trying to build an app that changes every time someone gets a new type of phone or operating system.
Alex Desberg is Sales and Marketing Director for Ohio.net, a wholly owned subsidiary of Doylestown Communications. Reach him at (330) 658-1888 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Insights Telecommunications is brought to you by Ohio.net
U.S. employers are continuing to struggle with rising health care costs, and in an effort to limit spending, many are shifting more costs to employees. Others are emphasizing wellness initiatives or controlling costs through health savings accounts and reimbursement arrangements.
How can your company approach implementing an optimal health care plan for its employees? Start by asking your carrier or consultant what options are available. This will help guide you through the process so you aren’t blindsided by unpredictable costs in the future, says Randy Narowitz, CEO of Total Health Care.
“The biggest area of concern we are hearing from the employers today is they can’t manage or predict the cost of the health care benefits,” says Narowitz. “Having predictable, manageable cost increases is a real value to employers.”
Smart Business spoke with Narowitz about the kind of questions employers should ask when choosing a plan, what type of relationship you should expect with your carrier and how to realize cost savings.
What factors should companies consider when analyzing their employee benefits?
Employers are evaluating their health care plans annually. Typically, you start with the plan design that you offer today. Then the decision-maker for the employer decides if the company can maintain, improve or cut back on the benefits.
It’s important to evaluate alternatives in terms of cost and the product offerings. There are a variety of ways to differentiate carriers: size and strength of the provider network, plan design flexibility and premiums.
What questions should an employer ask a carrier when choosing a plan?
If you are using the benefits as a tool to attract or retain employees, then you want to evaluate the quality of the benefits and compare them to what else is out there in the marketplace. Features such as co-pays and deductibles are factors in the decision-making process and can be tweaked to be competitive. Also, access to care and a strong provider network are important components to consider.
If you are cost sensitive, then you want to ask about how to optimize the benefits at the lowest possible premiums. You want to analyze the tradeoff between the premium costs and the benefits.
What can a company expect from its relationship with its carrier?
The carrier must be well versed on all of the alternatives available, understand your needs and find the best match for you.
Most employers use the services of a consultant or broker to assist them in the decision-making process. A consultant’s role can vary significantly.
At one extreme, the consultant is your exclusive liaison to the carrier. The consultant represents several health care plan options, helping the employer work its way through differentiating which products are best for its business. The consultants may also take the lead on administrative tasks including open enrollment, employee education, compliance and communications with the carrier,
At the other extreme, a consultant’s role is limited to the selection process.You can expect your representative to be able to differentiate the plans and the products depending on how you prioritize your decision-making criteria.
As an employer, you should expect your representative to be able to navigate through the decision-making process on your behalf.
Also, health care reform is upon us and is impacting employers significantly. With recent health care initiatives, it’s very important for the employer to be updated. Your plan representative, carrier and consultant need to be able to educate you about the latest changes associated with health care reform.
How can companies save money when they are looking for a carrier?
The primary decision about cost involves how much of the financial burden you want to shift to the employees. Shifting the financial burden to employees by raising co-pays and deductibles, and having them pay a portion of the premium are ways to reduce and control your health care costs.
Savings associated with prescription drug costs can be achieved by raising co-pays or by restricting access to branded drugs when generics are available. Employees are very sensitive about changing medications, but there is a real opportunity to save money when you make these adjustments. Contracting with a restricted network, such an HMO, and introducing wellness initiatives can also reduce costs.
What information should employers provide to employees?
If you change a plan design in any way, it is important that the changes be communicated clearly. If the product has complexity in terms of network participation, this needs to be simplified and communicated clearly, as well.
Employees are very resistant to a change in their health care benefits. If you are planning to reduce benefits or shift costs to the employees make a significant commitment up front to educate your employees.
Simplify the message and commit the time and resources to help them understand the changes before the new contract year begins.
Randy Narowitz is Chief Executive Officer of Total Health Care USA, a leading Michigan managed care provider. Narowitz is an influential figure in the health care industry. He has worked to bring the issues of health care quality and delivery to the forefront of both the local and national health care agendas. Total Health Care USA is NCQA Accredited and serves members in Wayne, Oakland, Macomb and Genesee counties.
Insights Health Care is brought to you by Total Health Care
Cash-strapped California schools are facing a perfect storm. The student population is soaring, there is a demand for improved student performance and thousands of school buildings are in need of repair.
In order to right the ship, school districts will be investing heavily in upcoming years to build or renovate existing schools to enhance learning environments. How schools are designed will not only affect the overall quality of the buildings and operational expenses but also the health and productivity of future generations of students and teachers.
And school districts that incorporate the best in today’s design strategies can provide improved learning environments for students while also paring down electrical costs.
“Today’s educational facilities are providing better built environments for students, teachers and communities by using strategies for design of buildings that meet the Collaborative for High Performance Schools (CHPS) or Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) criteria,” says Reza Zare, a partner with Alfa Tech.
Smart Business spoke with Zare about educational facilities and how they can be enhanced to facilitate learning while being more efficient from an operations perspective.
What is required for a building to meet CHPS or LEED criteria?
CHPS is a self-certified benchmarking system that defines the attributes of a high-performance school. Among other things, the criteria consist of site and materials selection, energy and water efficiency, and indoor environmental quality. CHPS is used by districts to provide high-performance strategies in the design of new buildings, campuses and major modernizations.
LEED certification provides independent, third-party verification that a building was designed and built using strategies designed to achieve high performance in five key areas of human and environmental health: energy efficiency, indoor environmental quality, sustainable site development, water savings and materials selection. Certification occurs through the U.S. Green Building Council.
LEED points are awarded on a point scale and credits are weighted to reflect their potential environmental impacts. The point list is as indicated by the U.S. Green Building Council.
What types of financial benefits can be realized from meeting such standards?
The two biggest uses of energy in any building are lighting and HVAC. If you can reduce the lighting, you save a lot of energy. If you can use the natural ventilation system and use free cooling rather than mechanical cooling, you save a lot of energy.
Another financial benefit is standardization of items. Let’s take filtration. Perhaps there are 20 schools in a district and they have an average of 30-40 units per school. If you can standardize filters for all of these schools, you don’t need seven to 10 different types of filters; you can use just one to three types. The same is true with lighting, carpet and others.
What can be done to improve indoor air quality in schools?
It is important to have a good ventilation and filtration system, monitoring devices to monitor air quality and an economizer on the HVAC unit, which can save energy in buildings by using cool outside air as a means of cooling the indoor space. An economizer is particularly well suited for California schools because of the climate. With economizers, it is possible to flush the building, which means you can put the unit 100 percent on outside air and get rid of stagnant air, which can be odorous and contain harmful bacteria. This is typically done overnight, once a month or so, when temperatures are cooler.
Why is daylighting important?
Education case studies have shown that introducing daylighting into a classroom environment can increase a student’s ability to learn and retain new materials. Students perform better with the introduction of natural light into a space, since they feel as if they are outside, and are more relaxed and focused on the materials being taught.
Daylighting supplements the artificial lighting in the space providing a reduction in the amount of energy required to light the space. With the use of daylighting controls, consistent lighting levels can be achieved across a classroom or space by dimming lighting fixtures that are closer to the windows and increasing the lighting levels at points further from the windows.
Why are mechanical, electrical and plumbing commissioning important for school construction?
In California, a completed project is checked and approved by the Division of the State Architect (DSA). However, the DSA doesn’t check the operation of mechanical, electrical and plumbing systems as a whole to make sure the systems are installed correctly, according to approved documents, controls are correctly programmed, and balancing has been verified, etc.
A third party, or commissioning agent, will verify what the contractors have installed and the overall performance of the systems. We have noticed that contractors have a different approach when a commissioning agent is involved. They know that the third party will monitor and enforce plans and specifications, and verify contractor adherence to design and specifications. I’ve seen projects that were not commissioned, and a year later the HVAC systems aren’t working correctly because no one checked the operation and performance of the system.
Another benefit to having a commissioning agent is that they will review the testing and balancing report, as-built/record drawings, and operations and maintenance manual, including training of the school facility’s personnel. If the mechanical, electrical, and plumbing systems are commissioned, the District will see a benefit in saving operational and maintenance costs.
Reza Zare is a partner with Alfa Tech. Reach him at Reza.Zare@atce.com or (408) 487-1221.
Insights Technology & Engineering is brought to you by Alfa Tech
Sustainability programs and energy conservation are rapidly gaining popularity in the corporate world. Economic advantages include reduced operating costs and savings on utilities, maintenance and capital expenditures. Environmental benefits include the use of recycled building materials and improved air and water quality.
According to Robert Jones, Ph.D., Vice President of Advanced and Emerging Technologies for Corporate College, a sustainable plan should begin with a complete assessment of current conditions.
Smart Business spoke with Jones about sustainability programs, what types of alternative energy options are available and how he sees the marketplace evolving in the future.
Why should more companies embrace sustainability programs?
It saves money and helps the environment. Many programs can be initiated at little or no cost. Beginning a recycling program, for example, may take as little as an investment in some recycling bins and employee training.
At Tri-C, one of our programs focuses on turning off computer equipment at the end of a workday. The only cost is training our employees, but the payoff can be substantial. Tri-C has a lighting program that uses LED lighting in all of the on-campus vending machines. Most offices have motion sensors that automatically turn off lights after a certain time if no motion is detected.
Tri-C has made the commitment for new construction projects to be LEED certified. The Advanced Technology Center currently under construction is designed to be at least LEED silver. We take sustainability programs very seriously. It’s a good way to do business.
What types of alternative energy options are available?
Most large-scale projects focus on wind or solar. Wind farms take up a lot of space and must be located where wind speed is sufficient and constant enough to create electricity, and often that is not where transmission lines are available. This increases the cost of the project because the supporting infrastructure must be built. Large projects need to be coupled with smart grid initiatives so the power grid can compensate for the loss of power when the wind dies down. Power cannot be stored on the grid, so power lost from the wind farm must be immediately replaced through increased generation from other power plants.
Large solar projects need to be built in locations to maximize sunlight and infrastructure could be an issue. However, small solar projects can be built in multiple locations. Tri-C has solar installations at some of our campus locations, including the downtown Metro campus and at the Advanced Automotive Technology Center on our Western campus.
What kinds of subsidies are available for businesses that use alternative energy?
The federal and state governments generally have programs for purchase and installation of alternative energy systems, either through grants or tax breaks. The availability of these programs changes frequently, so it is best to visit the Department of Energy website to find the latest programs.
How should a business go about formulating a plan to take advantage of alternative energy?
Alternative energy should be included as part of a complete sustainability plan, which starts with a complete assessment of current conditions. At Tri-C, we analyzed energy usage, climate, transportation, buildings, grounds, procurement, recycling, waste reduction and training. Based on where we were, we set specific goals and timelines. Input was solicited from all levels, including students, because for sustainability programs to be successful, everyone needs to do their part.
Some programs were inexpensive, such as creating a recycling program across all campuses or offering discounted RTA passes so students could take mass transit instead of driving to campus. Other programs were more extensive, such as retrofits to update lighting, boilers and AC systems. Tri-C made a commitment for all new buildings to be constructed to LEED standards. Campus green spaces were redesigned to decrease the amount of storm water runoff.
These are just some of the projects that Tri-C has implemented to increase efficiency, lower the carbon footprint and ultimately decrease operating costs. Not all of the programs that Tri-C is implementing will work in every business, but the process that Tri-C used should be widely applicable. The main steps are to analyze current conditions, set goals, develop a workable plan and gain employee acceptance.
How do you see the marketplace for alternative energy evolving
The Department of Energy believes that utilities will shift to more distributed generation in the next 10 to 15 years instead of large power plants providing all of the power generation. This is going to include wind and solar but may also include small biomass facilities and plug-in electric or electric hybrid vehicles.
However, renewable energy sources, at least today, are not completely reliable; the wind can stop blowing, or the solar panels can be obscured by clouds. To manage changing conditions in the power generation, utilities will need many of the features provided by the smart grid. These technologies allow utilities to monitor power conditions throughout the grid, bring online additional generation as needed, or to control load to compensate for lost generation. Deployment of smart grid technologies varies from state to state, and Ohio is far behind states such as Texas, Florida and California.
But even with smart grid technologies, renewable energy will account for only a small percentage of generation until the problem of storage is solved. Currently, all power must be consumed as it is created. Renewable energy would be more reliable if it could be stored when generated and supplied to the grid when needed.
Robert Jones, Ph.D. is Vice President of Advanced and Emerging Technologies for Corporate College. Reach him at (216) 987-3038 or Robert.Jones@tri-c.edu.
Insights Executive Education is brought to you by Corporate College.
Voice over Internet Protocol, or VoIP, is becoming increasingly popular with businesses in today’s economic climate. Significant cost savings can be realized by using a VoIP platform to connect employees virtually, freeing up costly office space in the process.
“VoIP is the utilization of Internet connectivity to make phone calls. It can transform the way you do business,” says Michael Gray, a senior sales executive with Ohio.net.
Smart Business spoke with Gray and his client Ken Fanger, president of Solar Systems Networking, about VoIP, the advantages such a platform provides, and what advances are envisioned in the future.
How does VoIP translate to tangible benefits for an organization?
Gray: It depends on what a client’s needs are. Typically, however, businesses see benefits ranging from being able to connect multiple people back to the core office to being able to build customized call routing protocols to eliminate any geographic restrictions they may face. For example, remote salespeople who telecommute are provided with the ability to connect to their home office, which saves in commuting costs for the employee and overhead costs for the employer. VoIP can benefit a business in many ways.
Fanger: The biggest advantage for us is we are able to use the VoIP solution combined with forwarding to our cell phones so we don’t have to have our people tied to a phone system. We are a consulting technology firm so we aren’t usually sitting in the office. VoIP has helped us take advantage of having people connected and working while presenting one type of sales face to the world. It makes it much easier for us to manage all of the virtual clientele that we work with without having to have a physical location.
What advantages does VoIP provide in terms of releasing businesses from office space?
Gray: VoIP frees business from having to be tethered to a physical location. For example, our organization has salespeople who telecommute and can work from anywhere. When they receive a phone call it appears as though they are in the office although they might be a million miles away. I have a client who was able to realize savings of $250,000 per year on office space and associated overhead costs because they made the switch to a VoIP platform.
Fanger: VoIP provides a virtual platform so you can have employees and phone numbers anywhere in the United States. We have an employee who works in Texas and has a local Texas number, but it still connects to our VoIP solution. So when customers call in they have a local contact, but access to our company. It provides us a great opportunity to reach out to new markets that we couldn’t have reached any other way. We are a six-person company so being able use a cost-effective VoIP platform is vital to our ability to grow.
How can a brick-and-mortar feel still be replicated?
Gray: Customers can still receive the live contact they crave. With VoIP, you have the ability to transfer phones so people can get a live answer. The environment feels the same, but is conducted through a virtual atmosphere.
Fanger: When a person calls in they can’t tell the difference between the virtual environment and a brick-and-mortar structure. It’s nice because we don’t have infrastructure costs, but when people are calling our company we have a full-functioning phone system that allows us to do business in a manner advantageous to us.
How has VoIP changed over the past several years?
Gray: VoIP has become more dynamic in supporting other applications such as smartphones and tablets. It gives companies the ability to essentially hand off a smartphone to an employee which equates to an extension within their world. The need for an actual desk phone is going away. We are moving away from a phone-line environment to a cloud-based, virtual phone model.
Fanger: We’ve been using VoIP for six years. The feature sets have been growing and there is more functionality, which allows us to stay in touch within our organization. Also, it now works really well for adding to smart devices units.
How do you envision it evolving in the future?
Gray: I see VoIP becoming more of a cloud-based application, which would lead to it being able to work better with devices such as smartphones and iPads. It will be more software based in the sense that traditional handsets will no longer be applicable in our world. VoIP will be much more dynamic and will continue to provide businesses with a brick-and-mortar feel, but without the physical brick-and-mortar overhead.
Fanger: VoIP will definitely move toward combining phones with different types of applications, such as customer relationship management. As people embrace devices such as the iPhone and iPad, there will be greater integration between work applications.
Michael Gray is a senior sales executive with Ohio.net. Reach him at email@example.com or (330) 658-1777.
Ken Fanger is president of Solar Systems Networking. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or (440) 243-3207.
Insights Telecommunications is brought to you by Ohio.net
If you’ve tuned into a news program or read a newspaper recently you’ve undoubtedly noticed that health care providers are struggling with increased cost, increased workload and funding cuts.
While looking for ways to deal with these problems, some health care institutions have found a possible solution in a very interesting place. Taking a page from the manufacturing industry, health care institutions are incorporating the Lean Six Sigma methodology. “Health care providers have started to understand they need to look from a process-based approach to gain efficiencies,” says Ed Siurek, Director of Quality at Corporate College. “Because of the increased scrutiny on costs, they have to find ways to keep patient care at a high level while minimizing as much process waste as possible.”
Smart Business spoke with Siurek about using Lean Six Sigma within health care institutions and its impact.
What does health care see in Lean Six Sigma?
Lean Six Sigma is a process-based set of tools. It can be applied to anything that follows or should follow a standard process. While the practice of medicine doesn’t really fall into this category, most things within a health care facility do. Think for a moment about all the administrative processes involved in running a hospital. Optimizing these not only increases efficiency, but the ancillary benefits to the staff, doctors and patients can be significant.
What’s driving this approach?
Quite simply, these organizations understand they must become more efficient in order to maintain their current business. Patient populations are continuing to grow, procedures are becoming more expensive and liabilities are a real part of everyday life. There is also the push from the ‘payers.’ Insurance companies and the federal government continue to push the industry to reduce costs.
In addition, there is the availability of information to the consumer. Consumers (or patients) have increased capabilities to understand their choices. While some individuals might not have the luxury to evaluate which facility they will use, many outpatient or elective procedure patients do. They shop for the best services available and hospital patient satisfaction results play a big role in some of these decisions. Creating the best possible patient experience means eliminating waiting times, paperwork and any other problems.
Is there a difference in the approach taken by health care versus manufacturing?
Essentially, there is no difference. Because Lean Six Sigma is a process-based tool, it can apply to any individual process. However, many health care facilities choose to use their own terminology to ease the process. Because Lean and Six Sigma are often associated with a manufacturing environment, the difference in terms and even modification of the key practices allows a smoother transition into the ultimate goal of continuous improvement.
Are there any pitfalls or obstacles to implementing this type of program in a hospital?
Many Lean Six Sigma practitioners have seen some level of resistance. Although this isn’t unusual, it is a bit different in clinical settings. Lean Six Sigma is not something to be applied to the practice of medicine, but rather to the processes within the institution. It has been applied to the transport of patients, medical billing, and redesign of work cells to optimize the flow of information and to reduce the amount of waiting by doctors, nurses and patients. If this point is carefully defined in the early stages and there is diligence in keeping a processed-based approach, individuals can see the benefits and ultimately adopt the program. Unfortunately, there have been examples where the lines between process improvement and patient care have become blurred and the program most likely fails to achieve any positive impact.
What are the benefits to using Lean Six Sigma in health care?
Lean Six Sigma is merely a tool used in the continuous improvement process of an organization. With the external regulatory and financial pressures placed on health care today and the increased demand from patients for the best possible experience, these organizations need to have a way to continuously monitor and improve all of their processes. In the end, the benefits are seen not only by the institution, but much further into the community. Better processes make employees feel better about what they are doing. Customers (or patients) have a better experience and the institution is able to eliminate wasteful processes that can directly impact their bottom line.
In addition to improving the patient experience, health care institutions can and have seen significant impact within the administrative portion of their business. As it does in any office setting, Lean Six Sigma can help to reduce variation and waste. Determining root causes and then streamlining processes saves time, effort and headaches for everyone involved. Consider the number of transactions conducted in one day at a typical hospital that do not directly involve the treatment of a patient. If you are able to cut even 5 to 10 percent, you can achieve significant cost savings.
What do you see as the end result of these programs?
Continuous improvement is a critical component to any business. In the field of health care, it can result in organizations increasing their internal efficiencies, patient satisfaction, employee involvement and overall strength of the business.
For medical staff, optimization can lead to the elimination or reduction in wasted time and effort, allowing more time with patients. Health care professionals always say they became involved in the field to help people. Elimination of wasted activities gives them that opportunity.
Lean Six Sigma is a preventive medicine that can be used on processes to avoid problems in the future. Many institutions have become more involved in using these techniques and the success stories become more significant every day.
Ed Siurek is Director of Quality at Corporate College. Reach him at (216) 987-2838 or email@example.com.
Insights Executive Education is brought to you by Corporate College