Maryland Puts Focus on Computer Science

One of the Indiana Chamber’s top legislative priorities for 2018 is to increase computer science (CS) requirements for K-12 students. In Maryland, several similar initiatives are taking place.

Governor Larry Hogan kicked off “Achieving Computer Science Collaborations for Employing Students Statewide” (ACCESS) just a few months after signing on for Governors for Computer Science, a partnership of state leaders that have committed to increasing access to K-12 CS education.

By executive order and proposed legislation, the governor hopes to improve job readiness for graduates and draw a more diversified workforce to computing jobs.

Currently, according to the governor’s office, Maryland has 115,000 CS-related jobs in-state, with almost 20,000 openings. Demand for CS workers is expected to grow by another 12 percent over the next decade. Yet, state colleges and universities graduated fewer than 3,000 CS majors in 2015, just a fifth of whom were female.

Maryland is home to several cyber-related federal government agencies and military installations, including the National Security Agency, the U.S. Cyber Command and the National Cybersecurity Center of Excellence. The state has 1,200 private sector cybersecurity companies. And 17 Maryland universities, colleges and community colleges have been designated as national centers of academic excellence in cyber defense.

Governor Hogan’s Executive Order requested that the state’s Task Force on Cybersecurity and Information Technology study the development of pathways that meet targeted workforce needs in computing fields and identify new ways to promote gender and minority equity in the STEM and IT workforce. A report on the findings will be due in June 2018.

The governor also announced that he would support legislation during the 2018 General Assembly session to implement computer science standards statewide for K-12 students. The administration said it would work with the state’s teachers as well representatives from higher education and computer science organizations to develop those.

Additionally, the governor will be allocating $5 million to fund teacher professional development in CS and offer grants to districts and schools to create training models and equipment.

The governor also said his office would team up with Girls Who Code to launch the challenge, which would promote partnerships among state and local leaders, school districts, community organizations and industry to launch new clubs statewide. These clubs offer free after-school programs that allow female students in grades 6-12 grade to learn and apply CS to help their communities with the support of peers and role models.

Four Big Bad Sales Myths of 2018

Justin Jones, co-founder of the sales consulting firm Somersault Innovation, offers this perspective on approaching the sales profession in 2018.

Myth #1: Expertise is the Source of Our Credibility. Most of us are all too eager to demonstrate our product and business knowledge and quickly take control of a customer interaction to demonstrate expertise. We believe this will help our clients trust and buy from us. However, as Amy Cuddy finds in her recent book, Presence, competence is only part of what compels trust. And, it’s the lesser part!

Before clients consider our competence or expertise there’s something else they’re looking for: they’re looking for warmth. Are we real? Are we authentic? Unfortunately, the more we hammer our amazing expertise, the less authentic we appear.

I spoke the other day with an account management team from a leading mortgage technology firm, and here is how they approached a recent client meeting. They went in without an agenda except to talk with the customer about their business. The client responded by openly sharing information about two key initiatives that led to new opportunities. The team reported their delight in what felt like a “natural,” and “authentic” meeting and were eager to experiment with more clients.

Give less weight to expertise in your next meeting and see what happens.  

Myth #2: The Customer is Always Right. Today, our customers are much further along in their buying decision by the time we talk to them. This makes our job a lot harder because, thanks to many online resources, customers are much better informed and often have their eyes on a specific solution. But that doesn’t make them right, no matter how sophisticated a buyer they are.

If we slip into order-taking mode, we end up in commodity-ville, talking about a limited solution that can be easily compared to the competition.  However, if we press for more discovery we’re almost certain to find that the client’s definition of the problem is limited, or even incorrect. To the extent we can reframe the customer’s certainty and fixation, we graduate from “problem-solver” – just like every other vendor who calls on them –  to the more coveted and differentiated “problem finder” role.

Myth # 3: Big Data Will Save Us. The benefits of Big Data are all around us. AI and predictive analytics are already being used to make our lives easier. After clicking only once on an ad for online bedding retailer Brooklinen, they showed up on every site I frequent, making it easy to build a relationship, and, yes, place an order. Many of our clients are likewise experimenting with this technology to identify leads.

While this functionality is fantastic, we see it leading too often to limited engagements. Sales people are over-relying on data to close ready-made deals. In a fashion, they’re combining this myth with the previous two: they leverage data to quickly demonstrate their expertise in the specified areas and make a wrong assumption about the customer’s problem. The promise of big data is real, but only insofar as it’s used to enable greater problem finding – not quicker problem solving and selling.

Myth # 4: Focusing on Numbers Will Drive Revenue. This last myth is pervasive among both sales people and their managers. I understand the power of the maxim ‘What gets measured gets done.’ But we’ve taken this to an extreme such that sales managers and their teams spend an inordinate amount of time and emotional calories reporting on their pipelines. The unintended consequence: sales becomes dumbed down into a revenue drone. It’s no longer about our customers and the interesting things they’re doing with their businesses and how we can help them.

It’s about delivering our numbers – or at least paying lip service to doing so. The remedy for sales managers is as simple as asking your teams about the interesting things they’re seeing in their accounts. What’s something new they’ve learned from a customer? Which accounts are they feeling excited about and why? You’ll have a much clearer picture about progress in each account, and you’ll open up your conversations toward what really matters: how your business can help your clients solve their problems.

10 Gifts Great Leaders Give

Kris Taylor of K Taylor & Associates in Lafayette authored this holiday post as part of her Evergreen Leadership program. The “gifts” apply no matter the time of year.

I’ve worked with great leaders, mediocre leaders and one or two really poor leaders. I’ve done my work, to the best of my ability, with all of them. I’ve learned from all of them. Yet in reflecting back, the really great leaders gave me many great gifts.

These are the gifts that last over time. They are not very tangible but are always present. They’re gifts that altered the way I saw myself, or my situation, or the world around me – gifts that stuck, that keep on giving.

 I am eternally blessed by and grateful for these gifts.

  1. Confidence in my abilities, my potential, my judgment and my integrity
  2. Wisdom by sharing freely their truths, experiences and knowledge
  3. Mentoring and coaching to guide me to a better place, always challenging, at times seeing more in me than I could see myself
  4. Opportunities to test my skills and learn new ones, ones that pushed me further than I was comfortable with at the time
  5. Support for when I failed myself or others
  6. Unconditional respect even at my worst times
  7. Perspective and vision, especially when I wallowed in my narrow view of the situation
  8. Courage to do the things that are right, but not necessarily easy
  9. Focus on results insisting that I follow through, do what I was charged to do and to find ways to overcome the inevitable obstacles
  10. Navigation through the organization, helping me learn how these people in this place get work done

My challenge is this: rather than giving “things” this year, which of these 10 gifts might you give at work? At home? In your community?

Video: Indiana Chamber’s 2018 Legislative Priorities

Indiana Chamber President and CEO Kevin Brinegar gives a two-minute look at the Chamber’s 2018 legislative priorities for the Indiana General Assembly session. Read more about the nine priorities, along with other key areas of focus here.

What the Senate Leadership Changes Mean for the Business Community

The 2018 legislative session marks the first one without fiscal stalwarts Brandt Hershman and Luke Kenley, both of whom retired from the Senate – Hershman’s announcement coming just before Christmas. While it’s hard to replace such experience and wisdom, those stepping up to fill their shoes have been waiting in the wings for a while and should make for smooth transitions.

Back in mid-July, Sen. Ryan Mishler (R-Bremen) was tapped to succeed Kenley as the chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, which is tasked with that chamber’s budget-writing duties. Mishler was the ranking member of that group for years and worked on the school funding formula component of the budget.

Senator Travis Holdman (R-Markle), who takes over for Hershman as chair of the Senate Tax and Fiscal Policy Committee, has been the long-time ranking member there and often assumed the chairman’s role during meetings. Holdman is well versed in the matters that come before the committee and the business community will continue to be well served by his thoughtful viewpoints.

To take that post, Holdman relinquished his leadership on the Senate Insurance and Financial Institutions Committee. The “next man up” there is Sen. Chip Perfect (R-Lawrenceburg), who is a no-nonsense and intelligent legislator. He has been extremely helpful on labor issues and owns several businesses himself, so he knows the difficulties that businesses face. That perspective will likely also factor into how he handles the health insurance bills, which are now being assigned to his committee.

Nominations Open for School-Business Partnership Award

The Indiana Chamber Foundation is accepting nominations for its second annual School Counseling-Business Partnership of the Year award, highlighting the collaborative efforts between employers and educators to better prepare students for college and careers.

The award, presented in partnership with the Indiana Department of Workforce Development, is open to all Indiana high schools and employers (must be located in Indiana). Nomination letters must include the name of the high school and employer and describe how the partnership has led to better preparation of students for college and career success.

In addition, a $1,000 scholarship will be given to a high school senior who has shown exceptional progress in college and career readiness because of the school counseling-business partnership.

The 2017 inaugural award was presented to Hobart High School and St. Mary’s Medical Center. Read more about that partnership here. The winning partnership will be announced at the 12th annual Indiana INTERNnet IMPACT Awards luncheon on February 7.

Nominations should be submitted to Shelley Huffman at shuffman@indianachamber.com by Friday, January 12.

partnership

Chamber Talks Workforce Needs, Impact of Opioid Addiction as 2018 Legislative Session Begins

As the 2018 General Assembly gets underway, the Indiana Chamber is highlighting three big issues expected to be debated in the coming days and weeks: workforce needs, the opioid crisis and smoking rates.

Indiana Chamber President and CEO Kevin Brinegar says, “We’ve done so well recently from an employment standpoint that we’ve almost outstripped our ability to hire skilled workers since unemployment is so low in the state.

“It’s clear we need to raise up the skills of those who are here, but the Indiana Chamber is also suggesting that perhaps we need to pursue a parallel strategy of recruiting people from out of state. Talent is more mobile than ever before and once people gethere, they really appreciate our cost of living.”

But make no mistake, Brinegar stresses, the state’s priority should be on the potential talent pool at home. That means some major changes will need to occur – ones that hopefully start in the new legislative session.
“What we’ve been doing wrong is saying, ‘Here is our program, you come use it and we hope that it will solve your needs.’ Instead, there should be a conscious effort to truly listen to employers and then develop training programs that are demand-driven to what the needs of the marketplace are now.”

Many of those jobs today and down the road are in the middle skills area – skills that require more than a high school diploma but less than a four-year bachelor’s degree. Brinegar states this should be a focus for both Hoosier workers who need to improve their skillset and young students.

“We know from our member companies that they are reaching down to high schools and even middle schools to explore with students what job opportunities there are with their companies, what skills they need to have, what classes they need to take in high school to be eligible to take those jobs. It’s becoming a lot more focused on getting people ready with some specificity for jobs after high school.

“There will always be the need for a number of jobs requiring a four-year degree or more, but the real growth is in show me what you know, show me what you can do, show me what machinery you can operate. That’s the mindset we need to have to transform some of these government silos … along with listening to employers and creating programs that communicate to young people what those job needs are.”

Additionally, the Indiana Chamber is partnering with the Governor’s office and the state’s drug czar, Jim McClelland, to be the source for the business component of the state’s plan to combat the opioid crisis.

“We will be researching on best practices, disseminating information to employers and putting on training programs. I’ve told the Governor’s office that we want to be part of the effort and part of the solution. It’s a big problem and it’s not going to be solved overnight, but this has become an employer problem in addition to a personal and societal problem,” Brinegar offers.

“We’ve rapidly gotten to the point to where employers almost can’t fire somebody for failing a drug test because there isn’t the depth in the workforce to tap into for new workers. Employers are looking for guidance. They want more information on what they can do, how they can train supervisors to recognize signs and know where the effective treatment programs are.”

The Indiana Chamber, a founding member of the Alliance for a Healthier Indiana, would like the same urgency placed on reducing the state’s smoking rates.

“There are 10 times more people dying from smoking-related illnesses every year than opioids. And it’s the most preventable source of disease,” Brinegar notes.

“We need to improve our health metrics, including obesity, which are in the bottom third of the states. I rarely accept average for anything, but if Indiana rose to be just average when it comes to smoking, that would significantly curb health issues and save those individuals and businesses a lot of money on insurance coverage and health care costs.”

Indiana’s current smoking rate is at 21% of the population; the national average is 15%.

Enhanced workforce efforts and reducing the state’s smoking rates are among the Indiana Chamber’s Top 9 legislative priorities for 2018. The full list is available at www.indianachamber.com/priorities.

America’s Changing Shopping Habits

It’s not unusual these days to hear of major retail chains filing for bankruptcy or selling off assets and closing shop. But the pace those announcements are hitting the media is staggering.

An ongoing trend, and one that directly relates to the decline of brick-and-mortar retail, is the decline of shopping malls.

Though the malls might still be crowded places during holidays and busy shopping seasons, the Wall Street Journal has an fascinating graphic that shows the various companies that have vanished from malls (or existence) over the years and how the continued loss of stores inside of malls has contributed to what are more like skeletons than malls today.

It’s not all bad news. Some mall properties have been repurposed for other uses. BizVoice® magazine in 2013 looked at new uses for empty malls.

But don’t place all the blame on online shopping. This Forbes article from September asserts that, contrary to what you might think, there will be more store openings than closings this year and more due to changing consumer habits (not just online shopping).

More people seek discount and convenience, as well as experiences (food, travel, etc.) over physical items, than before. From the Forbes article:

Consumers haven’t gone into hiding and they’re not spending less. They’re spending more and there are more new stores — but tastes have changed. One of the most important things about these changes is that they are happening faster than ever before. There’s lots of reasons for that and plenty to debate about it but there’s no way to avoid the constant adaptation that’s now required. Organizations now need to be able to process new ideas at a rate that’s faster and more efficient than ever before. If you’re a legacy retailer of any kind, it’s hard to change quickly enough and that creates an opening for more nimble competitors. It’s not enough just to have something new, it has to keep evolving. That’s a challenge both for younger companies as well as the established players and it will be for the foreseeable future.

Ten Cybersecurity Predictions for 2018

In looking back at 2017, one of the enduring outcomes is that cybersecurity cemented its place in the national conversation.

cyberattack under scrutiny

Though there were a number of major cyber breaches or hacks in the past year, the most far-reaching and potentially devastating was from Equifax. Yahoo Finance reports that over 145 million people were impacted, with stolen data ranging from contact information to Social Security numbers.

The breaches impact consumers as well as businesses, which can face dire consequences if not adequately prepared for such attacks. BizVoice magazine looked at cybersecurity concerns and efforts in two recent editions (find those stories here and here). We interviewed Nathan Stallings of Matrix Integration for one of those stories; the technology infrastructure and advisory company assists its clients in preparing for and preventing such attacks.

Stallings shares his “Top 10” cybersecurity predictions for 2018:

  1. Resources (people and money) for preventative and proactive measures will continue to shift from the network perimeter to within the network. Network Access Control (NAC), network segmentation, and Security Information and Event Management (SIEM) products and/or services will be the top three solutions for most organizations.
  2. Cloud security will become even more important as workloads transition to the cloud, whether public, private, or hybrid. The challenge will continue to be defining the security responsibilities of the cloud provider versus the organization.
  3. Companies will begin to shift their cybersecurity strategy from “prevent and protect” to “detect and recover”. I believe that there is a risk of moving too far away from “prevent and protect” which, in turn, will make “detect and respond” exponentially more difficult. The best strategy is a well-designed combination of the two approaches.
  4. Ransomware will be significantly worse. Variations of WannaCry and NotPetya along with Ransomware as a Service (RaaS) will result in at least a doubling of the number of ransomware incidents from 2017. The cost of ransomware damages globally will likely exceed $5 billion in 2017 and will be substantially higher in 2018. There were approximately 4 million ransomware attacks in 2015, 638 million in 2016, and the estimate for 2017 is a 250% increase. The number for 2018 will be well over 2 billion attacks. Organizations should focus on prevention methods like security awareness training, detection methods like managed security services, and recovery. Recovery may well be the most important and relies heavily on the ability to fully eradicate the ransomware and having a sound data back-up strategy.  
  5. Security awareness training of staff and contractors will become increasingly important as hackers turn away from direct attacks on network infrastructure and web applications and target the end-users with sophisticated “phishing” techniques.
  6. Significant attacks on Internet of Things and personal assistant/artificial intelligence will increase dramatically.
  7. The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) Cybersecurity Framework (CSF) will continue to gain widespread acceptance and adoption because it is designed to complement, not replace, an institution’s risk management process and cybersecurity programs.
  8. More PCI compliance audits for credit card transactions as the PCI DSS compliance requirements become even more stringent.
  9. Additional high-profile breaches as large organizations continue to fail at the fundamentals of cybersecurity.
  10. Large healthcare organizations will continue to struggle to balance patient care, the needs of physicians and other medical personnel to quickly access critical information, and patient privacy with cybersecurity fundamentals. 

If your company isn’t prepared to stop a cyberattack, is it prepared to recover from one? An old saying seems applicable for this new challenge: “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”

Tech Talk: Life After Unicorns

Editor’s note: Author Christian Beck is principal design partner at Innovatemap. This is excerpted from a more extensive post on “5 Trends Transforming the World of Venture Capital.” 

As a designer with no formal business training, I could be the last person qualified to write about the world of venture capital (VC). However, over the last several years of working with dozens of start-ups seeking seed funding and scale-ups pitching for Series A, I’ve taken it upon myself to learn the language.

To learn more about investing, I highly recommend Neil Murray’s newsletter, Series F. But for those start-ups trying to get a handle on macro-level trends in the world of VC, I am going to share how I see it from an outsider’s perspective.

One helpful piece of context is that my VC education is driven largely by witnessing first-hand how these firms work in the Midwest, contrasting with what I read from the SF-area firms. As with most things tech, Silicon Valley is the most mature market and often provides a glimpse of the future for other emerging markets. It’s also true that emerging markets can learn from the missteps of those pioneers and chart different paths.

I’ve been following a few trends in venture capital that I think are exciting and possibly transformative. One of those is zebras.

“Zebra” is a term created to contrast the unicorn, which has typically referred to companies valued at $1 billion or more. Zebras represent companies that are profitable, sustainable, and beneficial to society. As I’ve been digging into this trend, I can see the need to insert a new metaphor in the start-up world.

zebra

Unicorns are being chased at all costs, and it’s had a negative effect on entrepreneurs. What may start as an idealistic passion to change the world can easily get bastardized into chasing user acquisition, monthly recurring revenue (MRR) and hockey stick growth … at any cost.

At the heart of this is the notion that VC firms are chasing 10x returns. I’m no financial analyst, but that seems a bit like overkill. You might want to be Lebron, but if you could settle with playing in the NBA, you’d probably be just as happy.

And that’s what is really behind the Zebra trend: a reality check that every start-up doesn’t need to be a unicorn. Indie.vc proves this with a long list of companies they fund and other companies that have scaled based on revenue rather than funding (also note how simple their own web site is: the zebra mentality is carried through top to bottom).

It’s not that becoming a unicorn is inherently bad, but the mentality to get there can create a series of bad decisions that lead to failed products like the Juicero – a SaaS-based juice start-up – when simply making a better juicer would’ve been sufficient.

What it means for the Midwest

The Zebra trend is particularly relatable to Midwest tech hubs that are trying to evolve older industries like agriculture and manufacturing. Creating unicorns is less attractive than creating strong companies with the goal of establishing a healthy local economy. Pumping start-ups with cash in hopes of a 10x return may be fun in the short-term, but it doesn’t provide long-term stability and healthy growth.

Ultimately, tech products should solve problems, but businesses should help local economies. Nowhere is this more pronounced than the Rust Belt. Here, it’s less important to roll the dice on unicorns and more important to establish strong companies that strengthen local economies. As the Rust Belt continues to emerge as a key player in the tech industry, this trend will become the norm.

Takeaways for start-ups

Focus on jobs over profits: Maybe it’s just the Heartland in me, but I tend to believe that while tech companies can service customers around the world, they can still have a local impact. The Fortune 500 is full of companies that grew slowly, created long-term value for investors and provided amazing places to work. Tech doesn’t need to be different. SaaS products can still grow by focusing on employees as much as they do their profits.

Set realistic revenue targets: The path to healthy growth starts with realistic targets. Given enough time and creativity, every start-up can plot a path to unicorn-land and often VC’s may feel the same way. But setting realistic expectations early on will lead to better product decisions down the road. Ultimately, you may find that early on you might have more revenue-based growth opportunity than you realize and wait to take on more investment (if at all).