Using Technology to Support a Winning Culture

Written by Doug Claffey, Energage

And in today’s world, the best workplace culture wins

Clued-in organizational leaders know business strategy alone isn’t enough to succeed in today’s world. They know that if their workplace culture isn’t strong — and if their people aren’t aligned and engaged — even the most brilliant plan is dead on arrival.

Culture change is hard. Smart leaders already know this. And chances are, you’ve experienced leadership trying to turn a company around, only to face resistance as the organization digs its heels. But CultureTech and culture technology is about to change everything.

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Three Ways Companies are “Going Green” in the Workplace

Written by Formcraft

From big picture design elements to smaller details, employers are finding innovative ways to incorporate sustainability into the everyday workplace experience. Investing in green initiatives is not just a gimmick to satisfy a fleeting trend, there is evidence employees are actually happier and healthier in workplaces that make sustainability a priority. For a company considering a renovation or relocation, these three elements of sustainability are sure to be relevant to their search. Consideration for environmental, social, and economic sustainability means that a company is self-aware of its impact on the places and people it touches. Awareness of impact can lead to more mindful solutions that translate into a happier and healthier workplace.

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Amazon’s HQ2 Decision and What it Means to Philadelphia

Written by Gary Lozoff, Tactix Real Estate, LLC

SPOILER ALERT:  Amazon recently and finally announced the winner(s) of its coveted new headquarters competition – described in the industry as HQ2.

To many observers’ surprise, Amazon did not pick a single winner; Amazon actually picked three winning metro areas.  Amazon will be splitting its new HQ2 requirement between Crystal City, Virginia and Long Island City, New York.

While representatives of the Commonwealth of Virginia and New York State indicated they had offered extremely generous economic incentives to lure the eCommerce titan, Mayor Bill de Blasio of New York City was adamant that no direct economic incentives were offered by the City of New York.  To state a relatively straightforward point — The Big Apple didn’t have to.  What a luxury that is for New York City.  New York City is a globally-compelling brand and industry destination that companies will actually pay extra to locate in.

Financial services firms, media companies, fashion houses, advertising firms and corporate law firms that aspire to scale must have a substantial presence in New York City. That is where the competition is, that is where the clients, prospects and counterparties are, and that is where the talent is.

It is no coincidence the two winning regions represent the top two locations for tech workers in the US.  Tech workers are more likely to live in New York City or the DC metro Beltway than almost anywhere else.  So, in the end, Amazon went where the experts are.  And, it apparently did not matter that New York City has a confiscatory tax burden or that the cost to comfortably live in metro New York City or Washington, DC is among the highest in the country.

Also, in case you missed it, this real estate approach by Amazon didn’t end with the company’s new headquarters decision.

Amazon also just announced that it would be creating 5,000 new jobs in Nashville, Tennessee where it will base its package delivery, transportation and supply-chain services group.  Tennessee, which already is home to Federal Express, is a state that knows a bit about how to deliver something “when it absolutely, positively needs to be there overnight.”

New York City, Northern Virginia, and Nashville attracted Amazon because their respective work forces have the most expertise and formal educational training in the areas Amazon needs.  And, of course, these metro areas are not alone in being industry destinations.

Los Angeles is the king of the entertainment industry; Detroit owns the automobile business; Washington, DC is where you go to serve the defense industry or if your business is highly regulated by the Federal government; Boston is a leader in the financial services and tech realms; and San Francisco and Seattle also are  headquarters destinations for tech companies.  Chicago is a global transportation and banking hub.  Miami is the US gateway to business opportunities connecting Central and South America.

If a compelling reason for businesses to locate in in Philadelphia is created and sustained, businesses will bear the extra tax and regulatory burden to be here.  So, what does the outcome of Amazon’s H2Q civic cage match mean for Philadelphia?  HQ2 is the ultimate challenge for Philadelphia’s civic place in a new kind of competition.  To build on the obvious successes of business and civic leadership over the last 30 years in transforming Philadelphia as a residential and touristic destination, we need to consider whether and how to commit to make Philadelphia once again a destination for at least a few major industries.  What CEO (including Brian Roberts of Comcast) wakes up right now and says, “You know, we really need to be in Philadelphia because we do X?”  What university or college undergrad or graduate student is saying to his or her parents, “Sorry mom and dad, I know you wanted me to live nearby but, if I want to do Y, I need to be in Philadelphia?”  None – I submit.

We need to change that story.  Where do we begin?

First, let’s take stock of, and consolidate on, our regional industry and academic strengths. Where do we have a leg up on the competition in an area that has long-term potential?  Maybe it’s gene therapy, medical devices, life sciences, digital and other technology.  Maybe with Comcast and now Entercom headquarters consolidating here, Philadelphia can become a top-tier destination for entertainment/media companies.  Perhaps it is something else.

Unfortunately, we are in greater need of a driver that differs from most other continental US cities because of Philadelphia’s close proximity to New York and Washington, DC.  Unlike Chicago, Dallas, Houston, Atlanta, Denver, Phoenix or Miami, Philadelphia cannot rely on physical separation to drive substantial business growth.  In fact, while we always tout our proximity to New York and DC as strengths for Philadelphia, that geographic reality may very well be what has hurt us the most.  Why come to Philadelphia if your business can just locate in one (or both) of those compelling destination metropolitan areas?  HQ2 ended with Amazon unsurprisingly checking both of those locational boxes.

Second, let’s be candid about, and create a civic action plan to tackle, the formal educational attainment gap that exists between metropolitan Philadelphia and other great cities.  As the president of Drexel University, John Fry, and others eloquently have written since the HQ2 decision was announced, this achievement gap is substantial.  And, that objective gap challenges each of us who cares about building Philadelphia as leading business destination in the 21st century how we will contribute to radically improving the knowledge and skills base of our region’s population such that the talent here is ample to nurture substantial new business enterprises in manufacturing and the tech, media, and pharma industries here.

It’s time for Philadelphia to stake its claim and become known now — for something that builds upon cheesesteaks, spirited professional sports fans, Rocky, The Sound of Philadelphia, Founding Fathers who left us 250 + years ago, and our history as the first Capitol of the US.  It is well past the time to put our heads together and devise a plan for new civic excellence.  If we make and execute that plan, businesses will come.  And when they do, they will pay a premium to be here.

To learn more, please contact
Gary Lozoff
Tactix Real Estate, LLC
100 North 18th Street, Suite 520
Philadelphia, PA 19103
United States of America
[email protected]
(267) 989-8901

PACT Says “Hi-owa” to the 2018 TECNA Summer Conference in Des Moines

By Danielle Pinto, Director, Events

The Technology Councils of North America (TECNA) is an association of approximately 50 IT and technology trade organizations across the U.S., Canada, and Mexico.  It’s the collective voice of organizations like PACT in North America.  TECNA members gather throughout the year to share best practices, collaborate on issues of public policy, and discuss how we can better serve the interests of our member companies (like you), which collectively number over 22,000.

In July, I attended TECNA’s annual Summer Conference, which was hosted by The Technology Association of Iowa on July 24th through the 26th in downtown Des Moines. As I have for the past three years now, I savored the opportunity to meet colleagues from a diverse array of tech ecosystems: Portland, Pittsburgh, Vancouver, Kansas City, Birmingham, Phoenix, Atlanta, West Palm Beach, and Waterloo, Ontario.

So many elements factor into the challenges and opportunities of each tech community, and while I love straining my eyes over infographics that present a statistical snapshot of Philly in comparison to other hubs, it’s just as valuable to share stories with the people driving innovation in other destinations. Especially when you’re swapping those stories over bottles of craft beer and a meal of farm-fresh everything. (In Iowa, everything is farm-fresh.)

At this year’s summer conference, I attended sessions and had extended conversations about:

  1. Policy work being done on the state and national levels around issues such as immigration and CS education.
  2. Workforce development initiatives.
  3. Leveraging relationships with universities to retain graduating students.
  4. Attracting mid-career and millennial talent from outside the state.
  5. Refreshed program and event content.
  6. Improving your member experience.

I also facilitated a session on building diverse, equitable, and inclusive tech hubs. We talked about leaks in the tech pipeline, and discussed programming and initiatives in our respective hubs working to plug those leaks: plans to increase board diversity, partnerships with organizations like Code.org to address inequity in CS education, tools leveraging the concept of design thinking to encourage more inclusive dialogue in meetings, at roundtables and events.  It was fascinating to compare the approaches of teams in cities with vastly different demographics – what may work in Birmingham may not work in Salt Lake City, and vice versa.  The one consensus to come out of the conversation was that, for an organization with a reach that spans 22,000 technology related companies in North America, TECNA members have a lot of collective power to make a positive impact.

I encourage you to visit the TECNA website to learn more about the organization and the scope of the work TECNA does on behalf of organizations like PACT – and by extension, for you. And if you’d like to learn more about a particular initiative, would like an intro to a TECNA organization in another destination, or want to hear some of the dozens of Iowa puns I came up with while my flight home from the conference was delayed, don’t hesitate to shoot me an email to learn more.

 

Exit Advice from “Exits – Traps and Triumphs” CEOs

Well, the CEO panelists for “Exits – Traps and Triumphs” at Drexel did not disappoint the audience one bit.  Jean Anne Booth, Founder and CEO of UnaliWear, Paul Litwack, CEO of Axcentria Pharmaceuticals, Gerie DiPiano, Chairman, President and CEO of FemmePharma Healthcare, and Lars Bjork, former Founder and CEO of Qlik Technologies each came with lots of war stories woven into practical advice for each of the future exiters attending.  Best of all was their crisp and engaging interaction among themselves that brought out the length, depth and breadth of their personal and their companies’ exit experiences.

Among the rich treasure trove of gleaned advice was what they said about the process, and what “wear and tear” can hit the CEO and their team during their exit journey.  Some of these were:

  1. Selling your company, or even just exploring your exit options, must be kept quiet and limited to only the upper echelon of your team. Why?  Well for one, tipping your intentions could make key people leave early and unexpectedly.  This can stress the prevailing atmosphere of the company, distract and adversely impact performance, and put pressure on your valuation as well.
  2. The exit process is long. It takes a lot of time away from running the company.  The engagement with buyers runs six to nine months with another four months for the “final dance”.
  3. It takes a very different and special skillset to organize and run the sale than from running the business. You and your team are already heavily tasked with your daily responsibilities.  Engage an advisor who is business savvy, solid, experienced and trusted.
  4. Do lots of homework on your own company so you know everything. Then do deep due diligence on the buyers.  Knowledge protects your interests.
  5. Different CEOs and their companies have different desired outcomes: some want to keep everyone employed; some want to simply cash out; some only want to leave and retire; and so forth. Be honest with yourself and know what you want as your outcome.
  6. When doing acquisitions (someone else’s exit), remember and employ these actions too.

So while this exit and acquisition market stays positive, pursue your goals, keep these points in mind, and find your “Google moment” or your “grab for growth”.

About Jack Warnock

Jack Warnock is an M&A pro and a consigliere to CEOs who are growing or exiting their businesses. He will ensure that the outcome is optimal, the best value is achieved, and the transition is smooth, all while you and your team continue to effectively do your day job. Jack is a trusted resource with proven knowledge about how companies work; how ownership changes; how to buy businesses; how companies are sold; and how owners win.

How can QA deal with the challenges of Digital Transformation?

Can technology cease to surprise customers?

The services delivered by hovering drones, speaking robots, virtual assistants such as Siri and Alexa, and smart home devices such as Amazon Echo and Google HOME are no more a surprise element for the end users. Customer expectations are increasing by the day, and it’s getting trickier to deal with these growing demands and ensuring a flawless experience. Quality Assurance (QA) and Software Testing have been enabling organizations to effectively adopt new and emerging digital technologies and ensuring desired customer experience. Hence, leading enterprises and top ranking CIOs are focussing specifically on QA to successfully implement digital transformation initiatives for their business requirements.

Impact of Digital Transformation on QA and Testing

With reference to customer-centric approaches to Digital Transformation, a new study has been conducted by Forrester Consulting on behalf of consulting firm Ernst and Young LLP (EY). In the report, Yang Shim, EY Americas advisory data and analytics leader for financial services, mentions, ‘An unrelenting focus on the customer allows companies to be innovative while satisfying customer needs and meeting financial criteria such as increasing revenues and profitability. The performance gap is huge between companies that take a more comprehensive and customer-centric approach to digital enterprise transformation and those that focus solely on cost reduction.’

Compelling customer experience is critical for businesses to sustain and compete in the current market scenario. All the possible performance gaps must be mended to ensure that the expected experience is delivered. This becomes an impending challenge for the QA folks, who end up facing a new issue or complication each day. Digital transformation has substantially impacted the way QA and testing are performed, and the expected results achieved.

QA is no more an activity that is conducted towards the end of the development cycle. With adoption of digital technologies, there is a growing need to conduct continuous testing and continuous integration. This implies that testing and development has to be a collaborative activity rather than testing being a sequel to the development process. Speed with quality is the need of the hour, which has influenced the way QA and testing are being conducted. Agile and DevOps practices are being adopted to ensure flexibility and accuracy for testing.

These practices can be implemented and results can be expected, but it is equally critical to set some ground rules to deal with the challenges that are thrown by the digital transformation initiatives.

How to not get blown by the Digital Transformation wave?

Digital transformation can be overwhelming for many organizations, as it impacts the functioning of almost every entity within the system. It can definitely help if certain fundamentals or protocols are established to deal with the uncertainties caused by digital initiatives. For instance, assume that a traditionally operating organization decides to go digital and adopt application-based mapping of various functions. It might create uncertainty and chaos. But if there are certain ground rules and processes set for the transition, it can definitely help in the process and ensure quality.

Create new roles for Testing

As the testing needs change, new roles are created to manage distinct functions and business operations. Roles such as Software Development Test Engineers (SDETs) are being created to address some fresh needs. These new roles are necessarily a bridge between development and testing, boosting collaboration between the two functions. Creation of these roles must be encouraged, as it will ensure business value and bring maturity to the quality assurance process.

As digital initiatives of an organization increase, the demand for these roles will only rise. Quality assurance will become much more integral to the organization’s functioning and existence.

Address the talent gap

Taking a cue from the last point, it can be accepted that digital transformation initiatives will need inventive ways for resolving issues and bugs. A tester with traditional ways might not be in a position to deal with such offbeat issues. Hence, organizations will have to train and retrain their resources to develop the IT skills and expertise to deal with the new technologies and support the transformation process. Nurturing new practices could be the best possible way to deal with random changes within an organization.

Quality Transformation for smooth Digital Transformation

If quality has to be ensured throughout the organization, it is important to implement quality transformation initiatives. This implies that there are set protocols and schedules to deal with regular quality hassles. It will ease out the excessive one-time efforts for teams to resolve issues and make it a seamless process to follow.

Leverage Test Automation platforms, bring velocity

If you need speed, you need automation. Organizations are leveraging Test Automation platforms to smartly address their testing requirements. It further helps them to achieve their DevOps and agile goals, and bring down their testing efforts. Digital transformation needs substantial amount of automation, hence, it is recommended to select a tool that fits your IT requirements.

Encourage Feedback mechanism

Digital technologies can work for you if there are open communication channels and the feedback loop is kept active. Swift inclusion of feedback is a key aspect in the digital evolution of any business. Approaches such as shift-left encourage teams to incorporate the feedback and even enable organizations to identify issues way ahead in the development cycle.

Over a period of time, organizations have realized that digital transformation cannot be successful without an overall business transformation. Every function of an organization must amicably deal with the changes caused. Business transformation is practically impossible without implementation and adherence to rules and protocols. That’s the way QA and testing can deal with the mushrooming challenges posed by digital technologies.

Can there be a permanent and definite solution? Guess not.

Google’s Home, Amazon’s Alexa; How proficiently is AI evolving?

Submitted by Cigniti Technologies

Virtual Assistants and Voice-First Devices are trending through the news stories. With millions of units being sold, they are definitely one of the most sought-after tech toys for your home. Incidentally, Amazon Alexa has crossed over 10 million unit sales and has added new devices such as Echo Show and Echo Dot to the list. At the same time, Google has added the Google Mini to team up with the original Google Home. Apple’s HomePod, Samsung’s Bixby, and Microsoft’s Cortana are also some of the other names floating in the voice-first devices space.

These devices come in at relatively affordable prices, hence are getting trendier and popular amongst kids as well as adults. While everything holds true, it’s important to understand how this segment evolves and what could be some of the inherent challenges going ahead.

These devices work with applications that are being built by major tech brands across various industries such as media, retail, travel, entertainment, and banking, to name a few. Applications running these voice-first devices make all the difference by creating interactions that are smarter and appealing. For the record, Gartner has estimated that the worldwide spending on virtual personal assistants (VPA) enabled wireless speakers will be over $2 billion in the next three years. Hence, a lot will be left to the applications to deliver and make the experience flawless.

Always-ON, and Always-Listening

The voice-first smart devices are designed to stay conversational and are always on a listening and responding mode. This makes the business tricky, where there is a constant effort to make the experience better and error-free. Digital assurance and testing will positively have a significant part to deliver in building applications that not only perform as expected, but also stay functional during unforeseen circumstances. Performance and security are key for delivering the desired consumer experience with voice-driven assistants and devices.

There were reports where Amazon Alexa recorded a family’s conversation secretly and sent it to a random person on their contact list. Now, how embarrassing and dreadful this can be! Along with best voice and interactive experience, a lot of focus has to be laid on securing the interactions and sensitive information from hackers or probing bodies that are always on the lookout for vulnerabilities. Along with performance testing, security specialists have a significant role to play to check for gaps and ensure that the information stays within limits.

Automation can assure Quality

A high performing and secure interface can be delivered with rigorous testing. However, this is impossible without automating the testing efforts and using testing frameworks and test suites. It is highly business critical that any bugs or gaps in the application are found before the users find them. Automation of testing processes not only ensures that the bugs are eliminated way ahead in the testing cycle, but also supports real-time updates with effective quality assurance. This helps brands to deliver innovative solutions to the consumers with much needed confidence.

The questions that could occur to the users must be answered in advance. This will ensure holistic completion of the task. With voice-driven devices the underlying technology is speech-to-text that goes from voice stream to text, and accesses the required sources for the requested information. The response totally depends on the user’s ‘spoken’ inputs. Assuring quality needs a lot of work, with building an effective test strategy by understanding the architecture of the device and ultimately the deliverables.

The testing strategy can involve various types of testing, namely, unit testing, system testing, integration testing, performance testing, endurance testing, and security testing. It will largely depend on the requirement and the level at which the application is currently held up. For instance, the Automated Voice Testing (AVT) approach will use a speech recognition engine to manage and test the conversation, the way it would happen in the real world scenario. These tests are important for any kind of voice application that could run on any device.

AVT has been applied for testing Alexa, Google Home applications, as well as voice-driven websites and virtual assistants such as Siri, Cortana, OK Google, and even for automated communications. Automated testing of these applications will help to confirm the performance and sustainability of these devices in the real world, where the pressure will be high. There could be multiple voices to recognize and multiple queries to answer.

Enhanced Customer Experience will drive growth

Virtual Assistants such as Siri, Alexa, are OK Google have been household names for a while now. Lately, even Voice-first devices have gone mainstream and are hitting the households like any other house appliance. This is bound to create an impact on the daily lives of the users, which can be a sensitive affair. Hence, testing the software and devices for flaws and gaps is even more critical.

Moreover, thanks to the constant interactions, there has to be relentless innovation in the service. Even the competition is expected to get intense with local players coming in. The only key to success is to crack the expected and the desired consumer experience. An aggregate of the total experience will translate into success and sustainability in the marketplace for Voice-first devices.

12 Ways the New Tax Law May Impact Technology and Life Science Companies

By Alexandra Colman and Michael Hadjiloucas

The recently enacted Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (“H.R. 1”) provides both challenges and opportunities for the technology and life science sectors.

For instance, because H.R. 1 Tax Act was signed before the end of the year, all 2017 financial statements will need to reflect the new tax rate and all other effects of the new tax rules.

This simply means every company’s deferred tax assets (liabilities), tax provisions, effective tax rate and overall tax footnotes will be affected significantly.  For more information, visit https://www.sec.gov/interps/account/staff-accounting-bulletin-118.htm

A number of new provisions may apply to technology and life science companies.  Among these are:

  1. Corporate Tax Rate – Reduced from 35% to 21% effective January 1, 2018. Therefore, fiscal-year filers will have a prorated tax rate for the period that spans over 2017-2018. The impact of the change in rate on existing deferred tax assets and liabilities will be recognized as a discrete item in the period in which tax legislation is enacted.
  2. Corporate Alternative Minimum Tax – Repealed effective for tax years beginning after December 31, 2017. Taxpayers that have AMT credit carryforwards will be able to use them against their regular tax liability and will also be able to claim a refundable credit equal to 50% of the remaining AMT credit carryforward in years beginning in 2018 through 2020 and 100% for years beginning in 2021.
  3. R&D Credit – Maintained.  With the elimination of AMT, it should be an advantage for life science companies.
  4. Orphan Drug Credit – The Orphan Drug Credit will now be limited to 25% of qualified clinical testing expenses for the tax year. H.R. 1 imposes additional reporting requirements. In addition, you are now able to take a lower credit instead of adding back the entire tax credit. This provision is effective for amounts paid or incurred in taxable years beginning after December 31, 2017.
  5. Limitation on Business Interest Expense Deduction – The deduction for net interest expenses incurred by a business will be limited to the sum of 30% of the business’ EBITDA. For tax years beginning after December 31, 2021, the net interest expenses incurred will be limited to 30% of EBIT. This applies to company’s whose average annual gross receipts are more than $25m.
  6. Net Operating Loss – Net operating loss deductions are limited to 80% of taxable income effective for losses arising in taxable years beginning after December 31, 2017 and have an indefinite carryforward period. There will no longer be a NOL carryback provision. Prior NOLs continue to use the prior carryforward and usage rules.
  7. Amortization of Research and Experimental Costs – For years beginning after December 31, 2021, specified research or experimental expenditures, including software development, incurred in the U.S. would have to be capitalized and amortized over a five-year period. Upon retirement, abandonment or disposition of property, any remaining basis would continue to be amortized over the remaining amortization period. For costs incurred outside of the U.S., the amortization period is 15 years.
  8. Self-Created Intangibles –. The gain or loss from the disposition of a self-created patent, invention, model or design (whether or not patented), or secret formula or process is ordinary in character, effective for dispositions of property after 2017.  This is consistent with the treatment of copyrights under current law. The election to treat musical compositions and copyrights in musical works as a capital asset is repealed.
  9. Medical Device Excise Tax – Although H.R. 1 was silent on this tax, it is set to be reinstated on January 1, 2018.
  10. Other Accounting Methods – Revenue cannot be recognized for tax purposes in a period later than revenue is reported in the applicable financial statements. An exemption applies for any item of income for which a special accounting method is used. In the case of income from a debt instrument having (original issue discount?)OID, these rules would apply to tax years beginning after December 31, 2018, and any I.R.C. Section 481 adjustment made due to a change in method of accounting would be taken into account over six years.
  11. Cost Recovery:
    • Bonus – Qualified property placed in service after September 27, 2017 and before January 1, 2023 can be immediately expensed using 100% bonus depreciation. There is no longer a requirement that the original use of the qualified property commence with the taxpayer. The bonus depreciation percentage will decrease by twenty points every year for tax periods between January 1, 2023 and January 1, 2027.
    • Section 179 – The immediate expense limitation under I.R.C. Section 179 would be increased to $1,000,000 if less than $2,500,000 of eligible property was placed in service during the tax year. The $1,000,000 expense is decreased dollar for dollar for all asset additions in excess of $2,500,000. For tax years beginning after 2018, the limitations will be indexed for inflation.
    • Observations – Immediate 100% expensing is now available under bonus depreciation (I.R.C. Section 168(k)) and I.R.C. Section 179. It is important to consider the state filing requirements of your business before deciding which section to choose. Each state has different depreciation modifications and these should be considered prior to filing.
  12. Domestic Production Activities Deduction – Repealed for tax years beginning after December 31, 2017.