SBN Staff

Business owners have many choices when it comes to how to pay their employees.

Some handle the payroll process internally, and spend a great deal of time managing all the paperwork of federal and state taxes, Social Security, Medicare, union dues, 401(k) contributions and more. Some use payroll software, which allows accurate record keeping but often has a long learning curve. Some hire a local accountant or a professional tax lawyer/CPA.

Others outsource these tasks to companies that provide automated payroll services.

Smart Business spoke with Michael Cheravitch, director of Business Banking at FirstMerit Bank, about what services to expect from payroll providers and how to ensure you choose the right one for your company.

Why is it important for a business to choose the right payroll provider?

Payroll appears to be pretty simple on the surface. Employers calculate employees’ gross earnings. They deduct the respective payroll taxes and other ancillary deductions such as insurance or 401(k). Then, they send the government its share and produce a payment for the net amount to the employee.

However, payroll is actually more complex than this. There are bonuses, sick time, overtime and other factors that can change from pay period to pay period, affecting compensation. In addition, federal, state and local taxes are always changing and, depending on the complexity of a payroll, the time it takes to keep track of all of these changes can turn it into a daunting task.

If employers aren’t up to date on payroll tax requirements, such as rates or frequency of payments and filings, and they miss a deadline or pay an incorrect amount, they can be fined. Additionally, these errors can lead to an inaccurate payroll and, ultimately, unhappy employees. That’s why it is so important to do it correctly.

How can an outsourced payroll provider benefit a business?

With payroll being a much more complicated task than it appears, businesses need someone they can count on for more than just paycheck calculations. Entering all the data and pushing out a check is the easy part. It is everything else after the fact that becomes difficult.

A bank’s business online payroll, for example, could provide payroll tax payments and filings as well as 100 percent guarantee that payroll taxes will be paid and filed accurately and on time. With online payroll, you can offer direct deposit, which saves time and money for the employer and employee. There are no checks or check stubs to print, and the employees don’t have to make an extra trip to the bank on payday, so their time is spent focusing on business productivity.

How does this compare with attempting to do this work in house?

With most in-house accounting products there are additional costs for keeping the technology up to date and tax tables current. With an outsourced payroll provider, there is no software to purchase, no need to have personnel maintain it and no ongoing fees to keep it current.

Having an employee do in-house payroll presents a risk of knowledge walking out the door if that employee leaves the company. There is no need to have an ‘expert’ in-house with an automated payroll service.

How can business owners determine which payroll provider would be the right fit for their company?

There are many factors that go into determining the best solution when it comes to payroll. The five most important factors are reputation, customer service, ease of use, ability to grow with the company and, of course, cost.

Businesses need to look at the complete picture when deciding on a payroll provider. Working with a small, local payroll provider can present issues with out-of-state calculations and few, if any, offer any liability or guarantee with their service. However, working with a payroll provider that has a proven track record of success and growth offers peace of mind to the business owner.

Businesses should look for a payroll provider that has been recognized and awarded for the customer care it provides and can answer questions and provide solutions to problems. Also, look for a payroll service that provides live support available at one number, eliminating all the shuffling around and waiting for a call back.

With the many options available for payroll services, ease of use is one of the most important factors for business owners. For example, employers can look for an award-winning online product that allows business owners to run their payroll from any Internet-capable device. Employers simply log in to their online account, enter hours and other specific payroll information, preview the payroll to ensure data is correct and press ‘approve’ — everything else is taken care of. Processing payroll this way takes about five minutes.

Another important factor to look at is whether the provider can grow with the business’s future needs.

Finally, businesses should consider the cost of working with a payroll provider. One of the major advantages of working with an all-inclusive provider is that there are no hidden costs for direct deposit, reports, and payroll tax payments and filings. Online technology significantly cuts operational costs, and those savings are passed on to customers. For example, some customers could pay half the cost charged by larger companies, accountants and CPAs, and most local providers.

Michael Cheravitch is director of Business Banking at FirstMerit Bank. Reach him at (330) 849-8699 or michael.cheravitch@firstmerit.com.

Insights Banking & Finance is brought to you by FirstMerit Bank

In April 2012, President Barack Obama signed into law the Jumpstart Our Business Startups Act. Meant to encourage initial public offering activity, certain provisions of the act impact the application of Section 404 of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, which requires management to establish and maintain internal control procedures for financial reporting. So how do emerging growth companies cope?

Smart Business spoke with Bill Philippe, a senior audit manager at Sensiba San Filippo LLP, about SOX compliance and the JOBS act.

How would you define an emerging growth company and the requirements in question?

An emerging growth company generally has less than $1 billion in revenue in the fiscal year prior to its IPO and its status generally lasts for five years after its IPO. It is exempted from the internal control audit requirement of Section 404 of the SOX Act. In practical terms, this exemption from the audit requirement should reduce the cost of compliance for an emerging growth company, as its auditors will not be required to audit its internal controls over financial reporting (ICFR), thereby reducing the scope and focus of the annual audit process. However, emerging growth companies are not exempted from the management reporting requirements of Section 404 of SOX.

The most challenging aspect of SOX is Section 404, which requires management and the external auditor to report on the adequacy of the company’s ICFR. This is the most costly aspect of the legislation for companies to implement, as documenting and testing important financial manual and automated controls requires a significant sustained effort.

Under Section 404, management is required to produce an ‘internal control report’ as part of each annual exchange act report. It must affirm ‘the responsibility of management for establishing and maintaining an adequate internal control structure and procedures for financial reporting.’ The report must also contain an assessment of the effectiveness of the internal control structure and procedures of the issuer for financial reporting. To do this, companies generally adopt an internal control framework such as that described in Committee of Sponsoring Organizations of the Treadway Commission (COSO).

What should an emerging growth company do following an IPO?

During the five years following an IPO, an emerging growth company should take a risk-focused approach to SOX compliance by specifically identifying, implementing and monitoring those internal controls that enable management to certify the design and operating effectiveness of controls with confidence.

You want to develop a SOX implementation process that is designed with clearly defined goals and executed by an experienced team. You need to lay the foundation for your company’s regulatory compliance requirements as well as practice effective corporate governance now and into the future.

How does the post-IPO process break down?

Activities in the first post-IPO year are focused upon the identification of high-risk processes and the implementation of the documentation and monitoring activities necessary to support management’s annual reporting requirements under Section 404.

The focus in the second and third post-IPO years is on evaluating and understanding the company’s internal control priorities in light of the company’s growth. Monitoring activities necessary to support management’s annual reporting requirements continue.

In the fourth post-IPO year, add the additional objective of documentation and assessment of the moderate- and low-risk processes. Evaluation of  the company’s internal control priorities continues along with monitoring activities necessary to support management’s annual reporting requirements.

Monitoring activities necessary to support management’s annual reporting requirements continue in the fifth year, as do those needed to support the integrated audit work of the company’s external auditors.

What are the effects of the recent changes to the Internal Control – Integrated Framework?

On Sept. 18, COSO released Internal Control over External Financial Reporting: Compendium of Approaches and Examples.

It includes the Updated Internal Control – Integrated Framework, which reflects feedback from its recently closed comment period and the proposed Illustrative Tools: Assessing Effectiveness of a System of Internal Control.

The compendium illustrates how the principles set forth in the proposed updated framework can be applied in designing, implementing and conducting internal control over external financial reporting. It provides additional reference material for concepts discussed within the framework, including types of external reporting, suitable objectives, judgment, overlapping objectives, deficiencies in internal control and smaller entities.

The Updated Internal Control – Integrated Framework was initially made available for public comment in Dec. 2011, and incorporates the following major changes from the original 1992 framework:

  • The financial reporting objective was expanded to address internal and external, financial and non-financial reporting objectives.
  • An increased focus on operations, compliance and non-financial reporting objectives.
  • Codification of the 17 principles that represent the fundamental concepts associated within the five components of internal control.
  • Expanded discussion of the governance role of the board of directors and committees of the board.
  • The changes in technology and how they impact all components of internal control.

Companies should assess the impact that the expanded areas of focus in the updated framework will have on their current internal control processes and draft an implementation plan for any enhancements deemed necessary by internal stakeholders and those charged with governance.

Bill Philippe is a senior audit manager at Sensiba San Filippo LLP, a regional CPA firm based in the San Francisco Bay Area. Reach him at (650) 358-9000 or bphilippe@ssfllp.com.

Insights Accounting is brought to you by Sensiba San Filippo

When hiring a member of the IT team, weeding through all of the candidates out there is a tremendous challenge. Particularly if you are a smaller organization, it is likely that a non-technical person is doing the interviewing. In that case, it is very difficult to determine whether or not the person you are talking to actually knows their stuff. Even someone with a very technical background can be fooled by an impressive resume and a smooth talker.

“IT people are weird. I should know — I’m one of them,” says Zack Schuler, founder and CEO of Cal Net Technology Group. “They are the hardest to hire and even harder to retain, and are sometimes hard to fire, as many of them make themselves indispensable as they convince management that their skills are unique. Many of them have technical egos that are larger than life.

“At Cal Net, we have roughly 35 talented IT engineers that we had to hire, train and retain. And we’ve had to let some go over the years. We would like to think that we have this down to a science.”

Smart Business spoke with Schuler about the best process for hiring and retaining the right IT people.

Should IT people be interviewed differently than other potential hires?

Like with any position, you should be screening for the personality traits. An egocentric IT person is the last person you want on your team. Some interviewers are naturally talented at sniffing this out. For others, I would recommend a personality profile. In my opinion, personality is more than 50 percent of what you should be screening for.

Another of the most important traits is good communication skills. We have all experienced the IT guy who wants to sit in a closet somewhere to minimize his contact with humans. If they do make enduser contact, it is usually a painful experience, as they will say the least amount possible so that they can head back to their cave. You should have the expectation that your IT person will be able to communicate as effectively as anyone else in the organization.

How should a company screen an IT person?

Start with, ‘Tell me about your IT environment at home.’ If they give you an answer along the lines of ‘I have three physical servers, running seven VMs for testing, and I’ve got my own mail server running Exchange, and I’m running VDI for my primary workstation,’ then that is a good first step. They view this as their ‘sandbox.’ If they respond, ‘I’ve got a laptop at home and I try to stay away from the computer as I get enough of it at work,’ then they probably aren’t a good technical fit. You want your IT folks to be passionate about technology, and most of them do their best research and learning at home, after hours.

The second easy way to screen is to have a short technical quiz that can be administered by anyone. Feel free to email me for our quiz.

Last, and perhaps the most time-consuming and difficult process, is to put them through a technical lab. We require that our new hires come in and build a network in an eight-hour time period. We have a point system that scores the candidate, as no one ever finishes the lab. This gives us an excellent assessment as to what they do know, and what it is that they need help with. Depending on what you are looking for, there are companies that will administer these sorts of labs for you. If you are testing on Microsoft infrastructure skills, we can administer this sort of lab.

What are some of the challenges of retaining IT people?

In general, IT people are motivated by advancement and the quest for knowledge. In organizations where there isn’t any room to move up nor is there anything new to learn, IT people will stagnate and usually move on.

Good IT people are always looking to explore and learn the latest and greatest technologies. Just as they have a sandbox at home, they want to work for an organization that invests in IT and gives them an opportunity to learn.

Good IT people are also looking to move up the food chain. While some IT folks are motivated heavily by pay, many are more motivated by an increase in title and responsibility.

How can these challenges be overcome?

Quenching the IT person’s quest for knowledge isn’t always the easiest thing to do. There are two ways to attack this. First of all, if you hire someone who is a master of all of the technologies that you are currently running, you’ll get someone who can hit the ground running, but you will also get someone who becomes bored quickly. On the other hand, if you hire someone with like experience and aptitude, but not exact experience in the technologies you are running, you will give someone an opportunity to learn. You will obviously have to weigh the business risk in doing this — and while they are learning you may want to supplement their skills with a consultant — but it can be well worth it in the long run. In short, I recommend slightly ‘under-hiring’ for the position.

The second way to attack this is to give your IT person some latitude when it comes to decision-making. If they want to implement a new technology that is reasonable from a cost standpoint, and delivers business value, I would err on the side of letting them do it. Even small concessions can give your IT person a sense of worth and something new to learn.

Last, in terms of advancement, don’t ‘over-title’ a person. Don’t call your lone IT person ‘IT director’ right away. Create a career path: network administrator,  senior network administrator, IT manager, IT director and so on. Even very large IT organizations should be using this model. Look for increases in responsibility along the way, along with small increases in pay. Thinking out a career path before you hire someone will go a long way in making sure that they hang around for a long time.

Zack Schuler is the founder and CEO of Cal Net Technology Group. Reach him at ZSchuler@CalNetTech.com.

Insights Technology is brought to you by Cal Net Technology Group

When a position opens up at your company, a decision must be made whether to fill it with someone working in the company or hire someone from the outside. Each course has its benefits and drawbacks.

“When assessing your current staff, consider possible positions that a highly skilled employee would benefit from,” says Mary Delaney, an account manager with Ashton Staffing, Inc.

She says it may be the case that certain employees are outperforming or underperforming in their current roles and highly skilled employees may not be using their abilities to their fullest in their current positions.

However, there is reason to exercise caution. Delaney says, “Internal hiring immediately limits the prospective hiring pool and the company may miss out on a better-suited candidate.”

Smart Business spoke with Delaney about the difference between promoting from within and seeking to fill a position with a new hire.

How should a company evaluate the talent it has on its staff?

Aside from role-specific evaluations, monitor the employee’s work ethic. Look to see if they abuse sick days, are consistently tardy, if they share the company’s values and mesh well with its culture and if they’re able to adapt to changes within the company.

Consider the dedication level of the employee, which can be measured by the number of years they’ve invested with the company and what they have contributed in that time. Don’t just rely on numbers for this. Think back to instances where the employee succeeded in building and creating a flawless name for the company. Seek feedback on the employee from customers, phone surveys, email responses or co-workers.

Discuss your findings with the employee. Let the employee know they are not going unnoticed. Choose areas in which an employee has overachieved and acknowledge them for his or her hard work and dedication. Suggest ways of improving specific areas of concern you have with them. If there is a suitable promotion or role change, offer it to them.

What are the risks and benefits of looking inside the company to fill an open position?

Hiring from within can be very beneficial. A current employee’s familiarity with the company will allow for a cleaner and simplified transition period. Already aware of the company culture and policies, the current employee will most likely get up to speed much faster than a person new to the organization. Time spent interviewing and negotiating with an external employee is eliminated. Many companies use promotion from within as an incentive tool and a reward for good work or longevity with the company. This increases motivation and loyalty from internal employees. Hiring from within is typically economically beneficial. The position to be filled immediately transitions to a lower-level, less skilled position. This can significantly reduce the costs of recruitment and training expenses.

Hiring from within the company can also have some drawbacks. An internal promotion may inhibit the opportunity for innovation and progression. The company may lose out on fresh ideas and the creativity that can come from an external hire. Company morale could be negatively affected and friction among colleagues may arise if an envious employee feels slighted by a colleague’s promotion.

Ultimately, each company’s hiring decision is going to be unique. What’s best for one company may not work for another. Be sure to consider both positive and negative implications of internal versus external hiring before opening the position. Consider your budget, time frame, company culture and prospective talent on hand first. Internal hiring is generally faster and cheaper but may create hostility between colleagues and leave the company without the best-suited candidate or fresh innovative ideas.

How can a company ensure it has qualified candidates prepared to fill positions as they come available?  

Both mentoring and cross training are great tools for motivating your employees and sharpening their skills. By implementing a combination of these two, your employees will step out of their normal role and comfort zone by taking on new challenges. This keeps both the employee and job role from becoming stagnant. The challenge gives the employee a sense of achievement, which increases confidence and overall job performance.

Mentoring establishes a positive atmosphere of teamwork and success. When a talented employee displays initiative to go above and beyond, support that with cross training. Give them higher-level responsibility. Invite that employee to participate in more company-wide planning and decision-making meetings. Give them room to establish more goals and priorities. Reassign responsibilities that the employee does not like or are routine. A great way to promote company-wide training and development is by providing access and reimbursement to continuing education classes or company-specific training seminars, which ultimately sharpen employee skills.

In terms of cost, which is most often the more prudent: hiring internally or from outside the company? 

Hiring internally can save you time and money. You avoid expenses on advertising, screening and in-depth job training. Current employees are familiar with company policies and culture, and generally transition instantaneously into their new position.

However, if you strictly hire internally to save on these costs, you may lose out in the long run. Consider the risks and benefits of internal and external hiring before you make your decision. Each company is unique. Consider how your company morale will be affected if you hire internally. Do you already have a candidate who is an excellent fit? Or would you be sacrificing the need for ‘new blood’ and fresh ideas?  Hiring internally to save on costs up front may lead you to losing out in the long run. Determine which is the best route for your needs before you decide to open the position.

Mary Delaney is an account manager with Ashton Staffing, Inc. Reach her at (770) 419-1776 or mdelaney@ashtonstaffing.com.

Insights Staffing is brought to you by Ashton

Your staffing agency should be much more than an order taker. Instead, an effective agency can serve as a partner to your company, creating a relationship that develops over time, similar to those with other professional partners you may have whom you rely on for advice when making a business decision.

As the relationship develops, your recruiter will learn about your business culture and, most importantly, what your hiring managers are looking for regarding their current staff, future projects and even potential layoffs, should that be the case.

“Companies need the best candidates to fill an open position, not just warm bodies,” says Jacque Myers, senior engineering recruiter with The Daniel Group. “When we have the opportunity to develop a partnership with a client, we can understand their challenges and help them resolve these issues with one of our hiring solutions.”

Smart Business spoke with Myers about making the most out of your relationship with your staffing agency by developing a strong partnership for the long term.

Why is it important to form a long-term relationship with one staffing partner?

Companies with a consistent and sizable need for temporary staffing stand to benefit from forming a long-term relationship for several reasons, including having access to a broad, specialized pool of employees who can be qualified to meet the specific needs of your industry or business; having a single point of contact who can handle all of your staffing needs; and realizing the potential cost savings that comes from working with someone who has knowledge of your business and your industry.

From the agency’s perspective, having a long-term relationship helps your recruiters build familiarity and a knowledge base that will help them prepare a cadre of pre-qualified candidates for you to review and consider. Doing this means that when your project begins, your recruiters should be prepared to provide you with better-qualified candidates in a much shorter period of time.

However, failing to establish a long-term relationship with your recruiter can result in a ‘revolving door’ situation with hires that can lead to frustration on the part of the hiring manager and co-workers, as well as a delay in the completion of the project.

Should you be looking for direct hire placement, the staffing partner who, once again, understands your culture, long-term goals and the industry in which you work, will be much better able to find a candidate who fits within your organization.

What should you expect from your staffing partner in addition to resumes?

Your staffing partner can begin finding and earmarking potential contract and direct hire candidates long before your business enters its crunch time. Let your staffing agent know what you are dealing with, both from a budget standpoint and in regard to the long-term goals of the resource they are looking for.

This will put your staffing partner in a position to advise you of the best way of getting the right talent and ultimately realizing staffing success. It will also help to make sure that you do not have any skills gaps by implementing the right mix of direct hires and contract consultants.

The qualification process is equally important. Having a staffing partner who understands your culture and is clear on where your employee or contractor will be spending their time gives you a much better chance of accomplishing your goals through the hires that are made.

To determine if you have a strong relationship with your staffing agent, ask the following questions:

  • Does the agent have true ‘partnership’ aptitude? Is the service built around the need to invest sufficient time toward understanding your business, your hiring managers, key drivers, value proposition, and both the hard and soft skills of the candidates?
  • Does the agent provide scope, reach or expertise that complements what you are able to do yourself? For example, can the agent identify and penetrate strategic talent populations that are out of your current reach or otherwise not on your radar?
  • Will your agent be a true consultative partner who is willing to share constructive feedback and provide recommendations instead of telling you only what you want to hear?
  • Is the staffing agency prepared to be your partner in this for the long run and not just the one-time placement?

How soon should you discuss your staffing needs for 2013?

Now is the perfect time to begin meeting and discussing your hiring challenges for the coming year. It is important to share with your staffing agent what you expect your budget for staffing might be, as well as the overall challenges you expect to face so that your staffing consultant can determine how he or she can best accommodate your hiring needs for the upcoming year.

Once all of the information is gathered, the right staffing partner will help you reach your goals by making insightful, timely recommendations and determining the best staffing arrangement that will be most effective for you and your company or department. <<

Jacque Myers is the senior engineering recruiter with The Daniel Group. Reach her at (713) 932-9313 or jacquemyers@danielgroupus.com.

Insights Staffing is brought to you by The Daniel Group

On the heels of the Affordable Care Act and health care reform, business owners are going to deal with the shakeout of more costs or potential fines, exchanges and other uncertainties. All the while, the sleeping giant of the commercial Property & Casualty (P&C) industry is awakening with wide speculation of a potential hardening market in workers’ compensation and property casualty. Frankly, it seems to have arrived here in California and other states, as workers’ compensation renewals are causing sheer exasperation.

Gloria Lam of Risk Placement Services lets us know that the market is gyrating; low-price carriers have started high and the clients are demanding quote revisions up to three times for price reductions. It is our job as brokers to persist on behalf of clients by presenting high-deductible plans and other options. Professional Employer Organizations (PEOs) and captives may not be the best shelter, and the repercussions can be costly and can be felt for years to come. It feels as though CEOs are in the eye of the storm that is circling around them, taking bits and pieces, as CFOs are boarding up the windows trying to hold on to what they have.

Ken A. Crerar, president and CEO of the Council of Insurance Agents and Brokers (CIAB), said the P&C market has officially achieved hard-market status. With price increases in the last two quarters and tightening in underwriting, the market has made a hard turn. He goes on to say, “It is hard to predict the length and severity, but the market has turned.”

Mark Lyons, CEO of Arch World Wide Insurance Group said, “Overcapitalization is hiding losses on business. We have had $12 billion in reserves released in the 2011 calendar year alone. … It has been three loss-ratio points of reserve releases over the past three to four years on average. … This sheltering losses on current-year business and masking how unprofitable current business is because of releases in this year for accidents which occurred prior.”  The soft-market pricing is catching up and the longer-tails in commercial lines are causing depleting cushions in reserves.  Acts of God and other disasters have an aftermath effect and there has been frequency internationally.

Market Scout says workers’ compensation and commercial property rates both rose 4 percent in April, which was the highest of the product lines. Richard Kerr, CEO of Market Scout, notices admitted and nonadmitted insurers are showing similar pricing models. This is against historical approaches to underwriting which, in the past, showed considerable differences. These similar pricing strategies could lead to more business for the nonadmitted insurers. The admitted insurers may begin to restrict their risk appetite and begin to decline tougher risks.

The last 10 quarters have generated negative cash reserves, which are beginning to impact companies. Business leaders are looking for leadership that will re-energize local economies and lower the cost of doing business. Brian Allen in National Underwriter goes on to state how these business leaders are demanding improvements in state's business climates. “These changes include reforms to workers’ comp laws that deal with how medical treatment and benefits are delivered to injured workers and the costs that are ultimately passed on to local businesses.”

California is beginning to see double-digit increases in workers’ compensation and some businesses are responding by closing their doors in the state. U.S. Legislators, State Department of Industrial Relations and Governors are demanding more than piecemeal reform and taking a hard look at the delivery of care, prescriptions and costs. The broker’s role is to go to the insured and make sure they know what is happening. The only safety net is to be prepared for the storm as it continues to pass through.

Insights Business Insurance is brought to you by Montage Insurance Solutions.

 

Mike Robb is the passionate executive director of three nonprofit agencies: Center for Community Resources, Alliance for Nonprofit Resources and the Nonprofit Development Corp., all located in Butler, Pa. Robb works to unite these three agencies under the goal to provide support to both the community and fellow nonprofit agencies in order to build a comprehensive support network in the Western Pennsylvania region.

CCR, the original organization, is a human service agency that connects community members in need with the appropriate network of supports and services. Robb wanted to capitalize on CCR’s abilities and evolve its services to include those of ANR and NDC, both of which provide support services to other community nonprofit agencies. ANR offers backend support and services including grant writing, fiscal support, and marketing and design. NDC, formed in 2010, focuses on property management and offers support through technical assistance, training and capacity-building opportunities.

Together, the three nonprofits showcase Robb’s diverse leadership and analytical skill to utilize human and financial resources. After a total of $825,000 in funding cuts this year, Robb has found new ways to maintain staff members and continue each agency’s impressive growth. He constantly pursues new programs and services to fill gaps in the community and also seeks out inefficient programs in hopes to partner with the nonprofit and offer resources to improve operating efficiency.

Currently, Robb oversees 59 programs available to more than 180,000 residents, including transportation, housing and crisis management programs. CCR, ANR and NDC are all embarking on new projects and partnerships to better the nonprofit community, and Robb hopes this will continue and develop a regional Western Pennsylvania presence.

Robb hopes to impact 25,000 people per year and achieve agencywide compliance and accreditation in the near future. Recently, Robb was named the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year Western Pennsylvania and West Virginia award winner.

How to Reach: Center for Community Resources, (724) 431-0095 or www.ccrinfo.org

Sunday, 30 September 2012 20:00

Exploring real-world opportunities

On Oct. 30-31, more than 700 advanced energy industry leaders will convene at the Greater Columbus Convention Center for Ohio’s first statewide Advanced Energy B2B Conference & Expo. The event, produced by NorTech and presented by Advanced Energy Economy Ohio, is the largest conference and exhibition focused on the companies, technologies and researchers driving progress in Ohio’s advanced energy industry.

The business-to-business expo is also geared toward companies interested in entering the industry, supply chain manufacturers with an interest in advanced energy opportunities, national collaborators and value chain partners interested in doing business in Ohio or with Ohio partners.

“We are at a critical point in the growth and evolution of Ohio’s advanced energy economy,” says Dave Karpinski, vice president of NorTech. “The Advanced Energy B2B Conference & Expo provides a critical platform to share ideas for developing new, innovative advanced energy technologies, network with leading industry decision-makers and capitalize on common synergies for future business opportunities.”

Advanced Energy B2B 2012 builds on the success of Advanced Energy B2B 2011, which was geographically focused in Northeast Ohio and attracted more than 450 attendees. As a result, the footprint for Advanced Energy B2B 2012 has been expanded to bring together advanced energy stakeholders from across Ohio. Developing connections that will accelerate the growth of the state’s advanced energy industry is a key priority of the event. 

“It is important advanced energy companies, researchers and investors convene to discuss opportunities and challenges in the industry, as well as solutions to foster innovation and economic growth,” said Michelle Murcia, executive director of Advanced Energy Economy Ohio. “We have assembled industry-leading experts from across Ohio and the nation to share their insight and knowledge with conference attendees as they formulate their own business strategies for the advanced energy market.”

The program, which includes a slate of state, national advanced energy experts and thought leaders, will highlight Ohio’s strengths in several major sectors of advanced energy as well as policy, business and regulatory issues that could impact the industry in Ohio. Compelling examples of success stories and best practices in several sectors or projects will also be featured.

Ohio’s shale play will be featured as part of the B2B program. Utica Shale in Ohio is believed to hold a significant amount of “wet gas,” which contains natural gas liquids that are used by makers of plastics and chemicals. Experts will explore downstream opportunities for the polymer and chemical industries as a result of the shale gas boom, the economic effects of shale gas and if it will be revolutionary or evolutionary in nature.

Energy efficiency is also another important topic that will be covered. Given Ohio’s strengths in manufacturing, the energy-efficiency industry could be a significant economic opportunity for the state. Up until now, there has been very little focus on how Ohio manufacturers will play in the energy efficiency industry and the impact it can have on the economy. Advanced Energy Economy Ohio (AEE Ohio) will share the results of a statewide energy-efficiency road map that will highlight the energy-efficiency products and services being provided by Ohio manufacturers, the specific players and areas of critical mass they represent, and priorities for the state and its regions to target for growth.

Energy policy experts will preview what is on the horizon for innovative state policy approaches, the short- and long-term scenario for federal initiatives and opportunities for the Buckeye State. Attendees will gain an understanding of the policies needed to continue to build Ohio’s advanced energy industry.

Companies that have deployed some of the most significant advanced energy projects in Ohio will share their experiences with getting advanced energy projects launched, as well the challenges, successes and the outlook for initiating similar projects in Ohio.

The conference program will be complemented with a robust exposition hall, showcasing innovative companies, researchers and technologies in Ohio. More than 120 companies and organizations are expected to exhibit. A new addition to this year’s event is the Technology Showcase, which will feature short presentations by companies and researchers who are seeking collaborators, project/demonstration resources and partnerships for funding.

An exclusive online social networking tool, called “B2B Connections,” will be used to facilitate networking among conference participants. This online tool provides attendees, exhibitors, sponsors and speakers the opportunity to connect based on matching interests, enabling them to communicate and schedule one-on-one business meetings with targeted prospective individuals and companies. Attendees are encouraged to register in advance at www.advancedenergyexpo.com.

This is Part 1 of two articles addressing the trials and tribulations of a company’s growth and development. First, let us set the scene: A company is on the path to success … great growth … exciting leadership … but has very little management.

This start-up, entrepreneurial company is driven by personality, and not just one, but a combination of personalities that create a unique cultural fingerprint of the company. It is not a formulaic approach; instead, it develops over time. This merging of personalities is an exciting time, driven by a common purpose and the excitement of building something unique. Things are flowing smoothly, and everyone begins to settle into a comfortable rhythm, says William F. Hutter, president and CEO of Sequent.

“This rhythm of early stage companies is a lot like that favorite recipe — the unique combination of foods and spices that make it smell and taste perfect,” says Hutter. “Remember visiting your grandparents’ house after you have been away for a long time? That smell of Grandma’s favorite recipes is deeply imbedded in your memory. Just one hint of that smell takes you right back to the comfort of Grandma’s kitchen. This same thing occurs in an organization during the early stage.”

Smart Business spoke with Hutter about the early stage of a company’s development and the role of the gun slinger.

How does the combination of personalities impact an organization?

The combination of personalities creates a feeling of comfort for those who helped create the collective personality. The founder/entrepreneur who has always run with his or her hair on fire is the head cheerleader. Everyone becomes comfortable, and the company’s cultural fingerprint becomes more established.

In the early stage, leadership is focused on sales, service and growth. The basic needs of the business — cash flow, growth, scale and bench strength — require that these factors repeat for continued growth. The leadership operates intuitively and influences the organization every day with necessary circumstantial decision-making. They are focused on a single objective — growth. This is the way the company operates and it is an exciting time.

What is the role of the gun slinger in this environment?

In the early stages, the importance of the gun slinger role is staggeringly important,  because the gun slinger drives growth. We all know a gun slinger or two. They are in every organization. They get things done. It may be the founder/entrepreneur, or someone who has the courage to take on a tough project. They take risks and blaze the trail. The gun slingers in business are a lot like the gun slingers in old westerns. They are hired to do a tough job. They may move from town to town to ‘fix’ a problem, challenge the status quo or lead a group through troubled times.

In a growing business, the modern-day gun slinger is instrumental in driving the growth and the vision and is a constant reminder of the action and effort that are a necessary complement to the rest of the staff.  The role of a gun slinger within a company requires creativity, quick thinking, calculated risk taking, gauging of skills, analysis of the objective and a superior level of individual talent. The role also allows for longevity of service and a willingness to accept individual accountability. Modern-day gun slingers must be self-motivated, willing to invest unrelenting effort with a purity of focus and have the ability to execute without regret. What organization wouldn’t want an employee or two with the skills of a gun slinger?

 

When does the gun slinger come under fire?

As the company grows, both internally and externally, the original entrepreneurial spirit and attitude begin to wane, and the gun slinger comes under fire. Early stage success brings with it the realization that this new company may very well have a long life. Therefore, a transition that ‘feels’ necessary begins to manifest.

Logic sets in. The organization has grown, and the early stage leadership realizes that planning for the next stage is imminent. Financial reporting is hazy, and people begin to point fingers rather than taking responsibility or working together to analyze procedures and methods. So a decision is made to look at what has been an ‘intuitive’ formula.

Time is spent documenting processes and systems to improve efficiency and move from an intuitive formula to one that is more prescriptive. The company also starts to see the risk of having leadership in such a crucial role. As a result, questions emerge — questions that involve re-evaluating what led the company to where it is today. Questions include:

  • What do we do if something happens to the leader?

  • The company is now a significant asset to its investors. How will the assets be protected?

  • How do we document knowledge?  How do we establish leadership as a mentor for sharing their unique knowledge?

  • Can we decentralize to improve integration of departments?

  • Do we need more management oversight?

All of these questions are legitimate, but we sometimes fail to recognize the consequence of seeking answers to these questions.

What happens when the gun slinger is no longer welcome?

In evaluating the factors that led to the early stage success, what had been the company’s strength is now examined as the company’s weakness. Often, when objectives have changed, the esteem once commanded by the leadership is questioned. They are no longer viewed as the strong gun slinger. Just as in old westerns, modern-day gun slingers, while welcomed in times of need, find their welcome has run out once their job is completed.

 

Next month, watch for Part 2 of the story, “Death of the Gun Slinger.” Learn how the changes fostered by the re-evaluation questions produce separate and distinct outcomes, which ultimately lead to the death of the gun slinger.

William F. Hutter is president and CEO of Sequent. For more information, visit www.sequent.biz. Reach Hutter at (888) 456-3627 or bhutter@sequent.biz.

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New research findings, new technologies and the ever-more urgent need for speed and cost-efficiency are converging to drive a revolution in medicine. Supporting this convergence are high-speed, secure telecommunications networks, enabling unprecedented teamwork among institutions, researchers, practitioners and patients to create a new paradigm — telemedicine.

“Telemedicine is the exchange of medical information via electronic communications among dispersed facilities and patients to improve health,” says Mike Maloney, vice president of Comcast Business Services. “The goal of telemedicine is to improve access to care, and Ethernet enables high-bandwidth telemedicine applications including remote consultations, remote monitoring and continuing medical education.”

Smart Business spoke with Maloney about how telecommunications and medicine are joining forces to improve patient health.

How does telemedicine work and what are some examples of its use?

Telemedicine breaks down the barriers of distance and time to improve outcomes, especially for emergencies such as stroke, heart attack and trauma. It can be used in rural areas where the doctor-to-patient ratio is high and quality care — both routine and emergency — can be hard to reach. In cases where routine check-in supports successful results, telemedicine brings doctors and patients together.

Telemedicine also helps overcome practical barriers. Delivering medical care in prisons, for instance, offers challenges that can be mitigated with telemedicine. And in nursing homes, Ethernet-based services offer a cost-effective network alternative to transporting patients to a medical facility.

In addition, Grand Rounds are used as a teaching tool to permit medical specialists to consult on patient prognosis, evaluate patient status and collaborate with colleagues without leaving their point of care location. Ethernet enables multimedia distance applications such as Virtual Grand Rounds, which uses audio, video and synchronized visuals over the network, dramatically changing the way continuing medical education is delivered.

How does telemedicine create lower costs and better quality treatment for health providers?

As high-speed, high-volume telecommunications overcome time and miles between doctors and patients, the speed of effective care delivery accelerates, and the costs of delivering quality treatment can fall. By being able to activate new users with minimal training and low equipment costs, the flexibility and functionality of Ethernet delivers quality health care into areas that were sometimes previously problematic. Instead of requiring patients to travel, data from individual households can be centralized and monitored remotely. Doctors and patients can communicate without time and money expended on travel or the slow transfer of records. Patient portals permit patients to participate actively in their own cases, send and receive real-time information and take daily steps to better health. As Ethernet services deliver greater bandwidth, collaborations have emerged in every medical specialty.

The financial advantages offered by Ethernet make it a better investment than legacy T1 systems. The bandwidth is multiples of that of legacy systems and can be rapidly scalable to add capacity. This speed and flexibility permits care providers to expand practice areas and collaborate with other growing networks without being limited by technology.

How can health information exchanges (HIE) benefit from telemedicine?

HIE are an important development in transforming health care, relying on secure sharing of electronic patient information among clinicians, administrators and payers. Affordable and flexible Ethernet-based services are ideal for supporting HIE. The key is high bandwidth and low latency in connections among medical facilities, the care team and the patient. When providers can access all of a patient’s information, better treatment decisions are made, resulting in lower costs and improved outcomes.

What are additional applications of telemedicine?

  • Telepathology, with which tissue samples can be imaged digitally and transferred to pathology laboratories for review in real time.

  • Picture archiving and communication systems, in which large image files can be transmitted, stored and retrieved securely.

  • Physician dictation and large data files that can be transmitted instantly.

  • Patient care supported by geographically dispersed collaborators with maximized cost-effective results.

What does the future of telemedicine and Ethernet applications look like?

Ethernet is gaining traction in health networks thanks to its network simplicity, high bandwidth capacity, scalable and flexible service provisioning, and significant savings in capital investments for equipment and service deployments. Ethernet handles a high volume of data that permits doctors and researchers to innovate and collaborate in ways never before possible. Health care enterprises should have no trouble adopting Ethernet for network services.

With a robust, scalable backbone, Ethernet costs less than legacy T1 networks, and offers the size and scalability to support applications such as high-definition video that are essential to quality diagnostics and treatment. Market forces further impel this expansion, such as aging populations, widespread increases in chronic illnesses, more patients who desire to receive treatment at home, financial pressures resulting from limited financial resources and the need for ever-greater cost-efficiency and time pressures where patients can’t wait.

The key is robust multidirectional information flow among all involved parties — research institutions, health care practitioners, government and patients. Ethernet communications permit vast quantities of data to be moved securely, accurately and quickly, supporting these new capabilities, delivering critical, cost-management benefits and helping to accelerate this revolution in medicine.

 

Mike Maloney is a vice president of Comcast Business Services. Reach him at michael_maloney@cable.comcast.com.

Insights Telecommunications is brought to you by Comcast Business Class