SBN Staff

In today’s fast-paced world of business, it is critical to make choices and execute on decisions quickly to remain competitive. However, at some point, innovation has to be a part of the plan or the result is a very well built, highly engineered . . . typewriter. Whether it is new products or other difficult business problems, a structured approach to problem solving is superior to a reliance on the incremental decisions approach often used to identify day-to-day operational improvements. If you are in a situation where simple solutions are not going to suffice, it is time to consider more creative approaches to problem solving.

Smart Business spoke with Karen Schuele, Ph.D., professor of accountancy and dean of the Boler School of Business, and David Jarus, Ph.D., adjunct professor, both at John Carroll University, about true creative problems solving and its role in business.

What is creative problem solving?

Creative problem solving is a well-established, structured process used when unique or innovative solutions are necessary. There are many versions of the process, but all include the following steps: 

  • Identify the goal, wish or challenge.

  • Gather data.

  • Clarify the problem.

  • Generate ideas.

  • Select and strengthen solutions.

  • Plan for action.

The process dates back to Alex Osborn, who coined the term ‘brainstorming’ as a method of generating ideas. Creative problem solving, however, is more expansive than a group sitting around a table ‘coming up with ideas.’ It is structured to drive real solutions for planning and execution. Each phase includes a divergent step, stretching participants to identify what may be possible, followed by a convergent step, narrowing down possibilities.

Why is creative problem solving useful?

Understanding the goal and gathering the known facts are important first steps to ensure that the idea generation stage is grounded in and aligned with the actual business objectives of the company. The next step, clarifying the problem, is often overlooked. The many ways the problem could be viewed or addressed is in itself a creative exercise. It is only after these stages that idea generation — however wild or creative — can occur around solutions that are anchored to the core problem and can achieve the actual business goals.

How do the divergent and convergent steps work?

A critical aspect of good creative problem solving is keeping the divergent and convergent phases of the process distinct. The divergent phase requires the participants to suspend judgment and allow for wild and unusual ideas and concepts. The fastest way to shut down creativity is to kill an idea during the divergent phase.

The convergent phase, or critical thinking phase, is where you narrow down your choices to those on which you will take action. Critical thinking is a highly valued skill in business leaders, but one that must be held in check until the convergent phase of creative problem solving. Thinking critically too early can get in the way of good creative solutions.

What are key things leaders can do to encourage creative problem solving?

A good facilitator is always recommended, but a business leader can take steps to help his or her team be more creative in their solutions. First and foremost, don’t converge on a solution too quickly in front of your teams. Once the boss has weighed in on what he or she believes is the best solution — or the most important facts, or the most clarified problem to work on — few participants will stick their necks out and offer additional ideas, especially the really creative solutions that are not part of the mainstream of your business today. Second, if the problem is really difficult and there is great value to gain from a solution, allow the team the time to work through the process. If it is an easy fix, you wouldn’t need a creative solution and incremental approaches would work fine.

Karen Schuele, Ph.D., is professor of accountancy and dean of the Boler School of Business at John Carroll University. Reach her at (216) 397-4391 or kschuele@jcu.edu.

David Jarus, Ph.D., is an adjunct professor in the MBA program at the Boler School of Business at John Carroll University. Reach him at djarus@jcu.edu.

Insights Executive Education is brought to you by John Carroll University

Figuring out how much liability coverage to buy isn’t easy, but it’s very important.

General liability covers an entity for bodily injury, property damage, personal and advertising injury, and medical payments to a third party because of negligence of the insured. So, adequately selecting the appropriate limits provides defense costs and indemnification to that third party, which will properly indemnify that claimant.

“As an organization, ask yourself, ‘If my limits are not enough to cover the injury, what happens?’” says Andrew Rowles, vice president at SeibertKeck Insurance Agency. “You hope the insurance company will offer a settlement at your policy limits or you might look at out-of-pocket costs.”

Smart Business spoke with Rowles about setting limits of liability.

How can business owners know what limits of liability to purchase?

First, review the limits that your vendors and customers have on their insurance requirements. Many businesses purchase a $1 million occurrence policy with a $2 million aggregate limit for the general liability policy. From there, adding an umbrella or excess policy provides additional limits over your original policies.

The question becomes how much is enough. It’s a balancing act between purchasing exuberant limits that exceed industry expectations or leaving your company on the short side and potentially exhausting policies. If policies are exhausted, you could be covering claims yourself.

More exposed industries will need to buy higher limits, such as manufacturers that produce products with the potential to impact many people or those who face class action potential.

The challenge for many startup companies is having enough capital to cover the cost of purchasing adequate limits. As a well-established company, it is important to look at the cost-benefit of adding additional umbrella limits. In addition, when looking at job contracts, it is critical to make sure your limits match those of the subcontractor or contract requirements.

How can you use benchmarking to help discover the best liability limits?

A benchmarking report is a tool, not an exact science. It takes into account many different factors, such as location, industry size, revenue, employees, etc., to compare companies in the same industry segment. Benchmarking an organization against its respective industry can provide a range of insurance program premiums, limits and retentions commonly used in the industry.

Having this important tool should allow business leaders the piece of mind that they are adequately insuring their company at a competitive cost. Also, in the event of a claim, it can justify the limits purchased if the claim should exceed that limit.


An informal way to benchmark is by attending trade associations or other industry events, so you can ask peers for their limits of liability. Networking is a great way to understand how liability limits are affecting others, before you have to deal with it.

What do marketplace trends like severability tell business owners?

The severity loss trend — the change in size of an individual loss over a period of time — is staggering. According to Chubb, in 1973, a moderate brain damage injury award was $1.24 million; today, that same award is closer to $5 million.

Chubb reports that in 2010 the median compensatory award in Ohio was $13,000, while nationally 12 percent of all jury awards are $1 million or more. In addition, 57 percent of the total awarded damage for commercial/industrial product liability verdicts is for the plaintiff; the remaining amount is for additional costs. These costs include the rise in mass litigation, the high cost of defending product suits, the need for many experts in complex situations or additional awarded damages. This means $1 million of coverage is not always enough to cover the actual injury. The costs associated with a claim are far greater than what most people perceive as ‘enough insurance.’

There’s no easy answer to finding the right liability limit. It may seem ridiculous for a small company to buy $25 million in limits, but what if it has a large automobile fleet? In the end, the most important tool is to have a proactive relationship with your agent. An experienced client advocate will responsibly inform a client on how to properly balance its limit of liability and dollars.

Andrew Rowles is vice president at SeibertKeck Insurance Agency. Reach him at (330) 867-3140 or arowles@seibertkeck.com.

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Subtle adjustments to the claim adjudication process have led to managed care organizations (MCOs) being asked to start collecting expanded data on new injuries.

“An employer’s MCO plays a key role in initiating claims,” says Lance Watkins, AVP, Client Services, CompManagement Health Systems. All injury reports are routed through MCOs to ensure that the required data is in place before a claim is reviewed by the Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation (BWC) for allowance.

Smart Business spoke with Watkins to better understand how MCOs will operate under the new process.

What is changing in the data collection process for MCOs?

Previously, standard incident reports included only the basics: the employee’s name, address, birth date, employer information and injury description. Additional details, such as the injured employee’s marital status and normal work hours, would eventually be pursued, perhaps by BWC after the allowance was determined.

MCOs are now being asked to gather more data before the claim is submitted to BWC. While this may often require a phone call to the employer, having more claim details in BWC’s hands before they make an allowance decision is a good thing.

What new information is required?

Among the new information MCOs are asked to collect is the employer’s certification or rejection of the claim. This question may be posed before a thorough investigation has been conducted. It may be appropriate to withhold this decision until better information is available. The claim can still be submitted to BWC for adjudication. However, there may be cases where the incident and injury are not in dispute, and an early certification may accelerate treatment for the injured employee.

How are additional allowances being treated?

Another area where BWC is asking MCOs to play a larger role is in the consideration of additional medical conditions on a claim.

Usually, when a treating physician seeks to expand the allowances and treat new conditions, it is an indication that the claim may be growing in complexity and cost. When the request for new conditions is submitted through the MCO with a treatment request, the MCO is to provide a recommendation on the existence of the condition. It is an awkward position to be in because the question of causality — whether or not the accident caused the condition — is what BWC will ultimately use to determine if the condition should be allowed on the claim.

One of the roles of the MCO is to reconcile the treatments to the medical conditions and move the claim toward resolution. MCOs study medical documentation daily and typically have faster access to sound diagnostics reflecting the condition of the injured employee.

What do these changes seek to accomplish?

Ultimately, the goal is to help injured employees return to the workplace as quickly and safely as possible. The most powerful cost driver in workers’ compensation claims is lost time, and the speed and clarity of information is a vital part of the return-to-work process.

BWC leans heavily on MCOs to resolve claims from the medical side and evaluates each MCO on their effectiveness in helping injured employees get back to work. BWC provides quarterly evaluation data on MCOs, called Measurement of Disability Scores (MoD), which reflect the MCO’s return-to-work performance compared to established benchmarks. With the MCOs and their client employers having a vested interest in the return-to-work scores, it is appropriate that MCOs be empowered to help accelerate the process and establish the informational framework for resolving claims.

Lance Watkins, AVP Client Services, CompManagement Health Systems, can be reached at (614) 376-5524 or watkinsl@chsmco.com.

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Building out an effective telecommunication and technology infrastructure that meets current needs in the most cost-effective manner possible while providing a base for expansion isn’t an exact science.

You need to account for future changes in the nature of work within your organization and with your partners, customers and suppliers, keeping in mind that working models are becoming more flexible and customer contact is increasing.

You also must consider specific needs, such as security, disaster recovery, technology performance requirements, public/private boundary controls within systems and networks, and critical tools and datasets.

If you underestimate your needs, you could end up needing a complete technology replacement — an expensive proposition. If you overestimate, you may be paying today for services you never actually need.

It’s no wonder that business owners find this a challenging task, especially when so many factors affecting growth are outside of their control.

Smart Business spoke with Kevin Conmy, regional vice president for Comcast Business, about implementing technology infrastructure that is geared for today and ready for tomorrow.

What are some key considerations to planning for growth?

You must first determine your current baselines with existing systems, hardware, software, policies, etc. Then, audit each to see how your infrastructure can serve as a foundation for growth. Plans should include benchmarks that trigger technology upgrades, but there should also be a budget built into the plan to ensure the business has adequate technology to achieve its initial growth targets and increase the chances of hitting those triggers.

Technology tends to get better and less expensive over time, so be careful about purchasing the ‘latest and greatest’ without careful analysis, such as creating a pro-and-con list. You may be surprised by what you really need. There’s a great story about Americans designing a special ‘space pen’ that could write in zero gravity, while the Russians used a pencil.

Remember that technology rarely solves a business problem on its own; it needs to be married to a core business process or user behavior.

How are the cloud and bandwidth affecting these infrastructure plans?

Cloud-based services are changing the game for all aspects of technology infrastructure, including telephony, Internet access and applications — allowing small and midsize business to more easily scale. With each technology system, weigh whether it’s more cost-effective to run services in-house or outsource them as third-party applications hosted externally.

Bandwidth is a key enabler. As users add Wi-Fi, move to cloud apps, stream video and bring devices to work, the demand for bandwidth is escalating exponentially. You need to consider the number of current users accessing your networks and the kinds of applications they are using, as well as the user growth you expect. If employees and customers both need Wi-Fi, you may want separate services so the public Wi-Fi doesn’t affect your private network’s speed.

This is a complex equation; do you have tips for the right approach?

Many companies that have implemented a technology infrastructure geared toward growth recommend that unless a particular technology promises to solve a major pain point, being a little late in adopting a new technology is conservative and smart.

Even with proven technologies and a carefully designed proof of concept, a phased rollout should be planned for any hardware projects. That same approach can be used for software and cloud services, but the phases can be more rapid because of the easier rollout and scalability.

Plans may vary by industry and your business’s circumstances, but it’s typical to buy the most basic package with the greatest flexibility first. Then, as your revenue grows, you can add bandwidth and expand your cloud storage and speed. And as personnel increases, you can implement portability and integration phases. It comes down to tying your selection criteria and implementation approach to your business objectives and the explicit assumptions about where your business and industry are going.

Kevin Conmy is regional vice president at Comcast Business. Reach him at (215) 642-6457 or kevin_conmy@cable.comcast.com.

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Information and data are critical to the operation of every business. Whether running a local law firm or a multinational manufacturing operation, information technology systems are essential to your ongoing success. As data and technology become more and more entrenched in business operations, they can also represent a serious vulnerability. Data connects, facilitates and supports every part of most organizations. What happens if disaster strikes and critical information is suddenly unavailable?

For many businesses, a loss of data or system functionality would be a catastrophic event. Every second without working technology systems may lead to a significant loss in revenue. So how can businesses protect their technology systems and plan for efficient recovery when disaster strikes?

Smart Business spoke with Igor Zaika, IT and security director at Sensiba San Filippo LLP, about how companies can plan for and recover from disasters.
 
What are some causes of a disaster?

Threats to technology systems can come from many different directions. Hardware failures, human error, and natural disasters such as fire, floods and earthquakes can threaten hardware systems and the data they store.

Software corruption, viruses, ransomware and other unseen threats can also hit at any time, regardless of how well-secured a system may be. And for every known threat, there are many unknown threats that are hard to predict.

How should a company approach disaster recovery?

First and foremost, information security and disaster recovery should be approached strategically at the organizational level. Business owners need to take a proactive approach to protecting their businesses and their clients’ data. In today’s relatively ‘hostile’ IT environment with increasing threats, business owners can no longer hope that their IT teams have it under control. They need to plan for a disaster to occur and proactively have a recovery plan in place. Involve stakeholders throughout the organization, and identify critical processes that could be affected. Ask a lot of what-if questions, identify your most significant vulnerabilities, and develop an overall business strategy to sustain and restore your business operations in the event of a disaster.

What components should a good disaster recovery plan include?

There are several critical components that every disaster recovery plan should address. The first is a critical process assessment.

Understand how critical processes throughout the organization are affected by your technology systems. You’ll also need good back-up procedures. Good, clean data is critical to recovery.

Next, you should develop recovery procedures. Your recovery plan should lay out in detail instructions for each step that must be taken. Implementation and testing procedures will give you the peace of mind of a successful disaster recovery.

Finally, you’ll need a good maintenance plan. Swiftly changing technology, processes and threats will require your recovery plan to be frequently updated to remain effective.

Can the cloud and other technology help?

Utilizing cloud technology can be a great way to gain productivity, simplify your infrastructure and minimize potential risks of a disaster. However, before embracing the cloud, understand the impact to your business processes, compliance requirements and of course, your employees. Technology can be very useful in protecting your business from disaster, but it is important to understand that no single piece of technology constitutes a recovery plan. A great example of utilizing cloud technology as a part of your disaster recovery strategy is an all-in-one backup appliance. It allows you to protect your assets, simplify disaster recovery and replicate data to the cloud for added protection.

Disaster recovery should be a part of every organization’s strategic plan. Data and technology are too important to leave anything to chance. Find a technology partner that you trust and work with them to design, implement and troubleshoot a comprehensive disaster recovery plan. Taking a proactive approach today to disaster recover will ensure your success tomorrow.

Igor Zaika is IT and security director at Sensiba San Filippo LLP. Reach him at (925) 271-8700 or izaika@ssfllp.com.

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Global branding has become increasingly popular in the past few decades. Companies are more often seeking to expand overseas into tempting and lucrative developing markets. Furthermore, the Internet has given global branding a heightened importance as websites can be accessed from anywhere. This is why international trademarks have become a necessity for companies operating in the global marketplace to ensure as much protection for their brands as possible.

Smart Business spoke with Namit Bhatt, an associate at Fay Sharpe LLP, about protecting brands when advertising abroad.

What should a company consider before expanding internationally?

One of the first steps is making sure the brand is protected at home. In the U.S., this means registering a trademark with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (PTO). Securing a federal trademark registration with the PTO offers the strongest protection by helping to fight dilution and infringement of the brand marks used on the company’s products and in any advertisements.

Before a company expands into a foreign marketplace, it should conduct a trademark search to look for any marks in that country that could be confused with its brand. Fighting against a conflicting trademark is costly and time consuming to a growing company; a search helps avoid that cost.

How can a company achieve international protection?

When dealing internationally, take advantage of international agreements between countries because multi-national treaties and agreements can determine branding protections. The World Trade Organization is a useful source for treaties dealing with intellectual property (IP) standards. The World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) is also a useful resource for determining the IP rights available. WIPO manages the Madrid Protocol, which assists the international registration of trademarks. More than ninety countries have acceded to the Madrid Protocol with India, Rwanda and Tunisia becoming members in 2013.

The Madrid Protocol allows companies that own trademark applications or registrations in a member country to expand the trademark application to other member countries with a single application. For example, a company with a registered trademark in the U.S., a member country, that desires to expand to India, can electronically file an international application with WIPO under the Madrid Protocol. The designated member countries are then notified of the international application and can examine the application for any conflicts within the local trademark system. Using this method is a convenient way to expand into a global marketplace quickly, efficiently and with one set of fees instead the expense of applying to each country individually.

Another international treaty that is helpful for global branding is the Agreement on Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS). The TRIPS agreement establishes a minimum level of IP protections including trademarks. This means that any member country of the treaty must adopt at least the amount of protection set forth in the treaty and can choose to give more protection than the minimum.

How can a company maintain international protection?

After a company achieves trademark registration in the new marketplace, it is important to maintain and enforce the rights granted under the trademark registration. Generally, the company should maintain continuous use of their trademark to not relinquish any rights for the brand. Also, the company should watch out for any marks that could dilute the protection of a registered mark. These methods will ensure that the global branding can be used for many years after registration.

Ensuring global protection of a company’s brand has become easier as the need for international protection has increased. Companies looking to enter new markets should be mindful of the options available and consider using them. Before advertising a product in a new marketplace, a company should look to gain protection of its brand in the marketplace.

Namit Bhatt is an associate at Fay Sharpe LLP. Reach him at (216) 363-9000 or nbhatt@faysharpe.com.

If your organization is using social networking sites to search for potential job candidates, it is not alone. Social networking sites have become an increasingly popular recruitment and screening tool because of the ease and efficiency they allow for finding new talent. However, in the absence of an existing evidence-based model for using social networking sites, organizations must find a way to balance the risks and rewards as research catches up to practice.

Recent surveys tell us that LinkedIn is the most frequently used social networking site for recruiting and screening potential candidates. Perhaps this is because LinkedIn was developed for professional networking purposes and offers the most structure and consistency in what and how potential candidate information is presented. The challenge, however, is that depending on the job, both relevant and non-relevant information can be found on LinkedIn.

Smart Business spoke with Rosanna F. Miguel, Ph.D., SPHR, an assistant professor of Human Resource Management in the Department of Management, Marketing and Logistics in the Boler School of Business at John Carroll University, about the effective use of social media for hiring.

How are organizations using social networking sites to reap the most rewards?

Many organizations are using social networking sites to search for passive candidates who possess a specific skill set, which may be difficult to find. For example, an organization may be interested in finding bilingual candidates with leadership skills, or candidates with a background in health care and management. Other uses include looking for active job seekers, posting job information, or participating in discussions to spur interest in the organization and increase employer brand. Most often, organizations seek out individuals to fill salaried mid- to upper-level management or director positions.

What guidelines should organizations follow to minimize legal risks?

The structure and consistency offered by LinkedIn is a substantial advantage over sites such as Facebook and Twitter that do not allow for a highly disciplined approach to the use of available information. Structure and consistency lead to higher validity and help ensure organizations are meeting the professional and legal guidelines that have been in place since the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

While the use of social networking sites for screening purposes is relatively new, the potential pitfalls associated with this approach are not. The guidelines that apply to the use of the standard resume and application blank, for example, apply to the use of social networking sites. In fact, LinkedIn has been described as a new version of the traditional application blank. Problems arise when organizations use LinkedIn or other social networking sites haphazardly, without a formal policy or concern for professional and legal guidelines. Most importantly, organizations must ensure the use of job relevant information about potential candidates by focusing their search on the requirements of the job based on a recent job analysis. Information that may discriminate against protected groups or that is not job relevant must be avoided (e.g., photographs, age, personal information, etc.).

How can the use of social networking sites positively and negatively affect an organization’s pool of potential candidates?

Organizations are looking to social networking sites to expand the population of high potential candidates, particularly when organizations demand a specific skill set that may be in high demand by employers. Some of the most talented individuals can be found on social networking sites, and their identities are just a few clicks away. However, research tells us that social networking sites do not adequately represent the true population of potential candidates. That is, fewer Hispanics and African-Americans use social networking sites. This means that relying exclusively on social networking sites to search for potential candidates is not effective for increasing employee diversity and ensuring that minorities have a fair chance of being selected. This puts organizations at risk for discrimination lawsuits. Organizations can avoid this potential pitfall by including other methods to source candidates, such as job boards, job fairs and magazines. More specifically, methods that have a higher chance of targeting minority groups can be selected to widen the demographic representation of potential candidates.

Why should organizations create social networking policies to screen job candidates?

Surveys suggest that more than half of all organizations using social networking sites to screen job candidates do not have a formal policy for doing so and do not intend to create one in the near future. If one of the goals is to ensure social networking sites are used according to professional and legal guidelines in a consistent and fair manner that leads to the identification of job relevant information, a policy to describe those guidelines to the users of social networking sites is a must. An EEOC or OFCCP audit should not come as a surprise to organizations; organizations must be prepared to support their recruitment and selection procedures in advance of a potential discrimination lawsuit, regardless of whether that procedure involves social networking sites or not.

Rosanna F. Miguel, Ph.D., SPHR, is an assistant professor of Human Resource Management in the Department of Management, Marketing, and Logistics in the Boler School of Business at John Carroll University. Reach her at rmiguel@jcu.edu.

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GOJO Industries Inc. was one of five 2013 Summit of Sustainability Award (SOSA) winners, an award that recognizes companies for their sustainability efforts. The awards acknowledge organizations that are helping to fulfill the SOSA mission of introducing green best practices to Summit County’s business community, showing the value of the triple bottom line: People-Planet-Prosperity through Recognition-Education-Engagement-Networking.

Smart Business spoke with Nicole Koharik, Global Sustainability Marketing Director at GOJO, about what the company has done in the category of sustainability.

What is key to moving an organization toward sustainability?

Imbedding sustainability into the culture for long-term results is critical.

At GOJO we used an approach we call SWOW (Sustainable Ways of Working). And because of that approach, sustainability is not only inherent in our business strategy, but it’s also integrated into our key processes.

For example, during annual business planning every unit thinks about sustainability and how it fits into their plan and priorities. It’s also included in our new product development process, and in our employee education and communications programming.

How can companies begin establishing a sustainability-minded culture?

Benchmarking is a great first step because it serves as the input for setting goals, which is ultimately how you measure your success and communicate your results. It also helps educate employees about your impacts and understand where you’re starting from so that they can also engage in identifying solutions to drive that improvement. The result has been employees who embrace sustainability and see how they can contribute to the organization’s goals.

How did GOJO develop a deeper culture of sustainable operations?

One important step was establishing a shared vocabulary. For example, when we started talking about sustainability internally, we noticed that our team members were using the terms green and sustainability interchangeably, and were thinking primarily about the environment. Properly defining those terms helped employees understand that sustainability really means that we’re committed to social, environmental and economic considerations.

We also adopted an overarching guiding principal that we call sustainable value. This helped make sure employees understood that the work that we were taking on was ultimately about creating social, environmental and economic value both for our business and for our stakeholders.

What metrics best reflect your progress towards your stated sustainability goals?

In our sustainability report we have a scorecard, which we established in 2010, that includes 2015 goals to reduce our water use, solid waste generation and greenhouse gas emissions.

On the social metrics, we generated a 25 percent improvement in hand hygiene delivered in equivalent uses relative to the 2010 per-use rate.

In environmental metrics, we reported a 40 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emission since 2010, a 29 percent reduction in water use over the same time period and a 13 percent reduction in the generation of solid waste.

On the economic side, we achieved a 52 percent increase in our sales from sustainability certified products.

What is the greatest benefit the sustainability plan has brought to GOJO?

Through our efforts we’ve experienced a strengthening of our competitive advantage in the marketplace — winning new business and enhancing our brands by driving innovation. And we’re also making significant progress on the long-term goal of becoming a sustainable organization.  

How did winning the SOSA help your business?

Winning the SOSA led to an increased engagement opportunity with many new stakeholders. We formed new relationships with organizations that have won previously and it helped validate our leadership position, which is really helpful and a great sign to our customers in the marketplace.

Nicole Koharik is Global Sustainability Marketing Director at GOJO Industries Inc. Reach her at (330) 255-6000 or koharikn@gojo.com.

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Although it appears the Affordable Care Act (ACA) was not intended to affect the workers’ compensation system, it may influence it. Ohio may be less likely to experience some of the hypothetical outcomes discussed for other states, but there is a correlation and potential impact.

Smart Business spoke with David D. Kessler, medical director at CompManagement Health Systems, about how the ACA might affect workers’ compensation.

What aspects of the ACA could be used in the workers’ compensation system?

An important concept with the ACA is the reference to Accountable Care Organizations, which are groups of health care providers who coordinate the care given to their patients. This requires sharing information for informed decision-making among stakeholders.

Workers’ compensation has many moving parts that involve multiple interested parties, creating variable goals. These have the potential to introduce inefficient processes, escalating costs and compromising care for injured workers. Sharing clinical information between parties helps with enhanced decision-making and permits the use of evidence-based best practices. Coordination on this level should reduce duplication of services, potentially reduce medical errors and enhance recovery from an injury, permitting a timely and safe return to work.

It is generally accepted that fee-for-service payment methodology has a tendency to increase utilization for optimizing provider revenues. Although a higher frequency of care in the acute phase may increase initial costs, it can mean achieving long-term goals and better outcomes, lowering costs to employers.

How could the ACA’s expanded benefits affect workers’ compensation?

The ACA may result in healthier employee groups because it covers those who previously had no health care benefits, allowing them to address primary health care needs. A healthier employee population should have lower risks for claim frequency or severity, reducing associated costs from disability and medical care post-injury. Although employers may fear increased exposure for filing claims or prolonged use of services initially, this may lessen when other health care options are offered. However, high deductibles or co-pays may create financial stress to the beneficiary, discouraging greater use of health insurance.

Another common situation in workers’ compensation is when an employee’s current health status or pre-existing condition prolongs recovery and requires additional care, successively producing greater costs. Accurate diagnosis and complete records help the Managed Care Organization (MCO) determine if the requested services are necessary for treatment in a claim. Engagement and personal responsibility from the individual through accessing available health care that may be external to workers’ compensation can help decrease barriers affecting response to treatment.

How might the ACA affect the kind of care provided through workers’ compensation?

Another component of the ACA that affects the workers’ compensation arena is the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute (PCORI), which is designed to improve health care delivery and outcomes. In a comparable process, MCOs in Ohio are required to use Official Disability Guidelines (ODG), which are a meta-analysis of evidence-based protocols that serve as the basis for evidence-based care collaboration. When providers are reluctant to cooperate and discuss evidence-based practices, it impedes achieving ideal outcomes. Utilization management of requested services from the MCO industry is enriched through use of tools such as ODG, and should serve as an educational opportunity for informed decision-making for injured workers, employers and providers. PCORI’s success could facilitate applicable use in the workers’ compensation system.

Although the ACA may not directly impact Ohio workers’ compensation, its focus on the interactive communication of evidence-based medicine for informed decision-making, regardless of the payer or administrative organization, should be the guiding message driving quality, cost-effective, patient-centered care.

David D. Kessler, DC, MHA, CHCQM is Medical Director at CompManagement Health Systems. Reach him at (614) 760-1788 or kesslerd@chsmco.com.

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Cloud technologies have transformed the playing field for small and midsize businesses, largely because of their flexibility. Organizations have the ability to quickly and painlessly ramp up their services when they need something more.

“Using their Internet connection, they can harness the power — and reap the rewards — of applications traditionally available only to large enterprises with big IT budgets,” says Kevin Conmy, regional vice president, Freedom Region at Comcast Business. “Cloud-based services, from servers to storage, provide access to high-performance infrastructure without high-priced investments. Streaming video can be used to bring conferences and training to any employee, anywhere. Mobile devices increase productivity beyond company walls, with businesses seeing increased efficiency and a growing bottom line.

“But what may not be immediately visible is the impact these tools are having on company networks,” he says.

Smart Business spoke with Conmy about sufficiently planning for your company’s bandwidth needs for today and tomorrow.

How are Internet connections and networks affecting business operations?

As organizations move to the cloud and embrace applications like high-definition video and Web-based tools, their Internet connection becomes more important. Suddenly, more data needs to move — and move quickly — over your connection. If your network doesn’t have sufficient bandwidth or speed, you could experience slower response times, or risk losing connectivity completely.

As a result, many tools intended to allow businesses to analyze data, make decisions, and interact with employees and customers with lightning speed are at risk of not operating at peak efficiency. There may be a delay between a query to a cloud-based data center and a response, or video streams may freeze as they struggle over a lagging connection. Remote workers also might have difficulty accessing applications or email because too many people are accessing the company network simultaneously.

Which businesses face bandwidth problems?

This need for speed is more the rule than the exception. In a 2012 Comcast Business poll, 84 percent of small and midsized business respondents experienced increasing bandwidth needs because of their use of the cloud, Wi-Fi and mobile devices.

This trend is expected to increase, too, as companies continue to aggregate and unlock value from customer data, such as order histories, buying preferences and online shopping patterns. More than half of respondents in a different Comcast Business survey expect the quantity of collected data to grow at least 50 percent within two years.

How can organizations deal with the challenge of increasing bandwidth?

Clearly, a bandwidth upgrade is, or soon will be, in order for many. In the old days, companies often relied on T1 lines from traditional phone providers. So, boosting speeds involved buying and tying together more lines, a pricey and complex endeavor.

Today, things are easier, but only if you ask the right questions before an upgrade:

  • Does the network have the reach we need? If you rely on transferring data between offices, make sure your provider has a wide network, and double-check to ensure all locations are within that footprint. Just because one office may appear to be in the middle of a coverage map doesn’t guarantee your satellite location 20 miles away will have that same good fortune.
  • How quickly, and in what increments, can we change our bandwidth? Having the ability to scale up or down can help companies buy only what they need and cut long run costs. Select a provider that can do this via a simple phone call to save you hours of aggravation and help enhance business productivity.
  • What happens if the network goes down? The majority of telecom providers operate over another provider’s fiber lines. So, although you may be under contract with a smaller company boasting a less expensive monthly bill, you’re likely using the same line as one of the larger companies. What does this mean? In an outage, your main contact may not be able to immediately resolve the issue.

By asking now, you can help ensure your company knows what it needs for the future so you can begin planning accordingly.

Kevin Conmy is regional vice president of the Freedom Region at Comcast Business. Reach him at (215) 642-6457 or kevin_conmy@cable.comcast.com.

Insights Telecommunications is brought to you by Comcast Business

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