Interested in transitioning to the cloud? Wondering where to start? Then you’ll want to read this NVTC member guest blog from LeaseWeb’s Julia Gortinskaya first to get prepared for your cloud transition.


leaseweb-logoFrom both a business and an IT perspective, migrating to the cloud can be a good option for many businesses. But, it’s not something that can be done without the right research and preparation. If you want to be successful when migrating to the cloud, you need open communication with both your own team and hosting provider, as well as a clearly defined cloud migration strategy that is connected to your business needs. What follow are five tips to help you get started:

1. Share your roadmap

Setting goals is everything. Your goals for migrating to the cloud should be closely connected to your business goals. How fast do you want to grow (i.e. how scalable does your technology need to be)? Who in your organization needs what functionality in order to reach which goal?

Select a cloud partner who is open to discussion about your roadmap and its implementation. Together you can create a technology roadmap that best supports your ambitions. Ideally, your cloud partner is a trusted advisor who shares his or her expertise with you. Keeping in close contact with your partner and sharing the load will also enable you to divide tasks between you: while your cloud provider focuses on hosting a cloud platform and making sure your servers are up-and-running, you will be able to concentrate on creating more value for your customers.

The value of leveraging a third party can only be achieved when both sides understand their responsibilities and expectations. This means communication between you and your partner should be one of your top priorities.

2. Check certifications and compliance statements

Security and compliance are enablers, not obstacles. When migrating to the cloud, it is important to know in advance which certifications your cloud partner has, what exactly is covered and the independent auditor monitoring process. For instance, privacy and compliance certifications are necessary for organizations supporting compliant workloads.

Since security and compliance are shared responsibilities between you and your cloud provider, and perhaps other third parties as well, you’ll likely be able to benefit from the certifications your cloud provider already has in place. If your enterprise data is stored on servers in a datacenter owned by your cloud provider, the physical security of the datacenter is the cloud partner’s responsibility.

Make sure to find answers to questions such as ‘who has access to my data?’, ‘where is my data stored geographically?’ and ‘what are the export restrictions?’ You may prefer to store data in a specific region, but may also be bound to a location by customer contracts and/or privacy laws.

And don’t forget, certifications and regulations evolve over time. Cloud providers should follow developments closely and advise on any action you need to take.  While you may not want to come across as suspicious, you should ask your partner to deliver proof of any certifications.

3. Look for a partner who can scale quickly

When migrating to the cloud, there are different options and delivery models for specific workloads: private, public, hybrid, hyper-scale, on premise and off-premise. New ones are developed at a rapid pace. Explore the options (and the degree of service, the security and the expected costs) that are available for your needs.

Whichever partner you choose, select one that can act the moment you need to scale quickly. If your business requires you to add server capacity either temporarily or for a longer period, your partner should be able to provide the flexibility and speed that you need.

4. Train your people before, during and after

Most cloud projects require a different set of skills from your IT staff to implement and manage workloads (e.g. APIs, open source platforms).Traditional skill sets in server, network and desktop administration are not needed in a cloud environment as they are embedded in the service. In most instances, re-skilling employees in more DevOps centric areas can be wise.

Instead of acquiring engineering skills, your IT staff will have to learn to think more as a cloud architect (which will probably be more challenging than being an administrator anyway). And since tactical day-to-day support is managed by your cloud partner, IT staff should spend more time developing and delivering services and applications that demonstrate direct value to the business.

5. Consider changes in architecture

We have come a long way from ‘one server for one service.’ Cloud computing changes the way applications are deployed and resources are delivered. Your current architecture might work in the cloud, but may also need some changes. Some applications can be migrated to the cloud, while others might require adaptation, such as the decoupling of data. You might also benefit from taking a more service-oriented approach, from cloud services delivered through API’s. Try to design an architecture that will give you full advantage of native cloud features.

You can download the full checklist “10 Do’s and Don’ts When Migrating to the cloud” here.

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This week’s guest blog post is by Qlarion. Qlarion helps the public sector use BI to effectively manage, access and understand information in order to make more effective business decisions. In their blog, Qlarion provides a wrap-up of NVTC’s Big Data and Analytics Committee Meeting that took place in March.


QlarionOn March 7, Qlarion’s CEO, Jake Bittner, moderated a discussion at Northern Virginia Technology Council’s (NVTC) Big Data and Analytics Committee Meeting, where Anthony (Tony) Fung, Virginia Deputy Secretary of Technology; Ernie Steidle, COO/CIO, Virginia Department for Aging and Rehabilitative Services; and Anthony Wood, Program Manager, Virginia Information Technologies Agency’s Innovation Center of Excellence, shared thoughts on the challenges and opportunities related to big data and analytics in Virginia.

Deputy Secretary of Technology Tony Fung kicked off the event with a discussion of the landscape of data analytics across the Commonwealth. Deputy Secretary Fung emphasized that there have been individual analytics success stories among several state agencies and the opportunity for real progress through analytics has never been better.

Virginia now has the resources in place to implement big data and analytics programs on a large scale.

In 2016, Governor McAuliffe issued Executive Directive 7, which mandates data sharing across state agencies. Deputy Secretary Fung announced that a final report, which will provide agencies with more detail about how to comply with the directive, will be released in a few weeks.

Virginia Department for Aging and Rehabilitative Services’ Ernie Steidle reported that, in addition to the executive directive, the state legislature recently passed HB 2457, which enables data sharing across Health and Human Resources agencies. The law dictates that all HHR agencies and departments, for the purpose of data sharing, be considered a single organization. Eliminating barriers between the agencies will increase efficiency and streamline services for constituents. Based on the results of the initiative, other agency groups, such as Public Safety, could adapt the same model.

The state has solidified its commitment to modernizing its technology programs by forming the Virginia Information Technologies Agency’s Innovation Center of Excellence (VITA ICE). Virginia Information Technologies Agency’s Innovation Center of Excellence’s Anthony Wood explained that VITA ICE’s primary goal is to evaluate and implement new technologies by leveraging the capabilities of Virginia’s technology companies. It’s developed a number of resources to establish relationships with Virginia tech companies.

State leadership is also intent on securing internal buy-in and educating government decision makers on the value of big data and analytics. The upcoming Governor’s Data Analytics Summit, an event exclusively for state and local government employees, will feature a lineup of speakers and panelists who will discuss how agencies can overcome challenges and achieve their goals through analytics. The event will offer actionable strategies for scoping and launching analytics projects.

This blog post originally appeared on Qlarion’s website.

Click here to learn more about the Big Data and Analytics Committee.

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Does your brand have a “special sauce” for marketing and attracting new job candidates? This week’s member guest blog is by Insperity Social Media Manager, Recruiting Services, Kara Singh. Singh shares strategies for getting your company noticed in a crowded job market and recruiting top talent. 


insperity-ogIn a recent survey, more than two-thirds of hiring organizations indicated that they’re having a difficult time recruiting for job openings, according to the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM).

With a lower unemployment rate and more job openings, it’s becoming increasingly critical for employers to make sure they get noticed in the crowded job market.

Here’s how to mix up your employer brand, so it begins to stand out.

1. Create a consistent message

Your reputation is everything. You’ve heard it before. But what does that mean in the context of being an employer in a competitive job market?

It means prioritizing the special sauce that is your employer brand. Your employer brand should tell candidates why they should want to work for you.

What makes your company culture so appetizing? Why do your employees want to come to work every day? What do they look forward to? What benefits do they enjoy?

For example, you might find that employees like how your company facilitates a collaborative work environment or that they love your community involvement team activities.

As you answer these questions, you’re beginning to build your employer brand and making your company a more attractive place to work.

2. Define your company culture

Your company culture should attract the employees you want, while repelling those who don’t fit your culture.

While the bones of it should be a reflection of your company’s core mission, vision and values, it’s the real experiences of your employees that are the meat and potatoes of your culture.

That’s why you need to have a management team that walks the walk. For example, do your leaders model your values? Do your values challenge them to do their best every day?

Use employee surveys to take the temperature of your company culture and make sure it’s meeting your standards. Employee feedback can help to ensure your culture isn’t half baked.

When you feel confident that you know and understand what sets your company apart, entice job candidates by sharing the secret ingredients of your culture as you interview.

For instance, if your company places emphasis on corporate responsibility, you might ask a question that lends itself to the topic so you can integrate it naturally into the conversation. You could ask “How do you make a difference in your community?” You can follow up their response with details on how your company gives back.

By offering up these vibrant details, you can create a competitive edge in the job market as you look to fill vacant positions.

3. Define your benefits

Prospective employees want more than just a good work environment. They’re also seeking benefits that are comparable or better than what they’re receiving in their current role. This includes things like health, life and disability insurance, retirement savings plans, and paid time-off.

If you’re a smaller company, you may think you can’t compete with big company benefits. However, there are many perks you might be able to offer that bigger companies don’t.

For example, do you allow flexible work schedules or telecommuting? Do you offer on-site snacks in your break room? Do you have a job shadowing program that can help employees expand their skills?

Special perks can help set your company apart. Be sure to clearly define these extra benefits and share them with potential employees.

4. Develop employee ambassadors

With a great employer brand, company culture and employee benefits, you’d think it’d be a piece of cake finding new talent.

But the truth is that finding good people will still take work. Luckily, you can look to your current workforce for assistance.

You won’t find better ambassadors for your company than your own employees, but you’ll need to guide them to ensure they’re accurately communicating the best attributes of your brand.

To become ambassadors, your employees must be engaged in your business with a commitment to your mission, vision and values. They should easily be able to describe your culture. They should know how to pepper in the perks of their jobs.

With some basic training in these areas, you can easily empower your employees to become brand ambassadors and recruit talent from their own contacts. For example, you might have a training session for employees where you go over company talking points and how to create and manage a LinkedIn presence. Social media offers a great avenue for employees to instantly reach candidates you wouldn’t have access to otherwise.

5. Monitor your reputation on the internet

You wouldn’t expect someone to eat at a restaurant with bad reviews. Why would you expect someone to work for an employer with negative ratings?

Potential job candidates today have access to a vast amount of online information about your company before they even step foot in the door for interviews. You want to make sure this information reflects as positively as possible on your company.

With sites like Glassdoor, an online forum where former employees can describe their experiences with your company, you want to make sure you’re defending your employer brand by telling your side of the story, too. While you can’t undo criticism, you can show your transparency and willingness to listen.

For instance, did a disgruntled employee leave an unsavory comment about his or her experience? Take the time to respond publicly and show potential candidates reading it that you care.

Also, consider setting up Google Alerts to keep tabs on how your brand is represented online. Every time your company name is mentioned online, Google will send you an email alert.

Additionally, keep an eye on social media sites. There are a variety of social monitoring tools available that allow you to follow mentions of your brand.

Keep your eye on the prize

With new strategies in tow, you’re better prepared to take on the competitive landscape.

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When Women Have a Chance in Tech…

March 7th, 2017 | Posted by Alexa Magdalenski in Guest Blogs | Member Blog Posts - (Comments Off)

Our newest member guest blog post is by Elizabeth Lindsey, executive director of Byte Back. Byte Back improves economic opportunity by providing computer training and career preparation to underserved Washington, D.C. metro area residents. 


Byte BackJust 25 percent of the computing workforce in the U.S. is women. For women of color, this drops drastically, with just three percent of the workforce made up of African American women and one percent Latina women.

Only 17 percent of Fortune 500 Chief Information Officer (CIO) positions were held by women in 2015.1

March 8 is International Women’s Day – a day to celebrate progress, recognize deficits and act for equality. Today is the perfect day to give a woman her start in tech.

When women are offered the chance to learn and use technology the same as men, women access vital life opportunities, including high-paying jobs, healthcare, sexual and gender violence services, family care, and more.

With technology, women can connect to the world and build connections to employers, friends and family. With technology, women can move into jobs to support their families – tech jobs, white collar jobs and medial jobs. With technology, women can help their families – teach their children, communicate with teachers and open up a world of knowledge.

It doesn’t have to be expensive, or complicated. So much can be solved by teaching women how to use technology. With a small investment in women’s lives, we can have a huge impact on social change.

Today, we urge you to find a way to support women, whether it’s as a mentor, a volunteer, a supporter of a community organization or as a recruiter. There are countless organizations opening opportunities for women to cross the digital divide and to advance in IT careers, and we encourage you to be a part of this movement.

By 2024, the number of U.S. computing-related job openings expected to be 1.1 million.1 If we all work together, we can make sure women not only fill more technology positions, but have the power to use technology to change lives.


In Byte Back’s 20 years, their demographics have never reflected the outside tech world. Increasing opportunities for underserved residents goes hand-in-hand with increasing diversity in tech companies. In 2016, 417 women, or 61 percent of the student body, found empowering tech skills for free at Byte Back.

1 National Center for Women & Information Technology. (2016). By the Numbers.

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Interested in fine tuning your corporate messaging? Then you’ll want to read our latest member guest blog from Carlos Cruz, Client Relations at TriVision, Inc. TriVision is an award-winning, full service agency that develops innovative strategies to achieve powerful and creative integrated marketing solutions.


Final Logo 2014-2016 TriVision Logo v2It is in a corporation’s best interest to strategically push their value-driven corporate messaging whenever and wherever they can. Here are the reasons why:

Corporate messaging reinforces your target audience’s identity.

People like to associate themselves with others who have the same mindset as they do. It’s like being friends with someone because they like the same hobbies you do.

Corporate messaging builds a community around the same set of values you cherish. In the case of AirBnb, their strategy was to send a message that acceptance of everyone (regardless of race, religion, sexual orientation, or other external factors) is a common human value that most can agree upon (however, at times we may need to be reminded of this).

Create corporate messages that make your target audience proud to associate themselves with you.

Corporate Messaging reinforces brand identity.

When a corporate message is done well and communicated often, those tactics boost brand identity. When a corporate message is value-driven, it often creates a positive association with your company.

Corporate Messaging told as a story, stick better.

Why is it that you are more likely to remember childhood stories like “The Boy Who Cried Wolf” or “The Three Little Pigs” than a 30-page report on whatever it is you specialize in? For 27,000 years, humans have been telling stories to communicate information with one another. Stories connect people. Often, you will find a company’s background explaining why they choose to carry certain values. Blending your corporate messaging with a story will make your company memorable.

Remember, values are what brings all of us together. Make sure that your corporate messaging has a value-driven approach.

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Our newest guest blog is written by C. Michael Ferraro, president and CEO of Training Solutions, Inc. (TSI). TSI provides diverse performance development training programs, human resources services, executive coaching, workforce consulting and facilitation of retreats for a variety of companies across the nation and worldwide. In his blog, Ferraro shares five behaviors for building thriving intact teams.


tsi logoIn most companies, there are ongoing challenges for increased productivity and good employee relationships; and the concept of successful teamwork is always a part of the puzzle. Many companies are uncomfortable looking at team problems. Those companies are aware of the challenges they face with teams trying to work better together, but they don’t know how to “fix” the problems because they don’t know what is causing the problems.

Intact teams really need to thrive. Whether individuals believe it or not, the goals of the team should take priority over individual goals in order to truly succeed. A team should look “inside” itself, being honest about their challenges. There are five key behaviors that every intact team should understand, according to Patrick Lencioni. Lencioni has worked with thousands of senior executives in organizations ranging from Fortune 500 and mid-size companies to start-ups and nonprofits. Lencioni is the author of many best-selling business books including The Five Dysfunctions of a Team that has sold over two million copies and continues to be a fixture on national best-seller lists week after week.

His newest program is called The Five Behaviors of a Cohesive Team (based on his best-selling book, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team). Based on Lencioni’s model, the five key behavioral areas are Trust, Conflict, Commitment, Accountability and Results. Every individual on the team completes an online assessment and then the team report is developed. The assessment-based approach is extremely powerful. I am an authorized partner of this program and work with many teams to improve their working relationships and results.

These five behaviors are very important to the success of team and need to be honestly discussed in depth with the team. I walk through the assessment results with all the team members together and help them work through their challenges as they learn to develop into a stronger and more successful team.

Building Trust. This is a fundamental and foundational behavior of a cohesive team. Lencioni believes that trust means (1) “a willingness to be completely vulnerable with one another” and (2) “confidence among team members that their peers’ intentions are good and that there is no reason to be protective or careful around the team.” Can you say that you know many trusting teams? Teams always need to begin with a discussion regarding trust to be open and honest about their issues. Without high trust, the rest cannot be improved.

Mastering Conflict. Productive conflict is needed to have relationships grow that can last over time. Conflict is needed and shouldn’t be considered “off limits” in the workplace. Healthy and productive conflict is not focused on the individuals but connected to subjects and ideas. Productive conflict should not be avoided. Great teams need thoughtful debates to provide great solutions. When I facilitate this program, we also talk about those unhealthy behaviors around conflict and give the team a team map they can use to help them use conflict constructively.

Achieving Commitment. When talking about commitment, Lencioni is focused on the team’s decisions and making sure there is complete buy-in among every member of the team. Of course, some members may disagree at different points in the discussion; but in the end, there should be complete agreement to move forward with the decision. Great teams understand the importance of the commitment. Without total commitment, there will be ambiguity or missed opportunities or low confidence and more.

Embracing Accountability. This means, per Lencioni, the “willingness of team members to call their peers on performance or behaviors that might hurt the team.” This is very important because team members must feel comfortable sharing their discomfort with another team member about their performance or behavior. This feedback is given from the perspective of wanting to help the team succeed and should be appreciated.

Focusing on Results. Of course, going through the discussions and learning about the four previous behaviors is to produce increased positive results. You’d be surprised how often a team isn’t focused on team results. Perhaps team members are focused on their own individual status, position or results. The collective success of the team is most important.

This assessment-based program will give a team a great opportunity to learn more about each member of the team and how to work better together to be truly a great team. The results we have had with teams has been dramatic, showing better team harmony and increased productivity. We also offer to come back to the team after a period of months and reassess the team in these areas.

To learn more about improving intact teams click here.

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Embracing Big Data

February 2nd, 2017 | Posted by Alexa Magdalenski in Capital Data Summit | Guest Blogs | Member Blog Posts - (Comments Off)

The inaugural 2017 Capital Data Summit is less than two weeks away! Susan Burke, vice president, single family data delivery services at Freddie Mac, will be participating on the Role of the CDO panel at the Summit. In her guest blog post, Burke shares thoughts and questions leaders should consider when aligning big data activities with their organization’s business goals. 


Freddie-Mac-Web-LogoLike many enterprises, we at Freddie Mac are in the process of determining what big data means to us. This past year, we started our journey to expand from the traditional rationalized data stores to the world of unstructured data and new technologies. One step on that path was considering a Hadoop environment. Would it bring value? What business problems would it solve?

The first lesson we learned is one that we tend to see repeated in the IT-business world. In our case, we raced to develop a new technology. Why wouldn’t we, when there were “obvious” value propositions we knew we could deliver? It quickly became apparent that, while our initial proof-of-concept provided insight into what needed to change from a back-end engineering perspective, we had not aligned with the business. Without a strong business champion, technology for the sake of technology efforts is doomed.

Fortunately, a strong, respected business leader stepped up to garner support and help IT define the business-use cases that would deliver value to the organization. Off we went.

Now that we’ve implemented Hadoop, what does it mean? How do we support it? Where do the data scientists fit into this picture? The technology in the data landscape is changing fast — and it is evolving in ways that were unimaginable just a few years ago. That means IT organizations are changing. The skill sets needed are different. The delivery methods are different. The way we integrate into our existing environments is different. We need to ask, “What hypothesis do I want to explore?” instead of “What are the requirements?” And all change is hard.

We decided the most useful model for Freddie Mac is one that combines business and IT resources in one team, so we created our Big Data Center of Excellence (CoE). This CoE brings together dedicated resources to support the development of use cases, deliver data not currently available on the platform and measure value. The data scientists remain in the business areas and can concentrate on asking new questions and executing analytics and visualizations.

The rapidly-evolving world of big data is exciting, and both IT and the business are in it together. We will continue to partner closely with our business leaders to identify the most impactful structure to help us evolve to a data lake structure.

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This week’s guest blog is by Joseph Norton, Consultant, Information Management at LMI. Norton shares strategies for improving your organization’s enterprise architecture to better fulfill your mission.

Modern Digital TechnologiesEnterprise architecture improves how organizations develop their strategic plans, make investment decisions and establish effective enterprise governance. Federal agencies can use enterprise architecture to make their operations more efficient as well as promote strategic and innovative initiatives.

Laws, such as the Federal Information Technology Acquisition Reform Act (FITARA), require federal agencies to provide more transparent reporting on IT portfolios. These laws are so new, many best practices on IT portfolio reporting are still being developed.

LMI works with the General Services Administration (GSA) to better connect its budget and IT portfolio management processes to help with its reporting. This approach helps GSA answer the following questions:

  • How do we decide when to enhance, migrate, or retire our applications?
  • What functions do those applications support and what are their life cycle costs?
  • What technology standards are approved for use?
  • How should we introduce new or emerging technology?
  • Are we engaging with all of our stakeholders on the right projects and at the right time?

In many cases, the ability to rapidly and consistently pull standardized reports saves time and improves data quality for employees.

This conversation often starts with compliance, but very quickly, it becomes an even more interesting discussion around how to better fulfill your mission because data is more transparent and easily accessible.

Building a Healthy Enterprise Architecture

  • Make a business case for investment: Identify specific problems and expected outcomes that enterprise architecture will address. Track how much time employees spend on pulling reports. Evaluate the risks or costs associated with not providing reports in a timely fashion.
  • Evaluate business needs: Asking the right questions will help prioritize what data needs to be visualized and at what level of detail.
  • Assess your current enterprise architecture: How is the enterprise architecture program currently defined within your organization? Where is it in your organizational chart? How many resources does your enterprise architecture program have or need? How is it integrated with your current governance processes? Are they only in compliance or do they have a seat at the table when budget decisions are made? What types of interactions do they have with other departments? There are enterprise architecture maturity models for assessment and goal setting in this area.
  • Assess your data management strategy: How many data repositories are there? Is there an open data policy? How is enterprise data currently managed—is it standardized or stove-piped? Are data repositories well-maintained and well-governed?
  • Create open communication between stakeholders: Making advances in using data for decision making for an organization involves considerable user outreach. It is important to let people, especially leadership, know this data exists. Ensuring dashboards continually improve requires an ongoing interaction between data visualization people and developers. Things are changing all the time either due to legal changes or lessons learned.

A Healthy Enterprise Architecture Can Spur Innovation

When an organization improves its data quality, there are more opportunities to use data in innovative ways. Clean repositories with easy hooks or an application programming interface (API) can allow developers to support new applications that never would have been possible if the organization did not build a foundation of well-managed data.

LMI works with federal agencies and private industry on enterprise architecture best practices every day. We know which tools provide the reports needed for compliance and have an eye for open-source tools that do not require additional acquisitions. Please contact jnorton@lmi.org to discuss further.

***

LMILogoJoseph Norton is a member of LMI’s Information Management group. He helps federal agencies develop and communicate their IT strategy, develop enterprise architectures, and modernize complex information management systems. He has a B.S. in chemistry and computer science from the University of Miami and a Ph.D. in chemistry from the University of California, Los Angeles.

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New year, new tech trends…especially in HR! Insperity Technology Solutions Analyst Lindsey Moreno discusses 2017′s HR trends and the HR latest software to help your organization stay ACA and FLSA compliant.


insperity-og

If you’ve still got someone entering timesheet data by hand, 2017 is the year to automate your HR processes.

Once upon a time, businesses with 50-150 employees could manage benefits and payroll through a series of non-automated, disjointed programs. It was simpler to stay in compliance with state and federal regulations related to employment back then.

Well, those days are gone. The Affordable Care Act (ACA) and the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) set out a complex series of rules for how businesses measure eligibility for benefits and what constitutes a full-time employee.

The good news is that 2017 promises to offer several HR software products to help small and middle market businesses stay compliant. Furthermore, if you get the right systems in place, it can be a “set it and forget it” situation.

Managing the complex

You heard a lot of talk about the FLSA in 2016. The new overtime regulation would have changed overtime eligibility for white collar, salaried workers earning less than $913 a week ($47,476 a year).

Even though a court temporarily halted implementation, time and attendance systems are always needed because you must track working hours and maintain accurate data on your employees. The latest software improves your ability to address this need, resulting in easier federal and state compliance.

Benefits administration is more complex, too

Further, in 2016, many businesses also struggled with the role that the ACA played in determining who is considered a full-time employee and the benefits to which they’re entitled. Now, the minimum value of those benefits and the cost of those benefits to employees must be evaluated and tracked.

It’s no longer easy to designate who is “full time” and “part time.” Depending on a variety of factors, part-time employees may work enough hours to become “full-time equivalents.”

It’s too complicated to “wing it” as you keep track of exempt and non-exempt, salaried and hourly employees, and who is eligible for overtime pay and various levels of benefits. Without automation, you could easily have one full-time person doing nothing but tracking and measuring who qualifies when for which benefits based on their full-time or part-time status.

Automation simplifies this process and allows managers to run reports to support planning and manage costs. For example, a report could provide information on whether it’s more affordable for your business to pay for higher benefits required by law, or pay the penalties for offering a lower level of benefits.

In addition to calculating who is eligible, systems can automatically identify “minimum essential coverage” and “minimum essential value” as well as provide insight into the affordability requirements laid out by the ACA.

Finally, integrated HR software should also help you gather the data you need to file government paperwork at the end of the year.

Integration, convenience and mobility are key

When choosing your new HR software, integration is key. You’ll want a time and attendance system that feeds data to your payroll and benefits systems because the new regulations mean hours worked over a certain period impact pay and benefits.

When you’re considering software that will be regularly used by your employees, it can be extremely beneficial to choose a program that offers a smartphone app. Since most people carry their phones everywhere, such apps make simple transactions easy, such as checking paid time off or official company holidays, looking up a recent pay stub, etc.

For the people who are responsible for the management and administration of your HR, find software backed by easily accessible technical support.

Another service to look for is software backed by a support website or call center.

Particularly if your company is big enough to be affected by the ACA and FLSA, but not yet big enough to need more HR staff, a support website can help answer questions your staff may have about COBRA, sick leave or payroll compliance.

Insperity is one of many companies that offer software to integrate and automate payroll, time and attendance, and benefits, as well as mobile apps backed by a call center for additional support.

Self-service still pays

Electronic benefits systems are a must to remain compliant, but these tools can also help streamline your HR department.

In the past few years, more and more companies have been moving to self-service benefits administration. This trend still holds since many smaller companies have yet to adopt HR software that allows employees to electronically enroll, make changes to their benefits or find out how much time off they have banked.

The benefits of employee self-service are many:

  • It relieves the burden of HR employees keying in data.
  • It improves accuracy since the people who know their data best, the employees, enter all details and can make changes as needed.
  • Employees can check their pay stubs, tax information and PTO balances without involving their manager or HR representative.
  • It improves the filing, monitoring and payment of expenses.
  • It speeds up onboarding since new employees can complete employment documents online, before their first day.

Ideally, your new software package should keep you compliant, help you manage your workforce and give you the data you need to strategically plan for the future.

Want more tips for staying compliant with employment regulations? Download Insperity’s free e-book, 7 Most Frequent HR Mistakes and How to Avoid Them.

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insperity-ogThis week’s NVTC member guest blog post is by Kelly Yates, vice president of Service Operations at Insperity. Yates shares five key priorities outlined in the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s (EEOC) recently-released Strategic Enforcement Plan.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) recently released its Strategic Enforcement Plan through the year 2021, which outlines its priorities for the coming years.

In this plan, one of the areas of focus is a grouping the agency refers to as “emerging and developing workplace issues” – an ever-evolving subject, which can be challenging to navigate. From qualification standards and inflexible leave to discriminatory practices, typically, these complaints parallel societal issues that are also gaining a bigger spotlight in the media.

Here are five areas employers should watch carefully as they start their new year:

1. Discrimination against those with disabilities

The EEOC continues to broaden its definition of what constitutes a disability. Under the EEOC’s new plan, the agency is narrowing its focus to give priority to the areas of job qualification standards and inflexible leave policies to better protect disabled employees.

Qualification standards

A qualification standard is how the employer defines who is qualified to be hired for a particular job. This means that job descriptions could fall under scrutiny if there are unnecessary physical qualifications placed on applicants.

For example, if your job description says that applicants must be able to lift 20 pounds, but there is an accommodation that could be provided where lifting wouldn’t be required, it may not be reasonable to use this as a qualifier when making hiring decisions.

Inflexible leave policies

There is no clear cut definition of whether a leave policy is flexible or inflexible. But typically, any policy that takes a definitive stance on the time limitations of a leave will be labeled as inflexible by the EEOC.

For example, an inflexible policy might state: “You must be 100 percent healed to return to work when a 12-week FMLA leave ends, or you will be terminated.”

Leave policies require careful attention to the language used to ensure that they cannot be interpreted as inflexible and have a one-size-fits-all approach. And, these situations require an interactive dialogue between employers and employees to understand what return-to-work accommodations may need to be made, such as granting additional time off work or the ability to telecommute for a specified time period.

Even a policy that says that employees aren’t allowed to work remotely could be deemed as inflexible, if, based on their disabilities and the nature of their job duties, it would be a reasonable accommodation to allow them to work from home.

This is one of the biggest risk areas for employers. It’s one of the most challenging to work through because there is not a definitive manual on the topic. Each situation has to be handled individually and based upon its own merits – not based upon how the last case was treated.

2. Accommodating pregnancy-related limitations

Gender equality in the workplace has been in the spotlight in recent years. One area that the EEOC has weighed in on heavily has been removing pregnancy as a barrier for equal treatment in the workplace.

Employers are advised to treat pregnant employees as they would treat any other employee who has any other temporary medical condition. Consider all accommodation requests by engaging in an interactive dialogue with the employee and make necessary job modifications as specified by the employee’s medical provider.

For example, accommodations may include altered breaks and work schedules (e.g., breaks to rest or use the restroom), permission to sit or stand, ergonomic office furniture, shift changes, elimination of marginal job functions and permission to work from home for a specified time period.

If a woman isn’t able to work during her pregnancy, she may be eligible for time off not only under FMLA, but also under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Pregnancy complications may be covered under the ADA as a temporary disability.

These types of accommodations help to keep barriers neutralized so that women can continue to progress in their careers while pregnant. And, these accommodations can also help ward off potential discrimination claims.

3. Protecting LGBT from discrimination based on sex

If you look up the Civil Rights Act of 1964, you won’t see LGBT as a category of protection. But the agency’s recent interpretation has been that it falls into the broad category of discrimination based on sex.

To avoid EEOC discrimination charges, you must treat LGBT employees as you would all other employees. If employees come to you with complaints, make sure to treat the complaint seriously, and ensure that a prompt and thorough investigation is undertaken.

Share the outcome of the investigation with the employee, and discuss resolution options. Then, be sure to follow up with the employee regularly after the issue is resolved to ensure that no new concerns have arisen. This also conveys to your employee that you have an open door to ongoing communication.

Work toward making sure that your workplace is a comfortable environment for all employees.

4. Clarifying the employment relationship and workplace rights

Temporary workers, staffing agencies, independent contractors and the on-demand economy are all changing the dynamic of the employer/employee relationship.

For example, let’s say you hire five temporary workers from a staffing agency. The agency pays these employees so they aren’t your “employees of record” for purposes of your payroll taxes, etc. However, because these workers are conducting work on your premises and for your business, including engaging with your employees, as an employer, you may be deemed to be controlling the “terms and conditions of the employees” work environments. Therefore, you must ensure that these workers are treated in compliance with EEO laws, just as you would for all employees.

Say, for instance, one of your employees or managers harasses a temporary agency worker. The temporary worker could file an EEOC claim against your business, even though you’re not his or her employer of record. And, if the agency deems that the worker’s complaint has merit, you could be liable to make financial settlements to resolve the complaint.

Just because workers aren’t on your payroll as full-time, permanent employees, it doesn’t mean you are absolved of responsibility for ensuring that they are treated fairly under the law.

5. Addressing discriminatory practices against Muslims

In the midst of global terrorist attacks, the EEOC believes there may be an increase in discriminatory actions against people who are Muslim, Sikh, or of Arab, Middle Eastern or South Asian descent (or those perceived to be a part of those groups).

In an effort to get out in front of this, the EEOC is giving priority consideration to these cases.

First and foremost, hiring managers must understand that national origin or religion should never be used as a factor in any hiring or employment decision.

You may think that everything is fine because you aren’t hearing any complaints or concerns from employees. But often, employees are hesitant to file complaints because they think doing so will jeopardize their jobs. In these cases, they may wait to bring forward a concern until it has escalated to a point where they have already decided to involve an outside agency or attorney.

Your managers should take extra steps to vocalize and demonstrate their commitment to the company’s open door policy so that employees aren’t afraid to come to them with their concerns.

Also, ensuring that you regularly conduct discrimination and harassment prevention training for all employees and that you have clear policies with a zero-tolerance for discrimination and harassment in-place are important preventative steps for employers to take.

Understand the risks and move forward thoughtfully

While the EEOC provides information for employers on their website, employers are often confused as to how each law and regulation should be interpreted and applied to their specific workplace. As you navigate through issues in these areas, it is advisable to work closely with HR experts, legal counsel or a professional employer organization (PEO), who are well-versed and experienced at preventing and resolving workplace complaints.

Keep in mind that if an EEOC charge is filed and the agency begins an investigation of your company, it could quickly become a huge disruption to your employees and to your business overall.

Here are a few possible outcomes:

  • On average, it takes at least a year for a charge to be resolved.
  • There can be disruptions if EEOC investigators come on-site to interview employees and review your company’s documents.
  • The EEOC doesn’t have to notify your business when it contacts your employees or former employees for interviews.
  • The investigation can impact the morale and productivity of your workforce.
  • There are huge monetary impacts for having to defend against and resolve the complaint.
  • A “cause finding” by the EEOC can become a matter of public record, which impacts your reputation and credibility as an employer.
  • If the EEOC finds cause for a complaint, typically, your business will have to routinely provide reports to the agency and comply with ongoing requirements, such as employee training – usually for three to five years.
  • If the EEOC finds cause for a complaint, you may be required to post notices throughout the workplace to inform employees that your company was found to have engaged in a discriminatory practice.

If your business is charged in one of the areas from the strategic enforcement plan, it’s important to take it seriously and respond appropriately. Consider consulting with an HR expert or employment counsel on how to proceed.

Learn more about how to protect your business by downloading Insperity’s complimentary e-book, Employment Law: Are You Putting Your Business at Risk?

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