Matt McClellan

If your company has created an innovative product or service, you may have considered licensing it. Licensing your technology can provide new opportunities for a company — if you find the right partner.

“If you’re not in the business of making the product, if you are what is called a non-practicing entity, you have to license in order to exploit the technology,” says Philip J. Moy, a partner with Fay Sharpe LLP. “But if you are practicing your technology, if you are making products that are covered by your patent, or utilizing the knowhow to make products in the marketplace, there is always a tension between getting profits on your own goods versus giving somebody else the opportunity to make money you would otherwise make.”

Smart Business spoke with Moy about how to determine if licensing is right for you and how to get the most out of your intellectual property.

How can licensing its intellectual property benefit a company?

The main benefit of licensing your technology is you can derive income from a market segment where you do not operate as efficiently as the licensee. For example, a licensing partner may have a geographical presence in a particular country, and the cost for the you to ship your goods to that country does not compare favorably with having a licensee make them there.

If someone else can do it more efficiently, there is a benefit to letting them do what they do better, and receiving a license royalty because you have the exclusive right to make that technology. Sometimes a licensing partner’s success in a different market can lead to additional success in your original market because the product becomes popular, or you might learn something from your licensee.

What issues should companies consider when negotiating a license agreement?

It’s important to fashion a license so that it is not going to be subject to litigation or disputes. To accomplish this, you have to work hard on defining the licensed product. What does the licensee sell that will require them to pay you royalties?

If you don’t take care to define the licensed product or technology, there can be disputes down the road. When that happens, the only people who make out are the lawyers.

Unnecessary disputes interfere with companies’ mutually beneficial business relationships.

Companies should also consider exclusivity issues. Typically when you grant an exclusive license, the licensor may continue to practice the technology, but often you give up the right to sell products using that technology. The agreement gives the licensee the exclusive opportunity to do that. Then, you are at the mercy of their efficiency and diligence in exploiting your technology. In these cases, you should draft requirements into the license, like requirements for selling a minimum amount of product or incentives for selling more. Whatever the requirements are, they should be appropriate so the licensee can meet them and provide an incentive for them to vigorously practice the technology. You want to make sure the terms allow the licensee to have success and that you can derive income from their success.

How can a company protect itself from license disputes?

With a patent, the easier way to avoid disputes is to define everything that is covered by the claims of the patent. If you license both a patent as well as the technology and techniques that enable the licensee to make the product, you are able to expand the scope of the licensed product beyond the claims of the patent because you are providing additional knowhow and power to create something that the licensee wouldn’t otherwise be able to make.

The more concrete that definition is, the less likely disputes are to arise. Think long and hard about it, because the definition of your licensed product will determine whether you will get any money from the licensee’s activities.

What are the keys to negotiating a successful license agreement?

Unless you are dealing from different levels of bargaining power, and you can impose terms that are distinctly to your advantage, you want to strive for terms that are to the mutual benefit of both parties. That requires stepping into the shoes of the other guy to make sure he’s got a deal that works for him.

You also have to think about what can go wrong and account for it. For instance, making provisions for currency conversion for foreign licensees.

Another key to a successful business arrangement between the two parties is to have a good dispute resolution provision, particularly if the parties are contemplating an ongoing relationship. You don’t want to have to bring a valued business partner to court, so there is a lot to be said for having a step-by-step procedure for dispute resolution.

Typically, start with discussion. If that doesn’t work, go to mediation, where a third-party tries to bring both sides to their senses. Having an arbitration provision to ultimately resolve disputes that don’t cure themselves is appropriate for parties with ongoing relationships, especially as an alternative to litigation, which can be expensive for both parties.

Another issue with patent or technology licenses is the improvements and innovations that often take place due to the license relationship between the two parties. The license should determine who owns those changes.

Philip J. Moy, Jr. is a partner with Fay Sharpe LLP. Reach him at (216) 363-9109 or pmoy@faysharpe.com.

Thursday, 01 March 2012 13:38

How the data center market is changing

For many companies, a data center has become a necessity. Whether your company is considering building its own stand-alone data center or renting space in a colocation center, there are some recent trends to consider.

“The trends happening fall down different lines,” says Tim Chadwick, president of Alfa Tech. “There are some commonalities that happen on both sides, but things that work for the enterprise market don’t always work in the colocation world.”

Smart Business spoke with Chadwick about what companies should watch for in the changing market for data centers.

What are the latest data center trends in the market?

The major trend right now in designing,  building and operating data centers is improving energy efficiency — reducing the carbon footprint. The fringe benefit of this environmentalism is saving on utility costs.

In moving toward energy efficiency, what we’re able to do for enterprise customers is look at the specific equipment to be used — the specific types of computers, storage devices and networking equipment — and really tailor the space to that equipment. The best example of that is the air that enters the computer to cool it. With an enterprise customer who may know specifically what equipment he is going to buy, the designer of the data center can let that temperature go a lot hotter or colder, or the air more humid or dry than past data center designs allowed.

In the colocation market, the colocation facility’s owner rarely knows what his tenants will require. The whole point of being a colocation landlord is you want a facility that appeals to everybody. If you were to build a facility that could only house a type of computer that can take hotter air, you are limiting your market. So builders and designers of data centers don’t always have as much flexibility in colocation spaces. Enterprise spaces have more innovation, more things happening. But what’s happening in the enterprise market is starting to find its way into the colocation market.

How is the enterprise market driving the colocation market?

For instance, Facebook has proven that you can use most servers at higher inlet temperatures. Once you start to get people to realize that, there is a larger clientele that is willing to go into a data center (like a colocation space) with higher temperature ranges. Instead of always seeing facilities using 75-degree air, they might see 80 or 85 Fahrenheit. When you have those higher temperatures coming in, that is where you can achieve big energy savings. You are spending less to cool your computers and equipment. And sometimes you’re not spending anything; the data center could just be bringing in fresh air from outside.

Because it’s already happening in the enterprise market, more people are willing to try it in the colocation market. Ten years ago, the only lease people would sign up for was guaranteed 75-degree air going into your computer. Now more and more people are considering that the old way of thinking. As long as people are open-minded to go to a higher inlet temperature, the colocation owner can pass along the savings. If the facility is cheaper to build and operate, he can charge you less for rent.

What other trends are occurring?

There have been changes in electrical in regard to the power coming in. We are starting to see more variations on the voltage coming into servers. That opens up opportunities for energy efficiency, and it has led to a similar situation with the enterprise customers driving the market for those sharing and leasing data center space.

Once one enterprise customer buys a thousand servers at a previously unknown voltage, the price point comes down. If there is no demand, the supply price is high. If you can increase demand to where there is a viable market, Dell, HP, IBM — the big computer manufacturers — are starting to see a market in these different voltages, so the price point is coming down. If you can buy cheaper equipment and save energy, that is the best of both worlds.

How would a company know what voltage is necessary for its data center?

You can buy the same computing platforms at different voltages. It’s a matter of what type of infrastructure you are plugging into. If you are in the U.K., for example, the voltage is different than in the U.S. So you have to make sure your server can plug into that and absorb the different voltage. If you’re in a colocation market, you have to talk to your provider and find out the available voltages at his facility. If you’re in a purpose-built data center, you work with your consultant to figure it out and design around your needs.

However, companies need to find a balance. Everyone is trying to wring out every last cent from the design and construction, without realizing that if you can get the end customer to buy different voltage equipment, they could save 5 percent in annual energy costs, for example. That might be true, but that different voltage equipment might cost 10 percent more in capital costs.

It might be worth it. But when you compare 10 percent more in capital costs versus a 5 percent annual savings on energy, sometimes it just doesn’t pencil out. You have to be careful to look at the whole picture. Quite often, data centers are not designed holistically. They aren’t designed knowing what equipment is going to be in them.

The key to a good design is a good understanding of the equipment that will be used in the space.

Tim Chadwick is president of Alfa Tech. Reach him at (408) 487-1278 or tim.chadwick@atce.com.

Microsoft SharePoint is a product that invades your company culture, in a good way.

“In its most basic sense, SharePoint is an intranet, used primarily by companies to increase collaboration and efficiency,” says Zack Schuler, founder and CEO of Cal Net Technology Group. “The current version is SharePoint 2010, but it has been out in some form or fashion for the last eight to 10 years.”

Smart Business spoke with Schuler about how SharePoint works and how to determine whether it makes sense for your organization.

How does SharePoint change the way your company operates?

Again, it is an intranet, which means it is a place where workers will spend their time when it comes to tasks like document management, or when they need a central place to collaborate on a new project or idea. It can be used as a portal where you can post metrics and key performance indicators of how your company is doing in different areas. SharePoint displays that data in a way that is meaningful to your employees. It is also frequently used for workflow applications.

How can SharePoint improve workflow?

Here’s a basic example. Let’s say an employee wants to request time off. At Cal Net, they will go to the HR SharePoint team site and enter the days they want off. The SharePoint site integrates with our HR information system and notifies the employee how many hours they have accrued for time off. The employee will submit the form, which will automatically be routed to their manager as well as the HR manager, then get electronically approved or denied, all through an automated routing system.

SharePoint can handle just about any business workflow you can think of, and it does an exceptional job with it.

It integrates well with Outlook and the entire Microsoft Office stack. It integrates natively with SQL server, so it can integrate with an accounting application to pull and display data that is meaningful to employees.

How does SharePoint help employees make better decisions?

Let’s say the company shares the gross margin percentages of each department with the department head. There are three ways to do that. The first way is to have the CFO or controller log into the accounting system, look at the gross margin and e-mail that to the department head. That is a lot of work.

The second way is to give the department head access to the accounting application and let them look themselves. Most companies probably aren’t going to do that.

The best way to do it is to pass that data along in an automated fashion to the SharePoint team site and present that department head with the data they need to see: the gross margin or sales of that department. Then, the department head can use that information to make better decisions.

How does SharePoint foster collaboration in the workplace?

Here’s an example of how SharePoint can be used in collaboration. If three people in a department are all working on a procedure manual, the traditional way of accomplishing that task is for one person to work on it, then e-mail it to the next person. As the document goes back and forth, it becomes difficult to figure out what changes were made or who has the latest version. With SharePoint, you would simply post that procedure manual on the SharePoint server, then different people can check in and edit that document.

How can SharePoint eliminate the traditional computer files, folders and e-mail attachments?

Rather than documents getting stored in a particular folder, they are stored on the SharePoint site. Then, you assign ‘audiences’ who are able to view particular documents.

For example, if a document is one that all the staff needs to see, like an employee handbook, we will store that on what we call our ‘people’ site. This is where all employees would go for anything related to HR: handbook, insurance forms, company phone directory and calendar of days off.

Instead of sending file attachments, if someone asks you for the latest phone list, you send a link in their e-mail that takes them to the document on the SharePoint server. Then you don’t have to worry about a company phone directory floating all over the place.

What about security and difficulty of setup?

All of the individual SharePoint team sites are set up on the SharePoint server. For example, you can have a management team site where you would store all management-related information. You would have to be in the management group to get to that site. If you’re not in that group, you won’t even know it exists. When you go to the listing of sites, only the ones available to you are shown. No one will click on a group site and get an access denied message – they just won’t see it in the first place.

At its most simplistic form, it is a day or two worth of work. But when you start digging into it, the possibilities are limitless. That can take more time.

How can a company determine if SharePoint would help them?

Every company has documents, so it’s going to be valuable for every company. However, it is especially useful for companies with no formal automated workflow or document management system.

If a company already has a business automation system in some sort of software application, there might not be an advantage. But most small and medium-size companies don’t. Those are the companies that can benefit the most from SharePoint.

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

In Sept. 2008, the lending world shut down. In 2011, it started to claw its way back.

Toward the end of 2011 and the beginning of 2012, money began to flow more freely.

“There are clearly loans that are happening from multiple lenders at rate and loan values that are as good as if not better than they were before,” says Terry Coyne, SIOR, CCIM, an executive vice president with Grubb & Ellis. “The ability to get money is real and you can get great interest rates and terms.”

Smart Business spoke with Coyne about how the lending market has changed and how to secure financing for a real estate deal.

What does today’s lending market look like?

Large national banks are still at the stage in which they are dipping a toe in the pool, but the local banks, which lend to the people they know in their communities, are making loans.

Not only are they making loans, but you are seeing interest rates of less than 5 percent and amortizations of 20 years if not 25. The key is there are multiple banks bidding on deals.

Why does having multiple banks bidding change the picture?

Leasing is a form of financing, and so the leasing market for real estate was very hot because you couldn’t get loans to make purchases. Typically our market is 60 percent owner-occupied, user buildings and 40 percent leasing. That ratio flip-flopped over the last two or three years where 70 percent of deals were leases and 30 percent were purchases.

One bright spot through this period: President Obama did make the U.S. Small Business Administration give loans. The SBA used to have a limit of $1 million per loan; the new limit has been raised to $5 million. Most loans that have happened in the past two or three years are SBA, government-backed loans. You are still seeing SBA loans, but you are also seeing lenders keep the whole loan on their balance sheet and assume all of the risk. The government involvement was a good bridge for a year or two, because, while the leasing market was great, the sales market was horrible. Now with loans being made, the sales market is coming back in a hurry.

With interest rates low, this should be a great time to buy. You now can get loans to buy in a market where buying has been so slow for the last few years.

What should potential buyers do to maximize their chances of getting financing?

The local banks in your area would be the first logical call. Don’t be afraid to approach your lender and ask for a loan. In the past, ‘loan’ was a four-letter word. Some people have been so worried about loans they’ve stopped thinking about it all together.

Why are local banks better bets for financing than large national banks?

The local banks didn’t have the exposure to the broader market like some of the national banks did. These local banks stuck to what they do: make loans to local businesses that they know. A lot of the larger banks were making loans on larger portfolios in markets that they didn’t know.

Banks that didn’t do that are doing well.

Right now, banks need to get money out the door. Deposits are a liability to banks, not an asset. They take your $10,000 deposit and pay you 0.5 percent. Then they have to loan it out to someone else at a number higher than that. Because deposit rates are low, interest rates on loans are very low. I’ve seen interest rates in the 4 percent range for investor-owned industrial buildings. It’s not just the owner/user market; investors are able to get loans as well.

How has the lending environment affected the real estate market?

In the past two years it made it hard to sell properties because buyers had trouble getting loans. It was a good time to be a landlord, because there was more action for leasing than there was for selling. Now, I’m seeing a great deal of pent-up demand from the last two years. You’re seeing this pent-up demand being released at the same time that loans are easier to get. Together those two things are creating a situation where there are a lot of buildings going off market and being sold.

From 2008 to 2011, the number of sales has gone up every year — from $452 million in sales in 2008 for an eight-county region to $724 million in 2011. That’s an increase of more than 60 percent.

Will there be any changes in the future?

What you will see at the end of 2012 and the beginning of 2013 is a normalized lending environment. Right now, it is a novelty and people are excited about it. Soon, it will be back to normal.

You need loans; they are the oxygen of business. When lending stops it becomes hard for these companies to breathe.

If you are looking to buy and use it yourself, don’t wait. The market still favors the buyer, but it won’t for long. If you wait you will see price increases, and it will become a seller’s market shortly. It’s not there yet, but it’s getting there.

Terry Coyne, SIOR, CCIM, is an executive vice president with Grubb & Ellis. Reach him at terry.coyne@grubb-ellis.com or (216) 453-3001.

Employers today are experiencing escalating health care costs associated with the significant increase in health risk factors, such as obesity, chronic disease and an aging work force. The impact these conditions and others have on workers’ compensation costs is generally left out of the equation. Studies have shown that workplace wellness programs have the ability to generate a significant reduction in return-to-work days, frequency and severity of claims, as well as presenteeism or absenteeism and the cost of health care benefits. Depending on accepted metrics, the return on investment (ROI) for employers can reach $6.50 for each dollar of investment.

“Implementing workplace wellness programs not only can improve the health and well-being of Ohio’s employees, but also impacts one of the largest operational expenses for an employer, workers’ compensation premium. With grant monies now available from the Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation (BWC), even small employers have the ability to access resources that usually only the larger employer can afford,” says Randy Jones, senior vice president, TPA Operations for CompManagement, Inc. Smart Business spoke with Jones about the monies that are now available for your business in Ohio.

Why did the BWC start this grant initiative?

To meet the challenges of obesity, rising incidence of chronic diseases, and the aging work force, BWC recently established a Workplace Wellness grant. The objectives are to limit and control the escalating cost of workers’ compensation claims through addressing these health risk factors as well as to reduce health care costs for employers and improve the health of Ohio’s work force.

In 2010, 25 to 29 percent of Ohio’s adult population was considered obese (body mass index equal to or greater than 30) and the largest percent of our work force was between the ages of 45 to 54. Research has shown these challenges contribute to increased incidence and cost of workplace accidents and illnesses.

Who is eligible to receive a grant?

All employers (public and private) participating in the state-funded workers’ compensation program are eligible for the grant. Self-insured employers are not eligible. The employer may not currently have a wellness program in place, which consists of a tool that measures health risk factors plus programs that are designed to address those factors. If an employer does not have a tool or a program or lacks both, they will qualify for grant funding. If however, the employer uses a tool and designs programs based on the results from the tool, the employer will not qualify at this time. As an example, if an employer currently offers a Health Risk Assessment (HRA) but does not create any programs from the results of the HRAs, the employer would be eligible for a grant.

How much money is available under the Workplace Wellness grant initiative?

BWC has allocated $4 million for the Workplace Wellness grants over a four-year period. Grants are available to employers up to $15,000 over four years, which will allow for up to 50 employee participants per employer and $300 per participating employee. The amount per employee is graduated each year as BWC takes employee participation into consideration when awarding and renewing the grant. These funds are intended to supplement the cost of a wellness program, not fully fund it.

How does the application work?

Applications are received and reviewed by BWC on a first come, first served basis. The application form is available on their website at www.ohiobwc.com/employer/programs/safety/WellnessGrants.asp. The major components of the application include a profile of your organization, an estimated budget for the workplace wellness plan, selection of a workplace wellness vendor, and a timeline for implementation of your program. A safety management self-assessment is also required.

What are the requirements for participation?

An employer must contract with a third party vendor that provides wellness program services in order to participate and submit an application to BWC. In addition, the employer must complete an online safety self-assessment, submit baseline data such as HRAs, biometrics, and a program plan within three months of receiving the grant funding, provide receipt documents, and submit an annual case study that explains what has been accomplished in creating and implementing a program as well as a plan for the upcoming year. Data elements pertaining to health risk factors such as cholesterol, blood pressure, etc. must also be reported annually in an aggregate format for all participating employees.

Why should my organization apply for this grant and implement a wellness program?

While workplace wellness programs help to reduce health risks, improve quality of life, and enhance personal effectiveness for your employees, studies show these programs also help to reduce workers’ compensation and disability costs for an employer by an average of 30 percent. This initiative is best suited for employers with measurable claims experience, a strong interest and desire to implement workplace safety and wellness programs, and a willingness to participate for four years.

How can my Third Party Administrator for workers’ compensation help with the process?

TPAs that provide safety services to their clients are well-suited to assist with this implementation. They will be able to develop occupational risk assessment tools as well as analyze data of health risk factors that contribute to the length and severity of incurred workers’ compensation claims. By linking safety and occupational health programs such as wellness together, an employer should see an overall reduction of workers’ compensation costs with enhanced employee morale and improved productivity.

Randy Jones is the senior vice president of TPA Operations for CompManagement, Inc. Reach him at (800) 825-6755, ext 2466 or Randy.Jones@sedgwickcms.com.

Companies with large capital needs often employ a commercial banking relationship that includes a syndicated bank loan — a commercial loan that is provided by multiple banks (a bank group), where one bank acts as the lead arranger and administrative agent for the bank group. A company’s bank group can be as small as two or three banks, or, depending on the size of its credit facilities, can be much larger to include dozens of banks.  Over the last 15 years, syndicated bank loans have become the dominant way for companies to finance their capital needs.

“Despite what you hear about banks not lending, 2011 was a record year for syndicated multi-bank loan financing, topping $1.8 trillion,” says Ron Majka, senior vice president and manager of loan syndications for FirstMerit Bank. “The syndicated loan market is very healthy and active, and local banks in Northeast Ohio are hungry to support healthy growing companies.”

Smart Business learned more from Majka about multi-bank loan syndications and how to tell if it could benefit your company.

What types of companies could benefit from considering a multi-bank loan syndication?

The need for a syndicated bank loan is often event-driven. Frequent triggering events include the financing of mergers and acquisitions (M&A), new construction associated with corporate expansions, large equipment purchases, or dividends to owners (referred to as leveraged recapitalizations). In addition to event-driven situations, the need for a syndicated bank loan sometimes can be more evolutionary. As companies reach a certain size, they may outgrow a singular relationship with one bank. Moving to a larger, syndicated multi-bank credit facility is a natural next step for these companies.

Why are loan syndications becoming so popular?

Multi-bank syndicated loans are popular because they are the most flexible and economic financing alternative available to companies.  Other methods of raising large amounts of capital include going public through the sale of stock, issuing bonds, or attracting investors through a private placement. Each of these options is much more expensive, and not nearly as standardized and flexible as bank loans. From a banking perspective, nearly every bank that is active in commercial lending is involved in some level of providing syndicated loans. Together, these factors contribute to the amount of multi-bank syndicated loans issued -— now exceeding $1 trillion per year.

How can loan syndication benefit a company?

Having an optimal credit facility is a crucial component to the long-term success of a company. A syndicated loan sets the platform for a company’s growth. A simple two-bank syndicated loan facility can be very easily expanded to accommodate increased loan amounts and additional banks, to complement a company’s growth needs. Another benefit of loan syndication is that a company can tailor a bank group that fits its specific corporate strategy and needs. For example, a Northeast Ohio company that is engaged in international business may choose a strong local agent bank that provides stable, trusted leadership. That agent bank might then add an international bank to the bank group to help provide overseas trade and banking needs for that company. Also, competition is always a good thing. Having multiple banks involved in competition is a way to make sure the client is always getting the best execution, and that its banking terms and structure are most favorable.

How can a company choose the right agent bank to lead the loan syndication?

It’s important to put a lot of thought into whom you are entrusting as your agent bank. Bigger isn’t always better, nor is it wise to adopt a cookie-cutter approach. You want an agent who understands your business, takes the time to fully comprehend your company’s strategy and growth plans, and then crafts a financing arrangement that helps you achieve those goals. Choose a bank where you will have an experienced group that is solely dedicated to structuring, leading, and administering multi-bank syndicated loans. Lastly, any successful relationship is a two-way street.  Make sure you are comfortable with your agent bank’s culture, strategy, leadership, health and stability. This relationship is very important.

How does the process of issuing a syndicated loan work?

It is typically a five- to eight-week process from start to finish. First, it involves choosing the right agent bank. Next, the company works with the agent bank to craft the right strategy to produce the kind of bank group it wants to achieve. For instance, you may have a number of questions to consider. Do you want international or local banks as part of your bank group?  Are you interested in banks that are active in or have expertise in your industry?  Should you just include those banks you are familiar with? Or, are there banks that you do not know that can add value to your bank group? Once you determine your optimal bank group, the agent bank will use its knowledge of the marketplace to approach and attract the right partners.

The process also includes the agent bank and the company working together to create materials that fully describe the company’s business, philosophy, industry and corporate plans. That package of material, called a confidential information memorandum, is a 25- to 100-page document that includes a complete assessment of the company and its operations. Once everything is set, the opportunity is launched to the bank market and the agent bank works with the targeted banks and the company to answer questions and move those banks through their credit approvals. This process ultimately culminates in a successful closing and funding of the company’s multi-bank syndicated credit facility.

Ron Majka is a senior vice president and manager, loan syndications for FirstMerit Bank. Reach him at (330) 996-6446 or ron.majka@firstmerit.com.

As a company grows, its information technology (IT) needs to grow with it. But some areas may be overlooked in the day-to-day hustle of getting the job done, says Timothy A. Heikkila, a principal with the Skoda Minotti Technology Partners Group.

“Companies should be considering options such as the cloud, looking at the security of their data and setting up a disaster recovery plan,” says Heikkila. “An outside advisor can help you ask the right questions and identify areas of concern.”

Smart Business spoke with Heikkila about what IT issues growing businesses should be concerned about and how to address those issues.

What is the first IT issue that growing businesses should look at?

As a business’s IT needs grow, companies need to consider whether cloud computing makes sense. If you aren’t familiar with cloud computing, it’s essentially remote access to applications and services via the Internet; it gives you secure access to all your applications and data from any network device.

Would it be cost effective to take your company’s e-mail to the cloud so that you don’t have to worry about maintaining data at your own location? When considering questions like these, companies should really weigh the pros and cons of taking that step. For instance, do you already have a location for your servers in-house, are you going to have remote offices, do you have a large traveling sales force? For a single location office, the cloud may not be a beneficial or cost-effective step, but for a company with multiple locations or a traveling sales force, it could make perfect sense to have your data housed at a central location in the cloud so that everyone shares access.

How can an outside technology expert help determine your needs in the cloud?

Outside expert advice is definitely recommended because the industry is changing so quickly that the types of questions you need to ask and the way to ask them are changing daily. For example, does the cloud provider have multiple Internet connections coming in to eliminate service interruption? What is the cloud’s capacity? How much is your business going to be able to grow at your current facility without shortchanging yourself?

Security is another important area to ask about. A lot of data centers that house this equipment are having SOC Reports prepared to make sure they have the proper controls in place that ensure their data is secure and not at risk of being breached.

What other technologies should growing businesses be aware of?

We’re seeing a lot of mobility with the evolution of the iPad and other tablets. A sales force can really take advantage of those devices by using them to take notes, share presentations, adjust quotations on the fly, get signed quotes, and close deals on the spot. It benefits the sales team because they can be connected to the office immediately, respond to e-mail and get instant answers as if they were sitting at their desks in their office.

One area of concern around these devices that a company needs to consider is security. Companies need to make sure that they have a policy in place that protects the company’s data in the mobile hands of the employees. For example, companies should be able to lock down or control the devices should they get lost. If a salesperson accidentally leaves an iPad somewhere, the company needs to be able to erase all of the data on that device so that it doesn’t get into the wrong hands.

Most e-mail servers have controls built into them that allow you to send a signal wirelessly to devices to erase the data, but if you don’t have an e-mail server with that capability, you have to get a third-party, add-on product that can erase it wirelessly. Companies need to have a plan in place to cover these new and growing concerns.

What should businesses think about when considering a disaster recovery plan?

Disaster recovery is another area that can help a business grow, or at least ensure that it is not set back. As technology grows more complex, having a disaster recovery plan is becoming more vital, and planning for if something does fail has become almost as important as investing in technology to grow your business.

A disaster recovery plan starts with sitting down to figure out what disasters your company should plan for, prevent, or recover from. For example, if you are OK with a tornado coming through your building and you don’t think it’s worth the investment to plan for a second, off-site location to back up your data, then you don’t need to plan for that event.

But, if you want to prepare for a virus attack against your mail server because it’s critical to get that server up and running again, it’s a complex process. Businesses need to sit down and figure out what they want to plan for and determine the most critical pieces of technology that they need to have up and running again if something should fail.  Once the company determines which critical pieces of technology they need to have up and running, the next question to ask yourself is how quickly does it need to be up and running?  For example, if you need to have your e-mail fully functional within two hours, you will need to have a standby e-mail server already built and ready to go.

Too many companies understand that something could happen, but they put the blinders on and think that it won’t actually happen to them. There are a lot of things they can’t control, though, and that they may not have thought about. This is another area in which an outside technology expert can help. That person will know all of the questions that go into building a disaster recovery plan and make sure that plan can be executed if needed.

Timothy A. Heikkila is a principal with the Skoda Minotti Technology Partners Group. Reach him at theikkila@skodaminotti.com

Wednesday, 29 February 2012 19:01

How to handle the latest risk management topics

At the Risk and Insurance Management Society (RIMS) annual Conference and Exposition, risk professionals including CEOs, CFOs and risk managers come together with brokers, insurers, thought leaders and industry experts to learn about new products and services, share ideas and gather information about the evolution of risk and risk management.

“Our goal is to create an environment for clients of all sizes to learn about our breadth of expertise and unmatched ability to support their businesses,” says Kathleen Delaney, a senior vice president with Aon Risk Solutions. “Often, CEOs are not aware of the different liabilities they carry as an officer for the company and the emerging exposures facing their business as a whole. RIMS presents a wonderful opportunity to share the solutions available to manage these risks and help decision makers sleep at night.”

Smart Business spoke with Delaney and Carol A. Williams, managing director and COO of Aon Risk Solutions, Detroit, about why business leaders should consider attending the RIMS conference.

What is RIMS, and who are its members?

RIMS is a nonprofit organization that focuses on advancing the practice of risk management. The majority of its members are risk managers or intermediaries for corporations and other organizations, insurers and other service providers. Financial officers, general counsel and executives overseeing risk management with corporations and other organizations are also members.

Why is continuing education important in risk management?

Risk management is a combination of art and science. As the world becomes more risky, tools used to understand, forecast and manage risk are constantly evolving. It is vital for risk professionals to grow with this evolution so they are best equipped to serve their organizations.

From preparing for insurance renewals to analyzing total cost of risk to managing risk enterprisewide, risk professionals as well as business executives must be diligent about continuing education and professional development. Without knowledge and awareness, businesses become much more vulnerable to the risks they face.

In addition to the RIMS international conference, Aon provides numerous educational opportunities for its clients each year. It produces white papers, develops fact-based benchmarking and industry reports, and provides educational forums at the local office level. Aon also participates in educational programs at the RIMS national and local chapter level. Our goal is to share information about current and emerging risk management issues and trends impacting various industry sectors.

What issues will be tackled at RIMS 2012?

The agenda is robust and comprehensive. The biggest and most current issues facing businesses today will be tackled. Because risk management is so specific to each business, the hot issues are different for every risk professional. Eleven of Aon’s thought leaders will participate in panel discussions about acute and emerging risk management issues, including mergers and acquisitions and cyber liability.

Professionals from across the globe will come to the conference and meet with clients and prospects to discuss risk management needs and share insights and ideas.

For more specialized topics than are covered in the panels, attendees can visit Aon’s Clientopia. It is set up in a nearby offsite area but done in conjunction with the conference. There, you can get very personalized attention to your business needs and set up meetings with insurers to discuss issues and receive a more detailed overview of what a risk manager can bring to the picture for your business.

What kind of business is done at the conference?

The relationship-building and transfer of knowledge that occurs is strategic and lasting. The conference allows business leaders from many industries to discuss their approach with industry-leading risk advisers and brokers, meet with insurance carriers, talk about current issues and prepare for the future. The conference can be an eye opener for those who do not understand their company’s risk profile. They may blindly approach a booth and leave with ideas and tools to support the growth of their organization.

How can someone who is interested get involved with RIMS?

There are great opportunities for professionals of all levels who deal with issues of risk to learn more. There are Risk Management 101-esque sessions at the annual RIMS conference for everyone from general counsel to chief financial officers to get familiar with the issues facing their businesses so they can make intelligent decisions that will have a direct impact on their balance sheets. In addition, several cities have very robust local chapters.

You mentioned local RIMS chapters. What other types of local opportunities are available for education?

RIMS and Aon alike present sessions and forums in cities around the country. The basic issues covered can be valuable, especially for busy executives who may not be able to attend the three-day annual conference. These programs are designed to speak to the different aspects of risk and target general counsel or CEOs who may not be risk professionals but need to have a grasp of the issues. The programs are especially useful for CFOs of firms that may not have dedicated risk managers and for someone who is wearing many hats in an organization, including risk management.

For information on Aon at RIMS in Philadelphia April 15-18, visit rims.aon.com.

Kathleen Delaney is a senior vice president with Aon Risk Solutions. Reach her at (212) 441-1662 or Kathleen.Delaney@aon.com. Carol A. Williams is managing director and COO of Aon Risk Solutions, Detroit. Reach her at (248) 936-5291 or carol.williams@aon.com.

Wednesday, 29 February 2012 19:01

How to handle the latest risk management topics

At the Risk and Insurance Management Society (RIMS) annual Conference and Exposition, risk professionals including CEOs, CFOs and risk managers come together with brokers, insurers, thought leaders and industry experts to learn about new products and services, share ideas and gather information about the evolution of risk and risk management.

“Our goal is to create an environment for clients of all sizes to learn about our breadth of expertise and unmatched ability to support their businesses,” says Kathleen Delaney, a senior vice president with Aon Risk Solutions. “Often, CEOs are not aware of the different liabilities they carry as an officer for the company and the emerging exposures facing their business as a whole. RIMS presents a wonderful opportunity to share the solutions available to manage these risks and help decision makers sleep at night.”

Smart Business spoke with Delaney and Patrick Lawton, vice president, strategic account manager at Aon Risk Solutions, about why business leaders should consider attending the RIMS conference.

What is RIMS, and who are its members?

RIMS is a nonprofit organization that focuses on advancing the practice of risk management. The majority of its members are risk managers or intermediaries for corporations and other organizations, insurers and other service providers. Financial officers and executives overseeing risk management with corporations and other organizations are also members.

Why is continuing education important in risk management?

Risk management is a combination of art and science, and the tools used to understand, forecast and manage risk are constantly evolving. It is vital for risk professionals to understand this evolution so they are best equipped to competently serve their organizations.

From preparing for insurance renewals to analyzing total cost of risk to managing risk enterprisewide, risk professionals as well as business executives must be diligent about continuing education and professional development. Without knowledge and awareness, businesses become much more vulnerable to the risks they face.

In addition to the RIMS international conference, Aon provides numerous educational opportunities for its clients each year. It produces white papers, develops fact-based benchmarking and industry reports, participates in educational programs at the RIMS local chapter level and hosts client events across the country to share information about current and emerging risk management issues and trends impacting various industry sectors.

What issues will be tackled at RIMS 2012?

The agenda is robust and comprehensive. The biggest and most current issues facing businesses today will be tackled. Because risk management is so specific to each business, the hot issues are different for every risk professional. Eleven of Aon’s thought leaders will participate in panel discussions about acute and emerging risk management issues, including mergers and acquisitions and cyber liability.

Professionals from across the globe will come to the conference and meet with clients and prospects to discuss risk management needs and share insights and ideas.

For more specialized topics than are covered in the panels, attendees can visit Aon’s Clientopia. It is set up in a nearby offsite area but done in conjunction with the conference.

There, you can get very personalized attention to your business needs and set up meetings with insurers to discuss issues and receive a more detailed overview of what a risk manager can bring to the picture for your business.

What kind of business is done at the conference?

The relationship-building and transfer of knowledge that occurs is strategic and lasting. The conference allows business leaders from many industries to discuss their approach with industry-leading risk advisers and brokers, meet with insurance carriers, talk about current issues and prepare for the future. The conference can be an eye opener for those who do not understand their company’s risk profile. They may blindly approach a booth and leave with ideas and tools to support the growth of their organization.

How can someone who is interested get involved with RIMS?

There are great opportunities for professionals of all levels who deal with issues of risk to learn more. There are Risk Management 101-esque sessions at the annual RIMS conference for everyone from general counsel to chief financial officers to get familiar with the issues facing their businesses so they can make intelligent decisions that will have a direct impact on their balance sheets. In addition, several cities have very robust local chapters.

You mentioned local RIMS chapters. What other types of local opportunities are available for education?

RIMS and Aon alike present sessions and forums in cities around the country. The basic issues covered can be valuable, especially for busy executives who may not be able to attend the three-day annual conference.

These programs are designed to speak to the different aspects of risk and target general counsel or CEOs who may not be risk professionals but need to have a grasp of the issues. The programs are especially useful for CFOs of firms that may not have dedicated risk managers and for someone who is wearing many hats in an organization, including risk management.

For information on Aon at RIMS in Philadelphia April 15-18, visit rims.aon.com.

Kathleen Delaney is a senior vice president with Aon Risk Solutions. Reach her at (212) 441-1662 or Kathleen.Delaney@aon.com. Patrick Lawton is vice president, strategic account manager at Aon Risk Solutions. Reach him at patrick.lawton@aon.com.

If your company experiences a loss of money, securities or assets as the result of a crime, you may think your insurance will cover the loss.

But claims for this type of loss, called a fidelity loss, are usually excluded under other policies you purchase.

“Usually, the loss results from an employee or someone in a position of trust that is responsible for the property or money being lost,” says Scott Nuelle, vice president of ECBM Insurance Brokers and Consultants. “And if you don’t have the right insurance, such a claim could threaten your business.”

Smart Business spoke with Nuelle about how fidelity losses can affect your company and how to protect yourself.

Why do companies need to be aware of fidelity losses?

Companies usually assume they have coverage somewhere for fidelity losses, and they may not realize that they don’t. Properties policies do not cover money or securities.  They also exclude coverage for theft by an employee, regardless of what the employee steals.

Many believe they don’t need the coverage because their business isn’t that big and they feel they know the people who work for them. Most larger companies understand the exposure but don’t always purchase enough limits.

How do you protect yourself against fidelity losses?

Companies should set up internal controls, as well as audit procedures. These internal controls should monitor who has access to money, checks, money orders and property. You need checks and balances built in so that one person, particularly a trusted adviser, cannot do anything without at least one other person in a position of responsibility signing off on it.

Additionally, companies should consider purchasing insurance coverage, the most common of which is a crime policy. There are industry-standard forms, but the form and coverage will vary in each individual insurance policy. These coverage forms include employee theft, forgery or alteration coverage, theft, disappearance and destruction coverage for both inside and outside the premises, computer fraud and wire transfer fraud.

Why should employers consider additional endorsements beyond their basic coverage?

A lot of the package policies people buy will have some limited crime coverage. Employers can look at it and say, ‘I have coverage,’ but the sublimits are usually pretty small. It provides minor protection against what is usually a pretty large exposure.

Even though you have coverage, if you don’t have it set up correctly with the right endorsements, you could end up in a position where you don’t have what you think you have.

Also, many companies assume that their internal controls are sufficient to ward against employee theft. But people who are motivated will find ways around internal controls, and employee theft could occur in small amounts over a period of months, or even years. When you realize that the ongoing theft by one employee becomes one occurrence, it becomes easier to understand that the loss could grow to a very large number. If one employee steals either money or property every week over a period of years, the loss could easily get into six or seven figures. There has been an uptick in these claims over the last few years and they are big losses.

What are some trouble areas where companies’ coverage may be lacking?

The standard definition of ‘employee’ in the coverage does not include subcontractors or independent contractors acting as employees. You need to rely on your broker to add that endorsement to include independent contractors as employees.

Another area where we have seen an increase is in theft of wire transfers made through your bank. There are hackers that will intercept wire transfers and redirect the money to offshore accounts. This area of theft is still emerging, and the banks may not take responsibility for all of the loss after the transaction is completed. Unless you have computer fraud coverage and wire transfer fraud as part of your coverage, you may have no recourse and no way to recoup that money.

Another recommended endorsement provides coverage for claims expenses, because when you have one of these claims, the easy part is proving that you’ve had a loss. However, you don’t recoup anything for that loss unless you can quantify it, which requires hiring investigators and forensic accountants to prove the amount of the loss. The expenses associated with hiring these types of experts and with proving your loss can be substantial.

The ERISA endorsement is another common enhancement. If you have employee benefit plans, such as 401(k) plans, you have to post bond with ERISA. Rather than posting a separate bond, you can get an ERISA endorsement added to crime coverage, which satisfies the government’s bond requirement.

How can companies ensure that they are protected from fidelity losses?

The key is having a broker who knows how to structure the coverage based on your operation at the most competitive price. Just as important, you need to deal with a broker who can put a claim together and advise you once you have a claim.

These types of claims are not like car accidents, where you can show your damaged vehicle and get it fixed. You have to know how to put the claim together, and you need to know which forensic accountants and investigators to use.

The insurance company has its own experts. It is important to have a broker who will be an advocate for you in this complicated process.

Scott Nuelle is vice president of ECBM Insurance Brokers and Consultants. Reach him at (610) 668-7100 or snuelle@ecbm.com.