Wednesday, 02 January 2002 05:30

Open (Source) market

Linux started out as a software operating system for hackers and other techies. But when Microsoft became embroiled in a legal battle with the U.S. Dept. of Justice, Linux's commercial distributors like Red Hat Inc. and Corel turned up the marketing pitch and started landing big contracts with organizations such as Google, Toyota and Sony.

Many smaller companies followed suit, primarily because Linux-based systems were much less expensive and easier to use. The popularity of Linux-based operating system for file servers is particularly strong, outpacing installations of Microsoft's Windows NT file server product in 1999 and 2000. Last year looks to be no exception.

But what about its popularity Cleveland and Northeast Ohio and its future?

"Cleveland is a (Microsoft) NT town," says Jim Fisher, president of Web developer IdeaStar Inc. in Garfield Heights. "One big trend we're expecting is the growth of Linux in the market (in 2002.)"

Finnish IT student, Linus Torvalds, created Linux in 1991 basically as a clone of the Unix operating system for his home PC so he could communicate with his university's computer. He put the system on the Internet and drew widespread interest from developers around the world. Due to the open code, the system had been modified a countless number of times. The only intellectually property Torvalds owns is the trademark name Linux.

Your office might already have a Linux-based system running its file server, or even as the operating system on your desktop PCs. Here's why the system is so popular and starting to ruffle Microsoft's feathers.

Flexibility
Linux is free, open source software. Users can change the system for their needs, but they have to share their changes with the rest of computing world, unlike Microsoft. Distributors like Red Hat, the market leader, and Corel design pre-configured Linux systems complete with applications and sell them. Even then, the user can tweak the system for his or her needs. Fisher says more companies are finding the switch is worth the trouble.

"With NT, whenever you want to update it, you plug it in hope and pray that the stuff still runs," Fisher says. "With Linux you don't run into those problems. It's a much more powerful and secure development platform."

Linux-based systems, including e-mail, are safer from viruses than Microsoft applications because there are only a handful of them out there and they are easier root out due to the open source nature of the systems.

Compact
It takes 10 servers equipped with Windows NT to run what one server equipped with a Linux-based system could handle.

"The capacity for handling volumes of traffic is much greater than an NT user," Fisher says. "Companies are starting to discover that just because it's free doesn't mean it's bad."

Cost
The lack of licensing fees means companies can save 95 percent on installation of a server operating system if it's Linux-based system, according to German commercial distributor SuSe Linux AG. That means 20 workstations plus a file server would cost about $7,000 for Windows-based system and $60 for Linux-based.

How to reach: IdeaStar, (216) 587-9300 or www.ideastar.com.

Published in Cleveland
Wednesday, 02 January 2002 05:20

Lab results

Smokestacks loom over the shoreline, dot the highways and dominate inner-city streets, painting a picture of a production-oriented, manufacturing town. But unlike the 21st Century, today Cleveland is sharing the spotlight with biotechnology, a study that promises to play an important role in driving down healthcare costs.

Biotech may not provide jobs for the masses, but Dr. Gary Procop, head of clinical biology at The Cleveland Clinic Foundation, knows his work will affect local businesses and average Americans alike. Procop specializes in pathology, but it's his subspecialty, clinical microbiology, that is creating interest at diagnostic labs.

"There is new technology that is allowing a diagnosis to be made much more rapidly and with an equal or higher degree of accuracy than has ever been possible before," explains Procop.

The Clinic has approximately 125 staff investigators and annual research expenditures of more than $70 million.

It is one of the largest private research facilities in the nation.

The hot technology to hit the Clinic's labs is Rapid Polymerase Chain Reaction, or Rapid PCR. With Rapid PCR, a clinical biologist can identify an organ or gene by amplifying the DNA.

This is the same technology used today in the newly developed rapid anthrax test.

Even a very minute amount of an infecting organism can be detected with Rapid PCR. Quicker DNA analysis means quicker diagnosis and quicker treatment. Says Procop, "It all really hinges on the right diagnosis in the lab."

For example, Legionella, the primary cause of Legionares disease, previously took 10 days for a cultural analysis. With Rapid PCR, doctors can have an answer in less than an hour.

The clinical microbiology lab at the Clinic is conducting tests with up-and-coming equipment, such as the the Smart Cycler by Cepheid, which is designed to provide Rapid PCR results by merging microelectronics and molecular biology.

The Clinic is also developing its own marketable test methodology through its Innovations Department, the marketing side of the Clinic, which protects intellectual property developments.

Tests methods developed in Procop's lab are in use at a Cincinnati hospital and are currently being studied at Ohio State University.

One of the most expensive aspects of healthcare is hospitalization. The quicker patients are able to return home, the lower overall average treatment cost.

"No doubt about it…if you can make a quick, accurate diagnosis, get accurate treatment started, you can get people out of the hospital faster, it translates into cost savings," says Procop.

So where is the future of health care headed?

Better delivery. Faster analysis. Better results. Lower costs. And it's moving there quicker every day.

How to reach:The Cleveland Clinic, www.clevelandclinic.org

Published in Cleveland
Wednesday, 02 January 2002 05:02

Documented savings

Document management would be great if you could afford it, right? Odds are, you might already have the needed equipment in place, you just need to connect them together.

"Most of the time, companies have what they need to improve document management," says David Fazekas, vice president of the Great Lakes region for Xerox Connect. Many of today's copiers are multi-functional devices that can print, fax, scan and store documents.

"Once a device gets hooked into a network, you have a device that can do the job of what 10 to 12 printers can do," says Fazekas.

Printers are cheap because companies are making money on the supplies -- money that comes out of your pocket. If you can consolidate multiple printers into one device, supply expenses should drop.

"Some companies never budgeted a line item for printer supplies," says Fazekas. "It was just lumped into office supplies, so they didn't realize how much they were spending."

Savings can reach $5,000 per person in some environments, which means that even if you don't have the necessary equipment in place, leasing or buying it may prove cost effective if you have high print volumes.

Using a few multifunctional devices rather than a combination of copiers, fax machines, printers and scanners also allows your maintenance costs to be consolidated to one vendor.

"About 90 percent of the companies we work with have found that they would benefit from document management," says Fazekas. "A CFO can see real cost savings. If we remove five printers that cost $6,000 in supplies annually and aren't being used to their capacity and route documents through one machine that has the capacity, the savings become apparent."

With document management, the need to print many documents is completely eliminated. Expense reports, for example, can be scanned in along with any necessary documentation and signed electronically. Those files are then sent through the network to the administrator who processes them. The documents are stored in case of the need of an audit or if additional changes are needed.

"You simply use technology that's available to be more efficient," says Fazekas. "Just look at your specific business processes and teach people they don't need to be making all those copies."

The other advantage to document management is that it sets the table for knowledge management -- a process where a company is essentially storing all its data in one central database.

"It gets what's in people's heads and what's in the file drawers and creates a culture where everyone opens up and shares information," says Fazekas. "It will be the next big technology migration. It's coming slower to market because of the economy right now.

"The key to this is, in an economy where cost savings is important, everyone should be looking at document management. It saves money and sets the table for knowledge management later on."

Published in Cleveland
Monday, 03 December 2001 09:02

Personalize it

After more than 25 years, DesignGroup needed a dramatic change.

The architectural design firm had been located in the suburbs in typical office space -- space that just didn't work for the creative side of the employees or for the firm's renewed focus on teamwork.

Moving the 80-employee, $9 million company first required a look inside.

The firm's strong suits, says CEO Robert Vennemeyer, include "sustainability," or using less nonrenewable energy, such as fossil fuels. Instead, DesignGroup teaches its clients how to make use of renewable energy sources such as solar, wind or hydroelectric power. In addition, Vennemeyer is a strong supporter of re-use of urban land -- existing sites that already have utilities and infrastructure built in.

"We can help the context and fabric of our downtown as an example for what others can do," Vennemeyer says of his decision to build a 62,000-square-foot, five-story building at 515 E. Main St., tearing down a former rental car operation to build in its place.

The building is a joint project of DesignGroup and JDS Cos., which occupies 3,000 square feet of the space. They've rented out most of the rest of the building to Children's Hospital Information Services, A-Plus Personnel Services Inc. and Kitrick and Lewis Co. LPA.

DesignGroup's design principal, Jack Hedge, designed the $7.2 million building, which was completed in October 2000 and immediately gained local and national attention for its energy efficiency.

"We redeveloped an area already developed instead of going out to an area where they'd have to develop new streets, utilities and things like that. And because we're in an area where things are closer together, we use less energy," Hedge says, pointing out that employees can walk to lunch Downtown and shopping at City Center instead of using their cars.

Beyond the efficiency aspect, however, Hedge wanted to use the two floors occupied by DesignGroup to create a space not just functional and cost-saving but also fitting for the company's culture of creativity and teamwork.

Here's how he did it.

Be practical

Hedge's expertise in energy-efficient design allowed DesignGroup to have a space that not only works for its culture but also for its budget.

Called "passive solar," the building's orientation makes the maximum use of the sun. It has a longer north/south faade than east/west, enabling its southern exposure to the sun to save energy in lighting and heating.

Sun screens on the south elevation block out undesirable summer heat gain and soak in winter sun for heat and light. The screens are placed so that in the summer, when the sun is higher, the hot rays are blocked, but in the winter, when the sun is lower, light comes straight in.

In addition, large windows on the north side maximize day lighting with minimal heat gain, and a third- and fourth-floor central atrium allows natural light to illuminate the central area of the building -- a space that's usually more like a dark dungeon in other office buildings.

Combined, the features add up to 10 to 15 percent savings in energy use.

Work together

Hedge needed to make sure the company's new space would facilitate its teamwork culture, because each client's work is handled by a group including project managers, designers, architects, specifications writers and other employees.

Instead of putting offices around the perimeter of the building and "worker bees," as he says, in the center, Hedge wanted everyone in the firm to feel equally important to the teams. The result: An open interior with "pods" where each team gathers to work.

Hedge created plenty of flexible spaces, such as conference rooms with tables that can be configured to lay out large drawings or used in part as podiums for meetings.

"Nobody has an office with a door on it, but if you want to have a private conversation, there are spaces for it," Hedge says.

Employees picked out their own office furniture, all of which is on wheels so it can be reconfigured.

"The whole point is you don't feel so bad moving to another team," he says.

Things used by everyone on the team, such as files or supplies, are grouped in the center of the team pods.

Designers often keep their work in progress on portable display boards.

"(An) advantage to that is you can see what the designers are working on right then," Hedge says. "It gives everybody else some awareness of what's going on."

In addition, the boards can easily be wheeled into conference rooms for meetings.

The lunchroom is in the center of one of the two floors used by DesignGroup rather than stuck out of the way in a corner. Every Monday at lunch, designers take the pieces they're working on to get input from others.

"A designer in a vacuum," Hedge points out, "is usually not a good designer."

Get creative

Designers, of course, need a space that inspires them to do their work, so Hedge had yet another goal to accomplish.

First, designers have options to personalize their office space. For example, interior design schemes enable them to change the paint on certain walls, rather than an entire room, whenever the desire arises.

In addition, an abundance of windows keeps employees aware of the world outside.

"Some people would think that's a distraction. Well, I don't think it is. I think it's a connection, a variety," Hedge says.

Another plus to the 10-foot high windows is they let in plenty of natural light.

"Even on a dismal day in here, at least you know it's a dismal day. On a sunny day, it's just glorious," he says. "What we're hoping the building will do is get people energized about being creative." How to reach: DesignGroup, 225-0515 or www.dgcolumbus.com; Jack Hedge;jhedge@dgcolumbus.com; Robert Vennemeyer, rvennemeyer@dgcolumbus.com

Joan Slattery Wall (jwall@sbnnet.com) is senior editor of SBN Magazine in Columbus.

Published in Columbus
Monday, 03 December 2001 09:01

Make the move right

As most business owners know, there is often a point when a company experiences growing pains. These involve not having enough room to expand and having too much going on in the existing facility to be efficient.

Three years ago, this is exactly where Hopkins Printing found itself. We were faced with the dilemma of expanding or doing less business.

Doing less business was not an option. Therefore, we were left with the options of buying an existing facility and converting it into a printing plant or designing and building a new facility specific for our needs. We decided to build a new facility.

To continue to give our customers quality service and remain competitive and technologically savvy, developing a facility specific for printing plants was the best decision. However, I didn't want to rush into the building process and skip the planning. For two years, we researched and planned the expansion and move.

I worked with a consultant who specializes in printing plant layout and design. I discovered John Geis, consultant engineer, A.J. Geis & Associates, Chapel Hill, N.C., while reading his book, "Printing Plant Layout & Facility Design."

Since Geis is an expert in my field, he understood the competitiveness of printing firms and our technology requirements and was able to implement solutions to our specific needs. Geis did not just listen to my suggestions and comments -- he spent several hours working with managers and supervisors to gain an understanding of the current situation and the projected outcome.

After he reviewed the types of printing we were doing, Geis created a floor layout of the proposed plant and made cut-outs of our equipment, allowing us to see how each processing line would be set up and how printing projects would be transported from one operation to another. We also could see how it would be possible to place new equipment as we grew the business.

Throughout these discussions, we discovered our workflow needed a better design. We wanted our employees to work comfortably and efficiently, and believed there was room for improvement. Geis solved this problem by strategically placing the equipment and offices so they interact.

Building a new facility allowed for us to purchase the latest technology equipment, so the $5 million building project was accompanied by $3 million in new equipment.

I want the business to grow but I did not want to build a new facility every five years. Since I expect to add 50 positions over the next three to five years, I needed to make sure there was room to expand.

Geis was able to place our offices and equipment in areas that allow for expansion without upsetting the workflow. When the time comes to expand, I already know where we'll place the first phase.

If you are a business owner, I know you're thinking about the cost of a consultant. It cost us less than $8,000 to use one for this project. The cost of change orders can be expensive if changes are made once the project is started; it is more efficient to have a working model before starting.

The advantage of having consultants who are experts in your industry is that they bring the experience of others to your project. This type of consultant can share the successes and failures that he or she has witnessed. I firmly believe that working with a consultant increased my company's productivity 10 percent.

I also believe that if companies can design a useful and efficient building, they will get back the cost of the consultant many times over the original investment. Jim Hopkins is president of Hopkins Printing, a 24-year-old Columbus-based commercial printing firm. He can be reached at 509-1080 or jhopkins@hopkinsprinting.com.

Published in Cleveland
Monday, 03 December 2001 08:59

Just breathe

Many business owners breathed a sigh of relief when newly elected president George W. Bush suspended the Workplace Ergonomics standard for businesses.

The standard included new workplace regulations and practices to curb the incidence of musculoskeletal disorders, primarily in the back, shoulders, neck and wrists of workers. Unions and workers groups applauded the standard, but many lawmakers and business groups claimed it would place another unfunded economic burden on businesses.

"It would've had a very high compliance cost, and there really wasn't good cost-benefit analysis of the benefits of the rules," says J. Donald Mottley, a former four-term Ohio state representative and now an attorney at Taft, Stettinius & Hollister. "In many cases, there would have been a relatively small reduction in injuries, and of those reductions, they would have been among the minor injuries."

But just because the government suspended the rules doesn't mean business owners should forget about the problem. Musculoskeletal disorders still cause about 1 million workers to miss work every year, costing the economy $50 billion in work-related costs, according to a recent study by the National Academy of Science, Institute of Medicine.

There are steps you can take to prevent injuries, including buying more body-friendly office furniture and equipment, but the root cause of many musculoskeletal problems is poor posture caused by weak abdominal muscles, according to exercise instructor Rochelle Licata of Smart Bodies in Solon.

Licata is a trained instructor in a new low-impact exercise trend called Pilates, named after its founder, Joseph Pilates. Pilates exercises, most of which are done with no equipment, focus on proper breathing and building the muscles in the abdominal and lower torso area so people will naturally sit and walk with their backs straight and shoulders back. Think yoga with some kick.

"Pilates is very empowering," Licata says. "It's all about body awareness and catching yourself in a lot of bad habits."

Here are three Pilates exercises you and your employees can do to improve your posture while at work or at home.

Breathe

Breathing is the core of Pilates. Simply concentrating on how you breathe and using the proper techniques will improve your overall posture, says Licata.

In Pilates, you inhale through your nose and exhale softly through your mouth. While you're breathing, it's important to keep the spine stacked. To do this, make an imaginary line from the top of your head to the ceiling and try to make your back follow that line.

"When you sit up straight and your internal organs aren't crushed, they have the room they're supposed to have," she says. "They start firing better, they start working the way they're supposed to. Combining that along with the breathing is really a boost to your immune system."

Stretch those neck muscles

Licata says the muscles in our neck are overdeveloped due to those muscles being forced to carry around our 12 to 15 pound heads all day. You can't remove your head, but you could take the pressure off your neck by strengthening the mid-back muscles.

Try this: As you inhale, roll your shoulder blades back and imagine trying to put them in opposite back pockets, hold, then exhale.

Work the abdominals

Forget about crunches. You're only working your abdominal muscles about 10 percent of the time.

Here's a better exercise: Lie on the floor, knees bent, feet flat on the floor, with your head on a towel. Have the corners of the towel just about an inch above your head. Pick up the ends of the towel, inhale and lift your upper body while cradling your head and neck in the towel, hold, then exhale as you return to the starting position. It will be a small movement, but it targets the abs much better than a crunch or sit-up.

Don't lift your head off the towel or jerk your head forward during the movement. How to reach: Smart Bodies, (440) 914-0014

Morgan Lewis Jr. (mlewis@sbnnet.com) is senior reporter at SBN Magazine.

Published in Cleveland
Monday, 03 December 2001 08:57

Did you wash your hands?

For better or worse, recent events have thrust infectious and contagious diseases into the public spotlight in a way they've never been before.

But even with all the attention on anthrax and small pox, the fact is the average American is more likely to be stricken with the common cold or seasonal flu than to even know someone who knows someone who may be affected by biological warfare.

Your chances of coming down with any of this season's garden variety illnesses are even greater if you work in an office with other employees, have children in day care or school or work with others who have children. In short, you're taking a risk just by leaving your house and going to the office.

For those determined to side-step our seasonal affliction, there are flu shots, homeopathic remedies, juice and vitamins. But, often the best prevention is a simple awareness of what causes and what prevents the common cold.

According to a study by Harvard researchers, 60 percent of parents erroneously believe some colds are caused by bacteria. Nearly half of those surveyed believe colds should be treated with antibiotics. But colds are viral, and antibiotics have no effect on them.

In addition, 90 percent of parents believe colds are more likely to be transmitted by sharing drinks or utensils, or even kissing. Only three-quarters of respondents correctly thought that shaking hands was a major factor. Most often, colds are transmitted through contact with the nose and eyes, making the hands the most likely vehicle for spreading illness.

No matter how simple basic illness-prevention measures like hand washing are, there seems to be an awareness gap. According to Stephen Musgrave of the Wellness Council of Northeast Ohio, a not-for-profit that promotes wellness at the workplace, even though a healthy lifestyle will protect the majority of office workers from the common cold, programs advocating weight loss, stress management and nutrition don't draw the crowds that other health programs do.

"If we have something about flu shots or water quality, we draw a huge crowd, but if we do something on lifestyle changes, we get seven to eight people," he says.

The domino effect that one co-worker's illness can have on an entire office is legendary. Some businesses devote a lot of resources to combat health-related losses in their offices.

According to Laura Adams, manager of wellness and fitness at Progressive Insurance, "People that are well perform better at work and at home."

One of the components of Progressive's health service program is wellness/fitness. Flu vaccinations are offered free to employees and their spouses and the company teaches a class on the proper way to wash your hands after dealing with children. In addition, quiet rooms are available for employees who are feeling ill.

With more than 55 percent of employees participating in the wellness programs, Adams and Progressive are tracking results in part by evaluating medical claims in correlation with the cost of the programs.

"People that take advantage of the program perform better, and that it is worth the money," Adams says.

In the end, the best method of prevention is simple -- wash your hands and eat your vegetables. However, those actions are just not seen the same way as antibiotics or fad cures.

"Everyone wants an easy solution," says Musgrave.

But easy is not always better. Musgrave warns against fly-by-night cures or preventions.

"If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is," he says.

As boring as it sounds, your mother was right. Eating right, getting a good night's sleep and exercising are your best weapons against illness. How to reach: Progressive Insurance (800) 776-4737; Wellness Council of Northeast Ohio, (440) 953-9292

Kim Palmer (kpalmer@sbnnet.com) is managing editor of SBN Magazine.

Published in Cleveland
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