Matthew LaWell

Friday, 26 March 2010 20:00

Automation domination

This is a short story about a wonderful return on investment. Everyone loves a return on investment, especially if that investment costs hundreds of thousands of dollars.

There is a small manufacturing company in Arkansas that installed and implemented an enterprise resource planning system last year. The industry in which the company works is not particularly important. Neither is its geographic location. But the fact that the company, call it Company A for the purposes of this story, decided to move forward and install an ERP system is particularly important. It will change the fortunes of Company A in rather short order.

Prior to the installation and implementation of its ERP system, Company A shipped about $200,000 in inventory per week and it stored about five weeks worth of inventory in its warehouses. But executives at Company A figured there was a more efficient way to run the warehouses and, in turn, the business of the entire company.

So after months of research and planning, after working with a top technology firm, after moving forward to install that ERP system — and, in particular, a handheld wireless scanning system to better handle its inventory management — Company A did find a more efficient way. It was able to decrease its amount of stored inventory to about three weeks worth of items. That allowed Company A to free up about $400,000 in working capital, more than the total cost of investment in the ERP system. And that allowed Company A to restructure a large swath of the way it now does business.

What is ERP? You might know, but even if you have a grip on the technology, it has certainly changed since its introduction to the business world in 1990, and it has changed even more during the last couple of years.

“The term ERP has remained pretty stable,” says Alex Attal, general manager, Sage ERP X3, within Sage North America. “It was developed more than 20 years ago, but we still use the name; it still means something. The reason, I think, is because it has filled an important need for businesses. The application is different, but the process is always the same: How do you automate complex processes?”

Plan, then plan some more

ERP is an integrated system that is used to manage the resources and automate the processes of a company. It can be used to automate and improve just about any process that deals with manufacturing, with supply chain management, with human resources, and with financials and data. It has been referred to as “the present of computing,” “the future of computing” and “an invaluable part of business” by a panel of experts and software developers and designers across the nation. There is a longer definition filled with more technical details, but if that doesn’t provide a sense of what ERP can do for your business, well, just read the simple success story of Company A one more time. Then take a long look at the processes in your own business.

“Small and medium businesses do not have processes any less complex than those of larger businesses,” Attal says. “The challenge for small and medium businesses is that their processes are still complex and there are fewer resources to fix it. You need to bring as simple a solution as possible to a complex process, because whatever the size of your business, you need to automate your processes.”

The installation and implementation of an ERP system is neither an inexpensive nor a short project. The cost can vary depending on the number of your employees and the revenue size of your business, the depth and scope of the system you want to install, and the amount of training you want during the process. A simple system for a small business might cost less than $10,000. An average system might cost somewhere between $50,000 and $100,000. A much larger system for a corporation that has thousands of users and stretches around the world might cost millions of dollars. But an average cost, especially for small and medium businesses, is somewhere between $3,000 and $5,000 per end user, including the implementation, from the day you start installation to the day you are running live in production.

Similarly, the installation time varies based on multiple factors. For smaller systems, plan for at least three months, including end training. For larger systems, plan for at least six months to one year.

And the training is important. Consider it an insurance policy, of sorts, to make certain that your employees endorse the system and want to use it. If they reject it, you’ve not only wasted your money, but you have also taken a step backward toward different departments speaking different technological languages.

“There is significant training,” says James Barber, partner and CEO, ERP Professionals. “Not only will the end users who use the system to conduct daily operations need training, but they may also see their roles changing as they move to a new system because of how the processes are mapped out.”

Close your doors

Perhaps your largest concern with the decision to either install or upgrade your ERP system — other than the considerable investment of money and time — is security. Your data will not likely be susceptible to external hackers, even if you opt for cloud computing and store your data on a server outside of your offices, but there is always the concern that your own employees might attempt to tamper with the system.

“If you have an on-premise solution that you keep within the walls of your business, your security concerns are more internal in terms of access for your employees,” says Prasad Akella, vice president of SME Solution Marketing, SAP. “You don’t want the guy running your supply system to be able to cross over to your HR system.”

In other words, assign each user a unique access name and password, much as you or your IT staff would for any office system of considerable size and importance, and allow each user access to only the parts of the system that he or she needs to use for his or her assignments. There are always concerns, but if you set up the security in advance, you will better protect your data and your business.

The other concern, especially after hearing the relatively sudden successes of Company A, the Arkansas manufacturing company that trimmed its stored inventory by about 40 percent and reaped a full return on its investment within a year of implementation, is when you will earn back the money you put into the system. Depending on the speed of the installation and how quickly you and your employees implement the full range of process automation, you could see a full return within two years, and perhaps even just one year. But the consensus is that ERP has evolved so much during the last couple of decades that it is a sound investment, no matter your industry, business size or needs.

“There has been a maturation process that businesses have gone through,” Akella says. “ERP is a commodity now, and businesses recognize that they need it and that they need to invest in it.”

It can, after all, help you improve the processes and efficiencies of your business. And it can change the way you do business.

Tuesday, 23 February 2010 19:00

Strike up the brand

During the course of the last year, executives at a large company in one Midwestern city scheduled an event to thank their present clients for remaining with them through the recession and to reach out to potential clients in an effort to prepare for growth. They rented a hall in a beautiful building for the morning, hired a speaker with a prominent name and attracted a crowd of about 2,500 people.

Nothing out of the ordinary. Perhaps, you have even scheduled a similar event.

But as the event neared, the executives realized that they had a large problem. They had scheduled the event during the middle of the week, and with hundreds of thousands of other people already in the city, there was no parking anywhere near the building. So they scratched their heads. They worried. They wondered how they could have overlooked such a simple detail. They wondered how they might solve the problem. And only then did they call an event management firm.

When the recession started to rock the financial world in 2008, internal event management personnel were among the first to be laid off. Many then planted roots with independent firms or started firms of their own. Less than two years later, a December 2009 feature in U.S. News & World Report posited that a position as an event manager or event planner ranked among the 50 best jobs for 2010. The industry has transitioned and is positioned to grow a projected 16 percent between now and 2018.

That might be good news for you and your business because the odds are high that, at some point, you will want to hold some sort of event, and unless you have an event manager on staff, you might find yourself in a situation every bit as sticky as those Midwest executives with thousands of guests and no parking spaces.

“Meeting planners like helping people,” says Virginia Finnerty, owner, Plan Ahead Events of Coral Gables. “If companies would simply develop a relationship with a meeting planner, they would find that they could never live without us. You have to find the meeting planner you can work with, but once you find that person, you will find them to be a lifesaver.”

Plan in advance

Event managers are more than just party planners. In fact, those words are like nails on a chalkboard to many in the industry. Event managers aim to feature your message and work with you to help you reach your goals for each meeting, each conference, each event. They are able to save you significant amounts of money and time, measure the returns on your investment, and, of course, coordinate an event that will be effective and leave your employees and clients talking.

“Those companies that are canceling their events are not taking advantage of what that face-to-face interaction offers,” says Nan Lyons, vice president of sales and marketing, Nth Degree. “It is more important than ever to be out there, face to face, to capture any and all of the business.”

Just look at those Midwest executives, for example. During the 24 hours after they called the event management firm, the firm started to contact all of the guests to relay the parking situation, then the firm paid parking lot fees to ensure there would be available spaces somewhere within the city limits, hired buses and created a route to the building. All of that would have taken weeks if an internal employee with little event management experience had handled the task. It took the firm a couple of days. On the morning of the event, those thousands of guests parked at remote lots and were shuttled a couple of miles on city roads. It was hardly ideal, but it worked.

It also cost the company an extra $20,000.

“When you plan ahead, when you plan way in advance, you can save a lot of money,” Finnerty says. “Often you get a huge break when you pay in advance. Venues are real happy to know that they are secured for a particular date, and they are willing to work with you.”

Many firms also have considerable influence at hotels and venues and with vendors. Because they direct so much business and so many sales to those outlets, they often receive a discount somewhere between 10 and 20 percent, which they normally pass along directly to you. Their knowledge of your city — and the state, nation and world, for that matter — allows them to track down the lowest prices in a matter of hours or minutes, as opposed to days or weeks.

There are four primary reasons to work with an event management firm. First, you will save a little more money in the end, even if you spend a little more at the beginning. Second, many businesses no longer have the internal resources necessary to handle events. Third, companies often need fresh ideas for old events, and an objective pair of eyes can provide those new thoughts. And fourth, it does simplify your work.

“Many companies certainly know their own marketplace but not outside marketplaces,” Lyons says. “With an outside firm, you do get that perspective that you wouldn’t otherwise have.”

Open your doors

Just as with any business partner who provides value-added services — your attorney, your accountant, your banker — you need to develop a relationship with your event management firm. It is not enough to call once and spend a couple of minutes determining when and where you should hold the annual sales meeting.

The more your firm knows about you and your business, the more it will be able to implement continuity in your events from one year to the next. The firm will also be able to understand how each event fits into the larger scope and culture of your business and be able to remain on budget throughout the year.

“What many smart event management companies in our position do is to really embed ourselves in the businesses of our clients,” Lyons says. “We look at the event side but also at what their objectives are, what their business goals are, and really understand that.”

They can help keep you up to date on newer technology, too. Online event registration has proved popular during recent years because of low costs and the relative ease with which event attendees can sign up. Virtual events are also popular, especially now that travel budgets are reduced and fewer people are flying extensively. And social media is gaining momentum. Event management and social media work hand in hand. Whether promoting an event or a product launch, many event managers embrace the technology because of its ability to all but eliminate marketing costs while also reaching a far wider potential audience.

“Social media is just a better, faster, cheaper version of word-of-mouth,” Lyons says. “But how is that Twitter post better? Who owns that dialogue? How do you manage it? We definitely have that full integration.”

The world is smaller. Your events might be, too, but keep holding them. Maintain your public image. The business world, after all, might not be a party right now, but it is an event not to be missed.

Tuesday, 23 February 2010 19:00

Strike up the brand

During the course of the last year, executives at a large company in one Midwestern city scheduled an event to thank their present clients for remaining with them through the recession and to reach out to potential clients in an effort to prepare for growth. They rented a hall in a beautiful building for the morning, hired a speaker with a prominent name and attracted a crowd of about 2,500 people.

Nothing out of the ordinary. Perhaps, you have even scheduled a similar event.

But as the event neared, the executives realized that they had a large problem. They had scheduled the event during the middle of the week, and with hundreds of thousands of other people already in the city, there was no parking anywhere near the building. So they scratched their heads. They worried. They wondered how they could have overlooked such a simple detail. They wondered how they might solve the problem. And only then did they call an event management firm.

When the recession started to rock the financial world in 2008, internal event management personnel were among the first to be laid off. Many then planted roots with independent firms or started firms of their own. Less than two years later, a December 2009 feature in U.S. News & World Report posited that a position as an event manager or event planner ranked among the 50 best jobs for 2010. The industry has transitioned and is positioned to grow a projected 16 percent between now and 2018.

That might be good news for you and your business because the odds are high that, at some point, you will want to hold some sort of event, and unless you have an event manager on staff, you might find yourself in a situation every bit as sticky as those Midwest executives with thousands of guests and no parking spaces.

“In today’s environment of reduced staff, reduced budgets and shorter deadlines, destination and event management firms help companies do more with less,” says Christopher Lee, CEO, ACCESS Destination Services. “They save time and stress by leveraging their expertise, experience and extensive local knowledge and connections for their client’s benefit in planning and producing corporate events.”

Plan in advance

Event managers are more than just party planners. In fact, those words are like nails on a chalkboard to many in the industry. Event managers aim to feature your message and work with you to help you reach your goals for each meeting, each conference, each event. They are able to save you significant amounts of money and time, measure the returns on your investment, and, of course, coordinate an event that will be effective and leave your employees and clients talking.

“The best way to ensure that you are working with a professional event manager is to check their professional credentials, memberships and references thoroughly,” Lee says.

Just look at those Midwest executives, for example. They worked with a good professional firm, and during the 24 hours after they called the event management firm, the firm started to contact all of its guests to relay the parking situation, then it paid parking lot fees to ensure there would be available spaces somewhere within the city limits, hired buses and created a route to the building. All of that would have taken weeks if an internal employee with little event management experience had handled the task. It took the firm a couple of days. On the morning of the event, those thousands of guests parked at remote lots and were shuttled a couple of miles on city roads. It was hardly ideal, but it worked.

It also cost the company an extra $20,000.

“I don’t want to contribute to the misnomer that it’s going to cost you less to hire us than to do your event,” Lee says. “But if you add up the true cost of doing it yourself, including your time and the time of your employees, then we are definitely saving you money. You have to look at the whole cost.”

Many firms also have considerable influence at hotels and venues and with vendors. Because they direct so much business and so many sales to those outlets, they often receive a discount somewhere between 10 and 20 percent, which they normally pass along directly to you. Their knowledge of your city — and the state, nation and world, for that matter — allows them to track down the lowest prices in a matter of hours or minutes, as opposed to days or weeks.

There are four primary reasons to work with an event management firm. First, you will save a little more money in the end, even if you spend a little more at the beginning. Second, many businesses no longer have the internal resources necessary to handle events. Third, companies often need fresh ideas for old events, and an objective pair of eyes can provide those new thoughts. And fourth, it does simplify your work.

“Many companies certainly know their own marketplace but not outside marketplaces,” says Nan Lyons, vice president of sales and marketing, Nth Degree Inc. “With an outside firm, you do get that perspective that you wouldn’t otherwise have.”

Open your doors

Just as with any business partner who provides value-added services — your attorney, your accountant, your banker — you need to develop a relationship with your event management firm. It is not enough to call once and spend a couple of minutes determining when and where you should hold the annual sales meeting.

The more your firm knows about you and your business, the more it will be able to implement continuity in your events from one year to the next. The firm will also be able to understand how each event fits into the larger scope and culture of your business and be able to remain on budget throughout the year.

“What many smart event management companies in our position do is to really embed ourselves in the businesses of our clients,” Lyons says. “We look at the event side but also at what their objectives are, what their business goals are, and really understand that.”

They can help keep you up to date on newer technology, too. Online event registration has proved popular during recent years because of low costs and the relative ease with which event attendees can sign up. Virtual events are also popular, especially now that travel budgets are reduced and fewer people are flying extensively. And social media is gaining momentum. Event management and social media work hand in hand. Whether promoting an event or a product launch, many event managers embrace the technology because of its ability to all but eliminate marketing costs while also reaching a far wider potential audience.

“Social media is just a better, faster, cheaper version of word-of-mouth,” Lyons says. “But how is that Twitter post better? Who owns that dialogue? How do you manage it? We definitely have that full integration.”

The world is smaller. Your events might be, too, but keep holding them. Maintain your public image. The business world, after all, might not be a party right now, but it is an event not to be missed.

Tuesday, 26 January 2010 19:00

Preventing the exodus

Week after uncomfortable week, Donald Trump leaned across the edge of his famous boardroom table, his hands locked together, his lips curled in a sneer, and stared some poor sucker right out the door. During eight seasons of his reality television show, “The Apprentice,” Trump has mastered the ability to pound out the two words that no employee, not even a contestant eager for fame and fortune, wants to hear.

You’re fired.

As has been the case so many times during the last couple of decades, Trump proved to be far ahead of the curve. He mastered the fine art of the fire long prior to the start of our current recession, long prior to millions of workers hearing the same words, more or less, as that unfortunate contestant on the other side of the table. But perhaps Trump — and you — will not need to utter those words as often this year as you did last year.

The national unemployment rate dropped to 10 percent in November 2009 from 10.2 percent in October, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That figure, however slight, represents enough of a drop to provide some glimmer of hope to human resources and human capital experts across the nation and some hope that the start of a long recovery will soon be under way.

“I am seeing things turning around little by little, and I am seeing companies starting to hire,” says Julio Chez, director of sales, TriNet Group Inc. “They are not hiring at the level they were before, but they are hiring, so that gives me hope that the tide is turning. It varies from company to company, from department to department, but there is light at the end of the tunnel.”

All of which means that, after a long and frustrating year filled with layoffs, wage freezes, the elimination of bonuses and perks, and the addition of more assignments for employees already under stress, the economy — and the human resources industry — might start to take a turn for the better at some point this year. Challenges do remain, of course, but there is hope.

Whenever the figures and charts tick upward, the time to move will be as soon as possible. Will you be prepared?

Focus on your top employees

The challenges throughout the last year focused on how to maintain the revenue, trim the budget and retain as many employees as possible. Almost every business of every size lost something and, more important, somebody — as evidenced by that aforementioned unemployment rate, which has increased during almost every month since April 2008.

You might still need to trim your budget, but you will also need to focus on identifying and retaining your high-performance and high-potential employees. So often, those employees might think the grass is greener on the other side of the proverbial fence. But what about when the grass is brown? What about when there is no grass? Heck, forget the grass, what about when there is no fence? They remain where they are for as long as necessary, as they are doing now because there are so few available positions in the marketplace.

Then they leave.

That is, at least, the consensus among dozens of human resources and human capital experts.

“When the economy turns around, and we all believe it will, and jobs become more available, employers will have to ask themselves what they have done to ensure that the people who are important to their success are going to stay with them, that they are engaged, that they are motivated and that they are committed to the organization,” says Thomas Grass, senior consultant, Towers Watson. “Because what they don’t want is to be in a position where they have their employees right now, but as soon as things turn around, those employees say, ‘Good, I made it through that. Now let me go and find a good job.’”

The process of retaining those high-performance and high-potential employees has already started, with your top workers likely influenced by how you handled the fallout from the shock of the recession. If you handled layoffs with dignity, communicating why decisions were made and what they meant for the future, that helped. So did any revenue investment in those top workers, from compensation and bonuses to training programs and seminars. And if you talked with those top workers and relayed to them where they fit in the vision for your business, that would have been about the best thing you could have done.

“It definitely is more of a challenge to keep employees motivated now because they live in a system where they see what happens with other peers who have lost their jobs,” Chez says. “That can have a negative effect on the morale of the employee.

“These core people who are left are the building blocks to having a better company in the future. The executive who is going to be successful in this environment is not going to be the one who sits and mourns but who takes time to prepare the foundation of the organization so that when things turn around, it’s ready.”

Develop and share your plan

In addition to identifying and targeting your high-performance and high-potential employees to prepare for a future of healthy economics, you should develop a plan to address possible human resources challenges and plot the path you want your business to follow during the next couple of years.

“One thing that will hinder your growth is a lack of a plan,” Grass says. “Planning is really important.”

Chief among your objectives for that plan should be the development of a balance between continued cost reduction and simultaneously positioning for growth. During the last year, many companies have aimed to manage and contain all costs related to human resources and human capital because they have been trying to do little more than survive. Survival is important, but it is also important to not damage the viability of your business in the big picture, well beyond these few years and even beyond this new decade.

Once you develop your plan, share it with your employees, especially your key employees. That advice might sound obvious, but experts say that too many business owners fail to relay information to their managers and their employees. And even in a good environment, employees who only hear about meetings behind closed doors and have no idea what is happening — and what is about to happen — will often speculate incorrectly, either causing additional stress or inadvertently spreading incorrect information. In short, you can still have those meetings behind closed doors, just be sure to share what is said on the other side of the oak.

“If you have open communication with your staff and you have a great vision for the future, they know you’re working together for a better future for the company,” Chez says.

Communication is a key to developing a successful human resources department, either internally or by bringing in an outside firm. You want your employees aware of what is happening in your business, and you want them to be engaged.

“I want someone who knows where we’re going as an organization and who knows how they’re helping us get there,” Grass says. “That’s engagement.”

Tuesday, 26 January 2010 19:00

Preventing the exodus

Week after uncomfortable week, Donald Trump leaned across the edge of his famous boardroom table, his hands locked together, his lips curled in a sneer and stared some poor sucker right out the door. During eight seasons of his reality television show, “The Apprentice,” Trump has mastered the ability to pound out the two words that no employee, not even a contestant eager for fame and fortune, wants to hear.

You’re fired.

As has been the case so many times during the last couple of decades, Trump proved to be far ahead of the curve. He mastered the fine art of the fire long prior to the start of our current recession, long prior to millions of workers hearing the same words, more or less, as that unfortunate contestant on the other side of the table. But perhaps Trump — and you — will not need to utter those words as often this year as you did last year.

The national unemployment rate dropped to 10 percent in November 2009 from 10.2 percent in October, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That figure, however slight, represents enough of a drop to provide some glimmer of hope to human resources and human capital experts across the nation and some hope that the start of a long recovery will soon be under way.

“This is providing an opportunity to step back, re-evaluate and reset the human capital agenda,” says Jan Rose, market business leader for human capital, Mercer LLC. “Everything is up for examination. Many of our clients are reviewing the effectiveness of all their human resources programs and assessing whether the programs are having the effect they want it to have for their investment.”

All of which means that, after a long and frustrating year filled with layoffs, wage freezes, the elimination of bonuses and perks, and the addition of more assignments for employees already under stress, the economy — and the human resources industry — might start to take a turn for the better at some point this year. Challenges do remain, of course, but there is hope.

Whenever the figures and charts tick upward, the time to move will be as soon as possible. Will you be prepared?

Focus on your top employees

The challenges throughout the last year focused on how to maintain the revenue, trim the budget and retain as many employees as possible. Almost every business of every size lost something and, more important, somebody — as evidenced by that aforementioned unemployment rate, which has increased during almost every month since April 2008.

You might still need to trim your budget, but you will also need to focus on identifying and retaining your high-performance and high-potential employees. So often, those employees might think the grass is greener on the other side of the proverbial fence. But what about when the grass is brown? What about when there is no grass? Heck, forget the grass, what about when there is no fence? They remain where they are for as long as necessary, as they are doing now because there are so few available positions in the marketplace.

Then they leave.

That is, at least, the consensus among dozens of human resources and human capital experts.

“The loyalty foundation has been shaken in a major way, and when things come around, people will begin to look,” says Jeff Leonard, managing director, U.S. Central region, Buck Consultants LLC. “Whether they jump or not depends on a lot of things. It’s a chicken-and-egg kind of thing.

“Let’s say I’m at company XYZ and I’m unhappy, so I’m going to look around, but if the company tells me they want me to stick around, they want to train me, they want to give me a pay increase, that might change things.”

The process of retaining those high-performance and high-potential employees has already started, with your top workers likely influenced by how you handled the fallout from the shock of the recession. If you handled layoffs with dignity, communicating why decisions were made and what they meant for the future, that helped — so did any revenue investment in those top workers, from compensation and bonuses to training programs and seminars. And if you talked with those top workers and relayed to them where they fit in the vision for your business, that would have been about the best thing you could have done.

“Among what we like to consider the best practice companies, ones that are engaging with their employees, investing in their careers, staying focused on strategies, sharing the successes, absolutely, there will be loyalty that comes from all of that,” says Josh Sorkin, senior vice president of enterprise services, Hudson. “It’s the companies that waver from those messages and investments that have that uneasiness among remaining employees.”

Develop and share your plan

In addition to identifying and targeting your high-performance and high-potential employees to prepare for a future of healthy economics, you should develop a plan to address possible human resources challenges and plot the path you want your business to follow during the next couple of years.

Chief among your objectives for that plan should be the development of a balance between continued cost reduction and simultaneously positioning for growth. During the last year, many companies have aimed to manage and contain all costs related to human resources and human capital because they have been trying to do little more than survive. Survival is important, but it is also important to not damage the viability of your business in the big picture, well beyond these few years and even beyond this new decade.

Once you develop your plan, share it with your employees, especially your key employees. That advice might sound obvious, but experts say that too many business owners fail to relay information to their managers and their employees. And even in a good environment, employees who only hear about meetings behind closed doors and have no idea what is happening — and what is about to happen — will often speculate incorrectly, either causing additional stress or inadvertently spreading incorrect information. In short, you can still have those meetings behind closed doors, just be sure to share what is said on the other side of the oak.

“You have to tell people what’s going on, because they often go to the wrong place,” Leonard says. “If there is a closed-door meeting, people are going to think that, because they’re not in that meeting, they’re on a list of people who are going to lose their job next week. Even if communication isn’t positive, it helps employees and business owners.”

Communication is a key to developing a successful human resources department, either internally or by bringing in an outside firm. You want your employees aware of what is happening in your business, and you want them to be engaged.

“With all of the changes going on in the economy and all of the uncertainty, it’s important to remain engaged with your employee base, to have them stay focused on the business at hand and not be distracted by news in the marketplace or internal chatter within their own companies,” Sorkin says. “It’s important for them to be focused on the tasks at hand and make sure you keep your business profitable and looking forward.”

Saturday, 26 December 2009 19:00

The next big ring

Shortly after the opening credits of the film “Tomorrow Never Dies,” James Bond received a cell phone from the Q Branch of the British Secret Service. The phone was able to transmit incoming and outgoing calls, of course, but it was also able to scan, analyze and transmit fingerprints, and pick locks with a stylized antenna. And it could also fire away as a stun gun.

Not bad for 1997.

A little less than 13 years later, there is nothing that lethal anywhere in the world of telecommunications. There are, however, plenty of developments, especially regarding Voice over Internet Protocol, or VoIP, that might make you feel a little bit like 007. And cut a chunk of money from your monthly expenses.

Developed in earnest during the first Internet boom of the early 1990s, VoIP utilizes the Internet to make inexpensive, if not free, phone calls to just about any number around the world. All you need is a computer, broadband Internet access and a voice on the other end of the digital line. For years, media and industry experts trumpeted VoIP as the next big thing, but the Internet capabilities lagged behind the technology, leading to garbled conversations and snowfalls of static.

With the rise of faster and more efficient Internet access during much of the last decade, VoIP increased in scope and performance. Dartmouth University installed a network across its campus in 2003. Oprah stumped for a popular VoIP service last year. Even the government is starting to take advantage of the new technology, with the Social Security Administration in the process of converting to a VoIP network at its more than 1,500 field offices.

All of that combined means that VoIP is not the next big thing. It is the now big thing.

“The entire industry has gone beyond the experimentation phase,” says Tom LoFrisco, executive director of business product management, AT&T. “Carriers, manufacturers, everyone is headed in the direction where they will be able to supply Voice over IP.

“It’s decided. It’s a business standard.”

Make technology work for you

What makes VoIP so special is what it is able to do for you, for your business, for telecommunications as you know it.

There are the audio and video calls, which are available for either nothing or next to nothing on a number of popular Web sites. But if you choose to rely on those sites and the public Internet to run your business, industry experts say that you will leave yourself susceptible to many of the problems common to insecure data networks, including hackers, spyware, malware and any number of viruses.

A better option might be to install a VoIP network through a larger carrier to ensure that your voice and data will be secure. The cost to install a new network is high — normally between $20,000 and $30,000 for businesses with 50 or so lines, though quotes and actual costs vary case by case — but the savings can add up thanks to the 20 to 30 percent that most industry experts say you can save on your monthly bill. And besides, you will have plenty more tools, the kinds once thought limited to secret agents, to enhance how you do business.

“There are just a slew of new features that existing networks don’t have,” LoFrisco says. “There’s ‘Find Me Follow Me,’ where calls can ring your different assigned handsets simultaneously. There’s integration with other voice applications. And the key is that most of those features can be provisioned and managed at the user level.”

Many of the features provided by larger carriers have been available for more than a decade but at a far higher price. As recently as a couple of years ago, only Fortune 500 companies and the like were able to afford IP features, including unified messaging, where your voice mails are converted to text and arrive seamlessly with your e-mails, and secure access to the company network for employees working anywhere in the world.

“Being able to have remote workers is a big advantage,” says Roger Ramsey, vice president, West Coast Cabling. “You can take an IP phone and you can plug it in at home, or I’m able to take my soft phone and plug it into my laptop or put it on my PDA, or take a hard phone and plug it in at home. I don’t need anything special as long as I have some kind of high-speed Internet access at both locations.”

Your employees can even work from home with the same equipment, technology and access available to them at the office. Just hand them a VoIP phone, tell them to take it home and plug it in, and they will be able to work and sound as if they are at their desk. This feature is ideal for call centers and companies that offer 24-hour service because it opens the door to hire remote workers across the nation and around the world. It will also benefit employers who might want to decrease the size of their office and the amount of their rent but maintain the size of their work force or smaller companies that want to appear bigger to customers.

“I’m able to act as if I’m in the office,” Ramsey says. “Nobody knows the difference.”

Think about the future

Though VoIP networks might initially seem like some sort of futuristic technology that will be difficult to install and more difficult to understand, it will likely be an easier transition than rotary to touch-tone or analog to digital. You might not even need to install new phones or schedule much time, if any, to train employees how to maximize use of the new features.

“VoIP does take some time to fully understand and utilize the benefits,” says Larry Coval, vice president, Cox Business San Diego. “Generally, some training for IT personnel is needed, as well as for end users, and that really comes from the feature functionality and how to use it. The end users are the ones who want to learn more about it and take advantage of those features.”

If you can figure out how to use your remote control to flip channels, record your favorite shows and insert a DVD with the push of three buttons, you will probably be able to figure out a few additional features on your phone, especially if they help you run your business more efficiently.

Of course, a VoIP network might not be necessary for all businesses. If you have only one office and a handful of employees who never work in the field, if you receive far more calls than you send or if you want to install the newest technology just to say that you have it, you probably have little need for VoIP. But if you have offices in multiple cities, even multiple states, to tie together with one network or if you have any employees out in the field, a VoIP network might be a sound investment.

“Most people will agree that we’re headed for a converged network over time, but TDM (time-division multiplexing) is not dead yet,” Coval says. “There are still lots of customers out there who continue to have a need for TDM.

“But I don’t think there’s any doubt that convergence onto a single platform is inevitable.”

Special Report

San Diego

Saturday, 26 December 2009 19:00

The next big ring

Shortly after the opening credits of the film “Tomorrow Never Dies,” James Bond received a cell phone from the Q Branch of the British Secret Service. The phone was able to transmit incoming and outgoing calls, of course, but it was also able to scan, analyze and transmit fingerprints, and pick locks with a stylized antenna. And it could also fire away as a stun gun.

Not bad for 1997.

A little less than 13 years later, there is nothing that lethal anywhere in the world of telecommunications. There are, however, plenty of developments, especially regarding Voice over Internet Protocol, or VoIP, that might make you feel a little bit like 007. And cut a chunk of money from your monthly expenses.

Developed in earnest during the first Internet boom of the early 1990s, VoIP utilizes the Internet to make inexpensive, if not free, phone calls to just about any number around the world. All you need is a computer, broadband Internet access and a voice on the other end of the digital line. For years, media and industry experts trumpeted VoIP as the next big thing, but the Internet capabilities lagged behind the technology, leading to garbled conversations and snowfalls of static.

With the rise of faster and more efficient Internet access during much of the last decade, VoIP increased in scope and performance. Dartmouth University installed a network across its campus in 2003. Oprah stumped for a popular VoIP service last year. Even the government is starting to take advantage of the new technology, with the Social Security Administration in the process of converting to a VoIP network at its more than 1,500 field offices.

All of that combined means that VoIP is not the next big thing. It is the now big thing.

“The entire industry has gone beyond the experimentation phase,” says Tom LoFrisco, executive director of business product management, AT&T. “Carriers, manufacturers, everyone is headed in the direction where they will be able to supply Voice over IP.

“It’s decided. It’s a business standard.”

Make technology work for you

What makes VoIP so special is what it is able to do for you, for your business — for telecommunications as you know it.

There are the audio and video calls, which are available for either nothing or next to nothing on a number of popular Web sites. But if you choose to rely on those sites and the public Internet to run your business, industry experts say that you will leave yourself susceptible to many of the problems common to insecure data networks, including hackers, spyware, malware and any number of viruses.

A better option might be to install a VoIP network through a larger carrier to ensure that your voice and data will be secure. The cost to install a new network is high — normally between $20,000 and $30,000 for businesses with 50 or so lines, though quotes and actual costs vary case by case — but the savings can add up thanks to the 20 to 30 percent that most industry experts say you can save on your monthly bill. And besides, you will have plenty more tools, the kinds once thought limited to secret agents, to enhance how you do business.

“There are just a slew of new features that existing networks don’t have,” LoFrisco says. “There’s ‘Find Me Follow Me,’ where calls can ring your different assigned handsets simultaneously. There’s integration with other voice applications. And the key is that most of those features can be provisioned and managed at the user level.”

Many of the features provided by larger carriers have been available for more than a decade but at a far higher price. As recently as a couple of years ago, only Fortune 500 companies and the like were able to afford IP features, including unified messaging, where your voice mails are converted to text and arrive seamlessly with your e-mails, and secure access to the company network for employees working anywhere in the world.

“I have an application that runs on my computer that, wherever I am in the world, as long as I have broadband Internet, everybody else in the corporation can see where I am — if I’m working remotely in Washington, D.C., if I’m in a meeting in Albany or Dallas — and then I’m available to communicate in multiple ways with my colleagues,” says Stephen Brown, vice president of U.S. Systems Engineering, Mitel. “They can instant message me across the network, they can click to call me, which will route the call to the soft phone on my computer or a desk phone where I’ve logged in.

“It really reduces a lot of the complexities from a communications perspective.”

Your employees can even work from home with the same equipment, technology and access available to them at the office. Just hand them a VoIP phone, tell them to take it home and plug it in, and they will be able to work and sound as if they are at their desk. This feature is ideal for call centers and companies that offer 24-hour service because it opens the door to hire remote workers across the nation and around the world. It will also benefit employers who might want to decrease the size of their office and the amount of their rent but maintain the size of their work force or smaller companies that want to appear bigger to customers.

Think about the future

Though VoIP networks might smack initially of some sort of futuristic technology that will be difficult to install and more difficult to understand, it will likely be an easier transition than rotary to touch-tone or analog to digital. You might not even need to install new phones or schedule much time, if any, to train employees how to maximize use of the new features.

“The beauty of the products is that they use cutting-edge technology that’s also designed to be easy to use,” says Paul Peach, regional sales director, Indiana region, Comcast Business Service. “Your phones work just like they always have, with the addition of new features that are also easy to use, whether you’re forwarding calls to your cell phone or setting up advanced voice mail.”

If you can figure out how to use your remote control to flip channels, record your favorite shows and insert a DVD with the push of three buttons, you will probably be able to figure out a few additional features on your phone, especially if they help you run your business more efficiently.

Of course, a VoIP network might not be necessary for all businesses. If you have only one office and a handful of employees who never work in the field, if you receive far more calls than you send or if you want to install the newest technology just to say that you have it, you probably have little need for VoIP. But if you have offices in multiple cities, even multiple states, to tie together with one network or if you have any employees out in the field, a VoIP network might be a sound investment.

“The technology, while still new in terms of telecommunications, is standard spaced, and all providers are going there,” LoFrisco says. “It does have a lot of cost-savings benefits. There shouldn’t be much to make a customer hesitate to adopt VoIP.”

Saturday, 26 December 2009 19:00

The next big ring

Shortly after the opening credits of the film “Tomorrow Never Dies,” James Bond received a cell phone from the Q Branch of the British Secret Service. The phone was able to transmit incoming and outgoing calls, of course, but it was also able to scan, analyze and transmit fingerprints, and pick locks with a stylized antenna. And it could also fire away as a stun gun.

Not bad for 1997.

A little less than 13 years later, there is nothing that lethal anywhere in the world of telecommunications. There are, however, plenty of developments, especially regarding Voice over Internet Protocol, or VoIP, that might make you feel a little bit like 007. And cut a chunk of money from your monthly expenses.

Developed in earnest during the first Internet boom of the early 1990s, VoIP utilizes the Internet to make inexpensive, if not free, phone calls to just about any number around the world. All you need is a computer, broadband Internet access and a voice on the other end of the digital line. For years, media and industry experts trumpeted VoIP as the next big thing, but the Internet capabilities lagged behind the technology, leading to garbled conversations and snowfalls of static.

With the rise of faster and more efficient Internet access during much of the last decade, VoIP increased in scope and performance. Dartmouth University installed a network across its campus in 2003. Oprah stumped for a popular VoIP service last year. Even the government is starting to take advantage of the new technology, with the Social Security Administration in the process of converting to a VoIP network at its more than 1,500 field offices.

All of that combined means that VoIP is not the next big thing. It is the now big thing.

“The entire industry has gone beyond the experimentation phase,” says Tom LoFrisco, executive director of business product management, AT&T. “Carriers, manufacturers, everyone is headed in the direction where they will be able to supply Voice over IP.

“It’s decided. It’s a business standard.”

Make technology work for you

What makes VoIP so special is what it is able to do for you, for your business, for telecommunications as you know it.

There are the audio and video calls, which are available for either nothing or next to nothing on a number of popular Web sites. But if you choose to rely on those sites and the public Internet to run your business, industry experts say that you will leave yourself susceptible to many of the problems common to insecure data networks, including hackers, spyware, malware and any number of viruses.

A better option might be to install a VoIP network through a larger carrier to ensure that your voice and data will be secure. The cost to install a new network is high — normally between $20,000 and $30,000 for businesses with 50 or so lines, though quotes and actual costs vary case by case — but the savings can add up thanks to the 20 to 30 percent that most industry experts say you can save on your monthly bill. And besides, you will have plenty more tools, the kinds once thought limited to secret agents, to enhance how you do business.

“There are just a slew of new features that existing networks don’t have,” LoFrisco says. “There’s ‘Find Me Follow Me,’ where calls can ring your different assigned handsets simultaneously. There’s integration with other voice applications. And the key is that most of those features can be provisioned and managed at the user level.”

Many of the features provided by larger carriers have been available for more than a decade but at a far higher price. As recently as a couple of years ago, only Fortune 500 companies and the like were able to afford IP features, including unified messaging, where your voice mails are converted to text and arrive seamlessly with your e-mails, and secure access to the company network for employees working anywhere in the world.

“I have an application that runs on my computer that, wherever I am in the world, as long as I have broadband Internet, everybody else in the corporation can see where I am — if I’m working remotely in Washington, D.C., if I’m in a meeting in Albany or Dallas — and then I’m available to communicate in multiple ways with my colleagues,” says Stephen Brown, vice president of U.S. Systems Engineering, Mitel. “They can instant message me across the network, they can click to call me, which will route the call to the soft phone on my computer or a desk phone where I’ve logged in.

“It really reduces a lot of the complexities from a communications perspective.”

Your employees can even work from home with the same equipment, technology and access available to them at the office. Just hand them a VoIP phone, tell them to take it home and plug it in, and they will be able to work and sound as if they are at their desk. This feature is ideal for call centers and companies that offer 24-hour service because it opens the door to hire remote workers across the nation and around the world. It will also benefit employers who might want to decrease the size of their office and the amount of their rent but maintain the size of their work force or smaller companies that want to appear bigger to customers.

Think about the future

Though VoIP networks might initially seem like some sort of futuristic technology that will be difficult to install and more difficult to understand, it will likely be an easier transition than rotary to touch-tone or analog to digital. You might not even need to install new phones or schedule much time, if any, to train employees how to maximize the use of new features.

“Nothing’s ever simple, but the way the process works is, when you come aboard, there is some level of knowledge you need to have in order to learn, and you need to be willing to learn,” says Rich Klepacz, senior product manager for core voice and broadband services, Cbeyond. “For the most part, it is fairly simple. Once it’s turned on, it’s almost a matter of plug and play.”

If you can figure out how to use your remote control to flip channels, record your favorite shows and insert a DVD with the push of three buttons, you will probably be able to figure out a few additional features on your phone, especially if they help you run your business more efficiently.

Of course, a VoIP network might not be necessary for all businesses. If you have only one office and a handful of employees who never work in the field, if you receive far more calls than you send or if you want to install the newest technology just to say that you have it, you probably have little need for VoIP. But if you have offices in multiple cities, even multiple states, to tie together with one network or if you have any employees out in the field, a VoIP network might be a sound investment.

“Over the years, I’ve seen that the small business owner is becoming a lot more technically savvy,” Klepacz says. “They really are becoming smarter users.”

Wednesday, 25 November 2009 19:00

Dollars and sense

You might not think of your accountant as some sort of bean counter, better suited for the Dark Ages than for the Age of Information. Most folks, after all, recognized the error of that thought years ago.

You also might not think of that same accountant as a trusted business adviser. But you should.

Gone are the days when your accountant would just sit down with the company ledger and crunch numbers. An accountant is able to offer so much more now, especially in this economic state.

Need to evaluate your inventory turnover, to analyze what is selling, what is not and why? An accountant can do that.

What about an examination to make certain that all available credit lines are being used or that capital needs are being met? An accountant can do that, too.

And, of course, there are taxes, an area where there has been so much evolution that one industry expert says he estimates the number of allowable tax incentives and minimization techniques has more than doubled during the quarter of a century since he analyzed his first set of financial reports. Another expert says the number has more than tripled during that period. Whatever the actual amount of exponential growth, there is no doubt that accounting is more complicated, and more important, than ever.

“In a down economy, companies are focusing typically on making decisions about costs and expenses,” says Drew J. Sutter, partner in charge of audit and enterprise risk services, Deloitte. “They are evaluating their overall business strategy, evaluating their processes and service lines and products.

“Because we work with many different companies to help them tackle their business challenges, to help them analyze issues and implement leading practices, I think we’re well positioned to bring a broad range of knowledge to the individual client and be a business adviser.”

Talk with your accountant

The key to bringing your accountant into your proverbial inner circle is communication. Nothing is more important, just ask an accountant.

“We might be talking with our clients on a weekly basis or even multiple times per week,” Sutter says. “That personal interaction really let’s me get to know them as people and establish that trust that I want to have as an auditor.”

Without some level of constant and consistent communication, your accountant cannot know the full spectrum of activity within your company and, in turn, might be unable to offer constructive criticism and potentially prosperous ideas and suggestions. The more communication between you and your accountant, the more opportunity and the higher the possibility you will receive a far more favorable result.

Many industry experts recommend you plan to get together with your accountant for at least three or four formal meetings per year, though multiple variables might swing that number higher or lower, including the size of your business, the challenges you are facing now and expect to face during the course of the next year, and the strengths and weaknesses of your internal financial team. Others recommend more casual meetings or phone calls in order to communicate on a regular basis.

Whether you meet around the boardroom table or over beers at your favorite bar, take advantage of that time to ask your accountant important questions, like how can you best utilize your accountant? What should you do internally? Externally? And what are your priorities for the next year?

A high level of communication with your accountant can also lead to you becoming more comfortable around each other. Your accountant should be familiar with many of the folks on your upper management team, and you should be familiar with many of the folks who play top roles for the firm.

“The mutual value to the accountant and company relationship is maximized when professional service providers have a clear understanding of a company’s strategy, business imperatives and issues,” says Mark Stephens, managing partner, San Diego office, Ernst & Young LLP. “Executives should meet with their accountants as often as necessary, especially in these volatile times.”

Take advantage of financial opportunities

The reason so many accountants prefer to be so involved is because the more information they know about you and your company, the more areas they will be able to explore in order to save dollars and cents. And saving dollars makes sense.

“The more the accountant knows about the company, the more value he or she can add on important business issues,” Stephens says.

But the burden of trimming the budget lies not only with your accountant — you need to do your part, too. So be organized, be prepared, be proactive and be accessible.

Just consider the average audit. If your files are scattered around your office, stacked in piles that are toppling over, an audit performed by your accountant might last far longer than it should. In order to avoid a heftier bill, keep your internal financial team on a schedule to update your books regularly, perhaps even every day. Exorbitant costs for an audit — or even just a review or a compilation financial statement — are normally only incurred when you are not organized and prepared.

“A comprehensive financial statement close process is very important,” Stephens says. “Businesses should take the time to close their books properly and review their accounts for accuracy and integrity. The company’s executive team should meet with the auditor early in the planning session and ask for a comprehensive assistance guide to fully understand what’s needed by the auditor, and in preparing for the audit, the company should identify the need to apply new accounting standards and conduct research, gather facts and prepare a memo proposing recommendations.”

If you are particularly strapped, you might even consider consulting with your accountant and other business advisers to consider altering the end of your fiscal year from the end of the calendar year to the end of another quarter. That would allow your accountant to work with you less during the peak months of January through April and more during the off months, when rates are far less expensive. And though such a shift is filled with internal and federal paperwork, the potential savings of such proactive measures can reach more than 20 to 30 percent.

There are even extreme situations where you might be able to save hundreds of thousands of dollars because you and your accountant are both accessible and open to conversation.

Several years ago, one industry expert was working with a client who had installed defective materials in a sewer and storm drain system, and lost thousands of dollars. Though the client was able to file a claim against the manufacturer, the expert was also able to find a case law that allowed for the property loss to carry back 10 years, a far longer retroactive period than the standard two or three years. The result? The client received $500,000 in large part because the expert had been involved in the situation from the start and because the two sides were accessible to each other.

“Our goal is to be a trusted business adviser to our clients,” Sutter says. “Any time there is an important business event or an issue pops up, the company will be talking to us so that we can help them.”

Wednesday, 25 November 2009 19:00

Dollars and sense

You might not think of your accountant as some sort of bean counter, better suited for the Dark Ages than for the Age of Information. Most folks, after all, recognized the error of that thought years ago.

You also might not think of that same accountant as a trusted business adviser. But you should.

Gone are the days when your accountant would just sit down with the company ledger and crunch numbers. An accountant is able to offer so much more now, especially in this economic state.

Need to evaluate your inventory turnover, to analyze what is selling, what is not and why? An accountant can do that.

What about an examination to make certain that all available credit lines are being used or that capital needs are being met? An accountant can do that, too.

And, of course, there are taxes, an area where there has been so much evolution that one industry expert says he estimates the number of allowable tax incentives and minimization techniques has more than doubled during the quarter of a century since he analyzed his first set of financial reports. Another expert says the number has more than tripled during that period. Whatever the actual amount of exponential growth, there is no doubt that accounting is more complicated, and more important, than ever.

“An accountant with a lot of experience can help the company take some of the best practices and apply them to their business,” says Joe Mazza, managing director of Los Angeles offices, RSM McGladrey. “An accountant can help a company prepare financial projections, assist the company with its banking relationships, look at the company’s costs and help them find ways to streamline costs.

“An accountant can just add value in so many different areas.”

Talk with your accountant

The key to bringing your accountant into your proverbial inner circle is communication. Nothing is more important, just ask an accountant.

“You cannot develop a relationship if all you’re doing is meeting with your accountants once a year when it’s time to prepare financial statements or file your tax return or put out a wild, raging fire, metaphorically speaking,” says AndrĂ© Schnabl, managing partner, Atlanta office, Grant Thornton LLP. “A meaningful relationship is built over time because trust is only built over time.”

Without some level of constant and consistent communication, your accountant cannot know the full spectrum of activity within your company and, in turn, might be unable to offer constructive criticism and potentially prosperous ideas and suggestions.

Many industry experts recommend you plan to get together with your accountant for at least three or four formal meetings per year, though multiple variables might swing that number higher or lower, including the size of your business, the challenges you are facing now and expect to face during the course of the next year, and the strengths and weaknesses of your internal financial team. Others recommend more casual meetings or phone calls in order to communicate on a regular basis.

Whether you meet around the boardroom table or over beers at your favorite bar, take advantage of that time to ask your accountant important questions, like how can you best utilize your accountant? What should you do internally? Externally? And what are your priorities for the next year?

A high level of communication with your accountant can also lead to you becoming more comfortable around each other. Your accountant should be familiar with the folks on your upper management team, and you should be familiar with the folks who play top roles for the firm.

“It’s key that the business owner, the CEO, the CFO, is not just in a relationship where the accountant is going through the motions, providing compliance services without giving any kind of feedback,” says John M. Yanak, managing partner, Grossman Yanak & Ford LLP, Pittsburgh. “The accountant should give feedback on things like what the company’s performance is like relative to their peers, what other companies are doing in this environment and what savings opportunities are available.”

Take advantage of financial opportunities

The reason so many accountants prefer to be so involved is because the more information they know about you and your company, the more areas they will be able to explore in order to save dollars and cents. And saving dollars makes sense.

“If CFOs or controllers are in constant contact with their CPAs or their firm, that really provides an avenue for the exchange of information and savings that can be generated,” Yanak says.

But the burden of trimming the budget lies not only with your accountant — you need to do your part, too. So be organized, be prepared, be proactive and be accessible.

Just consider the average audit. If your files are scattered around your office, stacked in piles that are toppling over, an audit performed by your accountant might last far longer than it should. In order to avoid a heftier bill, keep your internal financial team on a schedule to update your books regularly, perhaps even every day. Exorbitant costs for an audit — or even just a review or a compilation financial statement — are normally only incurred when you are not organized and prepared.

“Preparation is important, but planning is just as important,” Schnabl says. “Plan a series of discussions between client and auditor to have a full understanding as to how to build a plan that is efficient and taps into the client’s knowledge of the business and the auditor’s knowledge of auditing. Those conversations drive down the cost of auditing.”

If you are particularly strapped, you might even consider consulting with your accountant and other business advisers to consider altering the end of your fiscal year from the end of the calendar year to the end of another quarter. That would allow your accountant to work with you less during the peak months of January through April and more during the off months, when rates are far less expensive. And though such a shift is filled with internal and federal paperwork, the potential savings of such proactive measures can reach more than 20 to 30 percent.

There are even extreme situations where you might be able to save hundreds of thousands of dollars because you and your accountant are both accessible and open to conversation.

Several years ago, one industry expert was working with a client who had installed defective materials in a sewer and storm drain system, and the client lost thousands of dollars. Though the client was able to file a claim against the manufacturer, the expert was also able to find a case law that allowed for the property loss to carry back 10 years, a far longer retroactive period than the standard two or three years. The result? The client received $500,000 in large part because the expert had been involved in the situation from the start and because the two sides were accessible to each other.

“Accountants need to make themselves available for their clients,” Mazza says. “My wife used to say that there is no such thing as an accounting emergency, that you’re not a brain surgeon. But if there’s a transaction going on and there are millions of dollars at stake, where the client is concerne d, it is just as important as brain surgery.”