Most workers surveyed visualize their organization as either a ladder structure or a pyramid, and the quality of relationships in pyramid-structured workplaces is higher than in ladder-structured workplaces. Photo via Pexels

It's a paradox of power: research shows that hierarchies often undermine the very structures they are designed to uphold. Within organizations, conflicts between members can erode entire systems. In a groundbreaking paper, Rice Business Professor Siyu Yu shows that even visual perceptions of the hierarchy can influence its success.

In the first study of its kind, Yu joined a team of colleagues to explore how humans visualize the hierarchies to which they belong – and how that thought process influences group processes and outcomes.

The researchers found that most of the people they studied thought of hierarchies in terms of pyramids or ladders (a tiny minority visualized them as circles or squares). In a ladder hierarchy or stratified structure, each member occupies a particular rung. A pyramid hierarchy is more centralized, with one person at the top and multiple people on the lower levels. Think of corporate giant CISCO, a typical pyramid, versus a mid-size dry cleaning business, with the owner at the top and one person on each rung below, down to the entry-level cashier.

These are far more than fanciful images, the researchers argued. Psychological research has long shown that individuals think, feel and act in response to mental representations of their environment. Intuitively, the link between perception and behavior has been articulated as far back as biblical times: "As a man thinketh, so is he" – or, for that matter, she or they.

To better understand the practical effects of these visualizations, Yu's team conducted five studies with 2,951 people and 221 workplace groups. They chose from nationwide pools monitored by West and East Coast American universities. The studies took place in the United States and the Netherlands and included multiple ethnicities, men and women, and income groups ranging from college students to seasoned professionals earning upwards of $90,000 annually.

In the first study, the team asked participants to indicate the shape that best reflected how they thought about hierarchies: pyramid, ladder, circle or square. In the second study, the researchers measured social relationship quality within different groups: participants were asked to rate their answers to questions such as, "Are your needs met at work? Do you feel socially supported?" In the third study, the researchers focused on professional workgroups, measuring relationship quality, group performance and the likelihood that individuals compare themselves to others in the group.

Subjects who perceived their working group as a ladder, the researchers found, were more likely to compare their rank and station with others. Their relationships were also weaker: when asked whether they trusted their team members, most subjects disagreed or strongly disagreed. When asked whether they thought about if they were better or worse than their colleagues, they agreed and strongly agreed. These comparisons and lack of trust indirectly correlated with lower performance levels, the research showed.

Perceiving one's organization as a ladder structure, Yu's team argued, undermines group members' relationships with each other and hinders collective performance. In contrast, participants who visualized the same company as pyramids rated radically higher on all three quality measures.

Interestingly, the impact of these visualizations is similar, whether the visualizations reflect an actual company structure or simply an individual's perception of that structure. "It can be created by both perception and actual rank, for example, job titles," Yu said in an interview. "So, as a practical implication, companies should think about ways to reduce the ladder system, such as with a promotion system that seems more like a pyramid, or by creating the mutual belief that upward mobility within the company is not a ladder or zero-sum."

Managers, in other words, need to pay close attention to how subordinates see their workplace. Even if your firm is structured as a pyramid, your team members could perceive it to be a ladder – with a cut-throat climb to the top. For the sake of both work performance and quality of life, Yu said, managers, human resources directors and C-suite members should do their best to discern how their workers visualize the company – and, if the paradigm is a ladder, work hard to reduce the workplace vertigo that goes with it.

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This article originally ran on Rice Business Wisdom and is based on research from Siyu Yu, an assistant professor of management and organizational behavior at the Jones Graduate School of Business Rice University.

A Rice Business Professor shows how tailored, personalized health care marketing works better to convince at-risk patients to get screening for liver cancer. Photo via Getty Images

Research: Rice professor reports on the impact of personalized health care marketing

Houston voices

Amazon is famous for targeted marketing that approaches customers based on their unique needs. Like other successful businesses, such as Netflix, the company taps into machine learning, which uses customer data to understand their behavior.

Hospitals and medical centers rely on marketing too, investing heavily in direct-to-patient outreach to urge at-risk people to get regular screenings. Johns Hopkins Hospital's cancer center, for example, uses emails, letters, seminars and community events to encourage patients to get screened for potential cancer. The high cost of cancer treatment makes this effort worth it: research shows regular screenings help with early detection, leading to more cost-effective treatments and better prognoses.

But hospitals can – and must – improve their outcomes much more, by melding this essential outreach with individually tailored communications based on machine-learning insights.

In an award-winning paper, Rice Business Professor Vikas Mittal and colleagues developed new algorithms indicating that targeted, personalized outreach can increase screenings among at-risk patients. "Outreach marketing" – including sending informational letters and talking to patients about potential barriers to screening – was indeed a powerful motivator for patients to get screened, ultimately lowering health care costs for patient and hospital. But patients with different characteristics, Mittal's team found, responded differently to marketing interventions. When it came to marketing campaigns for cancer screening prevention, one-size-fits-all outreach efforts were neither effective nor economical. Personalized marketing works better for preventing cancer.

To conduct their research, the researchers randomly divided 1,800 patients at UT Southwestern Medical System at risk for hepatocellular carcinoma – the most common type of primary liver cancer – into three groups – usual care, outreach alone, and patient navigation, which includes help such as follow-up calls, motivational messages and assistance spotting specific barriers. They followed each group to see if patients scheduled an MRI or CT scan within six months, from 6-12 months and from 12-18 months.

The first group was asked to receive a screening during their doctors' visits and wasn't contacted after that. The second group received a one-page letter in the mail, then staff called patients who didn't schedule a screening. The third group receiving patient navigation got the same treatment as the second group supplemented with phone calls designed to identify potential barriers, which they used to give customized motivational messages encourage coming in for a screening.

The researchers used patient data from medical records, including patients' age, gender, ethnicity, income, commute time, health status, how often they received healthcare services, whether or not they had insurance and how populated their neighborhoods were.

Following traditional methods, Mittal's team found that the patients who got a letter and call were 10-20% more likely to complete a screening, while those who got the customized motivational messages were 13-24% more likely to schedule their screening. But this is where traditional medical research stops, without asking a crucial question: Within each group, such as those of the 600 patients receiving patient navigation, could screening rates differ based on patients' individual characteristics?

In past research, everyone receiving the same stimulus is presumed to respond the same way. There was no statistical technique to separately estimate the responsiveness of patients with different characteristics. Mittal's team solved this problem by using a machine learning technique called causal forests.

By using "causal forests" to quantify how each of the three marketing approaches could be applied to different patients, Mittal's team found, improved returns on the traditional approach by a remarkable 74-96% – or by $1.6 million to $2 million.

Using traditional methods, physicians would have concluded that every patient should get patient navigation because it was a more intensive marketing approach. The causal forest method showed otherwise: there are small groups of patients with unique characteristics who respond best to specific types of overtures. Minority women in good health who had insurance, visited the doctor often and lived close to clinics in more populated neighborhoods responded especially well to all three types of outreach interventions. Younger patients with long commutes who live in neighborhoods with more public insurance coverage embraced the second type of intervention, outreach alone. And older patients in higher-income neighborhoods favored the patient-navigation approach.

The stakes for common marketing practices like "AB testing" could not be higher. In AB testing, marketers run randomized experiments such as showing ads to some people and not to others. If those seeing an ad, on average, buy more, the conclusion is to blanket the market with ads. But AB testing ignores the fundamental idea that customers exposed to an ad might buy differently in response to an ad based on their individual characteristics. In fact, research shows, many customers seeing a non-tailored ad will buy less than those not seeing an ad.

Personalized marketing can uncover these differences and substantially increase the return on marketing investments in many settings such as retail and ecommerce, services marketing, business-to-business marketing and brand management. Healthcare companies should consider dedicating more resources to machine learning, which can power data-driven patient-centric outreach programs. Because individual health is a civic good, policy makers and organizations need to support these personalized outreach programs.

As for patients themselves, giving detailed personal data to a doctor or receiving highly personalized, unsolicited phone calls legitimately can seem like an invasion of privacy. But Mittal's research shows, it measurably has the potential to save your life.

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This article originally ran on Rice Business Wisdom and is based on research from Vikas Mittal, the J. Hugh Liedtke Professor of Marketing at the Jones Graduate School of Business.

When access to a location is the difference between financial success and failure, cooperation from the community might be the right move to prevent costly conflicts. Pexels

Rice University research: Collaboration with the community can be key to success

houston voices

In Pittsburgh, a coalition of 100 community groups brokered a deal with developers of the Pittsburgh Penguins ice hockey team for $8.3 million in neighborhood improvements. In Oakland, California, developers of an $800 million high-tech complex promised local residents 50 percent of its construction jobs. And in Chicago, the Obama Presidential Center is working with residents to shield them from skyrocketing rents.

Community Benefits Agreements, or CBAS, as these agreements are called, are increasingly common between businesses and the places where they want to set up shop. But are they worth the money? To find out, Rice Business professor Kate Odziemkowska joined Sinziana Dorobantu of New York University to analyze market reactions to 148 CBA announcements between indigenous communities and mining firms in Canada. The financial value of these agreements, the researchers found, was real.

While it's easy to imagine that CBAs are just costly giveaways, they're more than goodwill gestures. Instead, they are legally enforceable contracts to distribute benefits from a new project and to govern the response to any potential social and environmental disruptions. For businesses, the researchers found, they are also good strategy, because they prevent costly, drawn-out conflict.

To conduct their research, Odziemkowska and Dorobantu analyzed a sample of 148 legally binding CBAs signed in Canada between mining firms and indigenous communities between 1999 and 2013. In Canada, mining companies and indigenous communities often hammer out agreements about extraction and use of local resources. Studying only the mining sector let the researches control for the economic variations that characterize different industries.

Since CBA negotiations cannot be disclosed, the announcement of such agreements represents new market information. To conduct their study, the researchers tracked the market reaction to these announcements, using a technique that measured short-term returns.

Creating CBAs from the start, they found, can head off catastrophic costs later. That's because even when a company has disproportionate economic strength, the public relations, legal and economic costs of community conflict can be draining. Consider the 1,900-kilometer Dakota Access oil pipeline, whose developers faced six months of round-the-clock protests that included nearly 15,000 volunteers from around the world. The drumbeat of litigation and negative news coverage still continues today.

In general, the researchers found, the more experience a community has with protests or blockades, the more firms gained from signing a CBA. Property rights protections also provide strong incentive for making a deal. Mining companies, for example, need access to land to do business. Communities with robust property rights to the resource or location sought by the firm have strong standing to stop that firm if they don't make a deal.

Because access to valuable resources like land or intellectual property can mean the difference between financial success or failure, Odziemkowska and Dorobantu said, the lesson from their findings extends far beyond Canadian mines. It's a lesson Disney learned the hard way when it failed to acknowledge the culture of Norway's Sami people in "Frozen." Assailed for cultural appropriation by using, but not crediting, traditional Sami music, Disney quickly made amends. After negotiating with the Sami people, Disney pledged to consult with them and portray them thoughtfully in the film's sequel.

The deal may have cost Disney on the front end, but it was nothing compared to the advantage of freezing out years of bad press.

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This story originally ran on Rice Business Wisdom. It's based on research by Kate Odziemkowska, an assistant professor of Strategic Management at Rice University's Jones Graduate School of Business.

By accounting for both known and unknowable factors, managers can identify salespeople with traits that work best in different types of sales. Getty Images

Rice University research uses data to spot your best sales team members

Houston Voices

When you're a manager, decisions barrage you each day. What product works? Which store layout entices? How will you balance the budget? Many of these decisions ultimately hinge on one factor: the skills of your sales force.

Often, when managers evaluate their salespeople they contend with invisible factors that may not show up in commissions or name-tagged sales rosters — intangibles such as product placement, season or simply a store's surrounding population. This makes it hard to fully evaluate a salesperson, or to spot which workers can teach valuable skills to their peers and improve the whole team.

But what if you could plug a few variables into a statistical model to spot your best sellers? You could then ask the star salespeople to teach coworkers some of their secrets. New research by Rice Business professor Wagner A. Kamakura and colleague Danny P. Claro of Brazil's Insper Education and Research Institute offers a technique for doing this. Blending statistical methods that incorporate both known and unknown factors, Kamakura and Claro developed a practical tool that, for the first time, allows managers to identify staffers with key hidden skills.

To test their model, the researchers analyzed store data from 35 cosmetic and healthcare retail franchises in four South American markets. These particular stores were ideal to test the model because their salespeople were individually responsible for each transaction from the moment a customer entered a store to the time of purchase. The salespeople were also required to have detailed knowledge of products throughout each store.

Breaking down the product lines into 11 specific categories, and accounting for predictors such as commission, product display, time of year and market potential, Kamakura and Claro documented and compared each salesperson's performance across products and over time.

They then organized members of the salesforce by strengths and weaknesses, spotlighting those workers who used best practices in a certain area and those who might benefit from that savvy. The resulting insight allowed managers to name team members as either growth advisors or learners. Thanks to the model's detail, Kamakura and Claro note, managers can spot a salesperson who excels in one category but has room to learn, rather than seeing that worker averaged into a single, middle-of-the-pack ranking.

If a salesperson is, for example, a sales savant but lags in customer service, managers can use that insight to help the worker improve individually, while at the same time strategizing for the store's overall success. Put into practice, the model also allows managers to identify team members who excel at selling one specific product category — and encourage them to share their secrets and methods with coworkers.

It might seem that teaching one employee to sell one more set of earbuds or one more lawn chair makes little difference. But applied consistently over time, such personalized product-specific improvement can change the face of a salesforce — and in the end, a whole business. A good manager uses all the tools available. Kamakura and Claro's model makes it possible for every employee on a sales team to be a potential coach for the rest.

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This story originally ran on Rice Business Wisdom.

Based on research from Wagner A. Kamakura, the Jesse H. Jones Professor of Marketing at Jones Graduate School of Business at Rice University.

Rice University will launch online classes next week for small business leaders planning their recovery. Courtesy of Rice University

Rice University launches online programming for entrepreneurs dealing with COVID-19 closures

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Houston small businesses and startups have a long road of recovery ahead of them, and Rice University and some of its partners want to help local entrepreneurs prepare for it.

Rice University's Susanne M. Glasscock School of Continuing Studies has partnered with the Ion — along with the Center for Houston's Future and Rice Alliance for Technology and Entrepreneurship — to launch the Back In Business Initiative. The program will begin with three courses in the week of April 20 to 24. The three courses are:

"Glasscock's mission has always been to provide education to the residents of Houston," says Robert Bruce, dean of the Glasscock School, in a news release. "We specialize in providing responsive, practical information that will help our constituents when and how they need it most. To assist our struggling Houston small business community during this crisis, we created this trilogy of courses to help analyze their current situation, use creative problem-solving and provide meaningful communications to help them weather this situation."

More classes will be added as needed. The classes have a $25 registration fee, and anyone can enroll online.

"Today's health crisis may have changed many aspects of our daily lives, but it has not affected our commitment to providing the right tools and education to help our community succeed," says Jan Odegard, senior director of academic and industry partnerships at the Ion, in the release. "We all have a role to play in meeting the challenge of COVID-19 and we are excited to be partnering with the Glasscock School of Continuing Studies to support Houston small businesses in this time of uncertainty."

The university also touts OpenRICE as a resource for businesses. The online education platform is available to the Houston community for free. Rice also has a 20 percent discount for all professional studies courses and programs enrollment — with the ability to postpone for up to a year without a fee. This deal runs through April 30.

While everyone always looks to Silicon Valley as the model of the ideal startup ecosystem, Houston is forging its own path. Getty Images

Houston isn't Silicon Valley — and that's a good thing, according to these experts

Houston Voices

As WeWork's fall from grace continues to dominate the headlines and we monitor the slew of layoffs and dipping share prices afflicting this year's Silicon Valley darlings, we reflect on Houston's own startup ecosystem. How are Houston startups and investors similar to and different from Silicon Valley early-stage deals? What are the drivers and factors that may be unique to Houston and how do they influence outcomes?

Jamie Jones, executive director of Lilie, sat down with early stage investor and Rice Business alum, Dougal Cameron of Golden Section Technology Venture Capital (GSTVC), to discuss the Houston startup and funding ecosystem. From that discussion, a number of key features emerged:

From Cameron's experience, Houston investors have historically focused on unit economics and profitability, in addition to top line growth, as their key performance measures. As an enterprise software investor, he notes that an indicator of a healthy venture that warrants early stage investment is one where profitability can be achieved as the venture reaches the $1 million revenue mark. Cameron, like other early stage investors in Houston, are interested in ventures that produce sustainable growth not only growth for growth's sake.

While early stage investment capital in Houston does flow, it does not do so at the same check sizes and the same velocity that you may see in Silicon Valley. Analysis of Pitchbook data indicates that Houston firms raised $28.1M in seed and early-stage funding in Q3 2019 versus $2.86B for Silicon Valley based ventures. The belief is that the density of the capital network in Silicon Valley means that if you get one $500,000 check then you will very likely to get others. Cameron noted that he believes the effects of loss aversion are on full display — no firm wants to be the one that passes on the next Google.

However, in Houston, entrepreneurs must be scrappy to pull together funding and ensuring they hit milestones along the way in order to drive scarcer investment into their ventures. From Cameron's perspective, Houston entrepreneurs own their cash balance and strive to keep their overhead low by working out of cheaper spaces, leveraging friends and family to contribute to the venture in its early days, etc.

With fewer investment dollars flowing in Houston, the use of Simple Agreements for Future Equity (SAFEs), which are common in Silicon Valley, are rarely used in Houston. Why? Cameron believes that using unpriced and loosely binding agreements may work in an ecosystem where startups are pushed for rapid top-line growth and may be burning through tens-of-thousands of dollars per month and will need to raise capital quickly, which will drive a pricing event. However, in Houston, investors may prefer arrangements that provide some downside risk.

Examples include convertible notes that include a lien on assets, which would be virtually unheard of in Silicon Valley, or through priced fundraising rounds. Without broad and deep capital networks and the pressure of rapid top-line growth, near term pricing events are not guaranteed, pushing Houston investors to prefer other deal structures.

While everyone agrees that Houston and the robust startup ecosystem that is growing across the city needs more cash to catalyze growth, Cameron firmly believes that new capital coming into the city must be the right type of capital. Capital that will not negatively distort the ecosystem by driving early-stage entrepreneurs to strive for top-line growth that is not sustainable through a profitable business model. This type of capital will not offer exorbitantly-sized seed rounds removing the entrepreneur's need to be scrappy and cost conscious.

We must understand that many Houston entrepreneurs seek to build businesses that have lasting impact and are not only "growing to close," the model Silicon Valley seems to have embraced over the past 7 to 10 years. Cameron is nervous that first big checks that come from outside Houston will push unprofitable businesses forward and will sour the market for local investors that are starting to engage in startup-investing.

While everyone always looks to Silicon Valley as the model of the ideal startup ecosystem, Houston may offer a look into the model of the future — one that is focused on building durable, profitable businesses by right-sizing growth over the venture's life-cycle. For Houston-based entrepreneurs, this means the opportunity to access capital that emphasizes sustainable, smart growth.

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Jamie Jones, executive director of the Liu Idea Lab for Innovation & Entrepreneurship at Rice University, and Dougal Cameron, managing director of Gold Section Technology Ventures and 2013 Rice Business alum, wrote this article for LILIE.

This article originally appeared on Liu Idea Lab for Innovation & Entrepreneurship's blog.

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Houston energy blockchain company announces $7.7M in funding, plans to expand to the Middle East

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A Houston-based tech company has announced another round of funding to support its blockchain network growth as well as to establish a presence in the Middle East.

Data Gumbo has closed its series B funding round totaling $7.7 million with follow-on investments led by Equinor Ventures. The round includes participation from Saudi Aramco Energy Ventures and Bay Area and Houston-based venture firm L37. The round's first close was announced in September 2020 at $4 million. The additional funds to close the Series B will be used to scale Data Gumbo to serve demand for GumboNet™ and GumboNet™ ESG. Additionally, Data Gumbo plans to establish a presence in the Middle East to cover expected demand growth in the region.

"The successful close of our series B is continued proof of the efficacy and booming interest in our ability to capture critical cost savings, deliver trust and provide transparency across commercial relationships," says Andrew Bruce, founder and CEO of Data Gumbo, in a news release. "Compounded by the growing demand for transparent, accurate sustainability data and the launch of our automated ESG measurement solution, GumboNet™ ESG, Data Gumbo's trajectory is well-positioned to serve our growing customer base by ensuring economic productivity and value. This infusion of capital will support our expansion efforts as we bring more international users to our network."

With this latest raise, Data Gumbo's total funding raised to date is $18.4 million.

"Data Gumbo's success is marked by a wide variety of business use cases and opportunities for expansion," says Bruce Niven, chief investment officer at Aramco Ventures, in the release. "Our continued investment is a testament to our continued support as the company attracts new customers, experiences further demand for its network and gains traction in new markets."

The company's technology features smart contract automation and execution, which reduces contract leakage, frees up working capital, enables real-time cash and financial management, and delivers provenance with unprecedented speed, accuracy, visibility and transparency, per the release.

"Data Gumbo is the market leader for smart contracts backed by blockchain, and the coming year will be a period of exponential growth for the company as they penetrate new industrial markets," says Kemal Farid, partner at L37, in the release. "We believe strongly that GumboNet will become the de facto network for smart contracts across industries for capturing value and solving enormous pain points in contractual relations. Additionally, as companies move to meet increasing sustainability measurement demands and ESG improvements, there is a huge growth path available for Data Gumbo with the launch of GumboNet ESG."

Earlier this year, the company announced its environmental, social and corporate governance tracking and reporting tool.

"Equinor's recent pilot at the Johan Sverdrup field has demonstrated that GumboNet can create strong value for the partnership," says Gareth Burns, head of Equinor Ventures, in the release. "Our follow-on investment confirms Equinor Ventures' confidence in Data Gumbo's solution for our company and the broader energy industry."

3 Houston startups announce strategic appointments across health tech, materials, and software

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Three Houston tech startups have new hires they're excited about this summer. From new board members to c-level execs, here's who's moving and shaking in Houston innovation.

Former Memorial Hermann CEO joins board of ZIBRIO

This Houston medical device startup has added a big name to its board. Photo courtesy of ZIBRIO

Dan Wolterman, who served as president and CEO of Memorial Hermann Health System for 15 years, has been named to the board of directors of Houston-based ZIBRIO. The health tech company, which was founded based on NASA technology, has developed a device that measures balance.

"We're delighted to have Dan on the team," says Katharine Forth, ZIBRIO CEO and co-founder, in a news release. "He understands ZIBRIO's vision to work across the full continuum of care, empowering older patients and clinicians with quantifiable fall prevention. His experience and enthusiasm will be invaluable in helping us to achieve it."

Falling is the top cause of trauma injury and trauma death across all age groups, according to ZIBRIO's release, and the current cost of falls in people over 65 is $50 billion – which is expected to double.

"ZIBRIO is coming to market at a time when population health and prevention are key for Healthcare systems to generate outcomes. They have a strong team and an elegant solution to a complex problem that will help millions," Wolterman says in the release.

Inhance adds to its C-suite

Inhance Technologies has added an integral member to its leadership. Photo via inhancetechnologies.com

Inhance Technologies, an international provider of polymer material science solutions based in Houston, has named its new CFO. Andrew Leeser, previously at Cimarron Energy, has joined the company to lead global finance, accounting and treasury functions, as well as human resources and information technology.

"I'm delighted to welcome Andrew to the Inhance Technologies family. He has an excellent track record in organizations spanning a range of industries, and I'm sure that his experience will help us continue on our upward trajectory," says Andrew Thompson, president and CEO of Inhance Technologies, in a news release. "We look forward to working with him to build a bright future for the company and our customers as we help them make a conscious choice towards more sustainable plastics."

The company just recently announced its expansion, including another new C-level exec and a new 75,000-square-foot site in St. Louis.

"I'm very pleased to have joined Inhance Technologies and I look forward to helping the organization achieve its goals over the next few years. With the significant growth in demand for our fully recyclable barrier technology Enkaseä, as well as our global expansion, there is no doubt I'm joining the company at an exciting time," says Leeser in the release.

Houston fintech unicorn names new council

Meet the new council dedicated to supporting HighRadius's new platform. Photo via LinkedIn

HighRadius, a Houston-based fintech company that reached unicorn status last year, has announced the members of its advisory council for its new microlearning and community platform Highako Academy.

Bob Shultz, managing partner of Quote-to-Cash Consulting, will serve as chairman of the council.

Other council members include:

  • John LaRocca, Sr. Director of Global Credit, Hitachi Vantara
  • Roger Torneden, Director of Business, Management and Legal Programs for UCLA Extension
  • R. Britt Hastey, Chair, Business Administration Department, Los Angeles City College
  • Bruce Lynn, Managing Partner, the FENG LLC
  • Scott Blakeley, Partner, Blakeley LLP

The council "will identify and improve courseware, certification programs and the methods of delivery based on current and future industry and professional trends," according to an email from the company. Highako Academy is aimed at helping teams and customers develop critical industry skills.

"Our customers have asked us for an online self-service learning platform, and that led us to launch highako.com as a beta platform last year," says Urvish Vashi of HighRadius in a recent release. "With 10,000+ users on the platform and a vibrant partner ecosystem consisting of credit groups, collection agencies, attorneys and industry associations, we see this echoing a larger trend of millennials and Gen Z gravitating towards microlearning platforms."

Expert: How to ensure your tech is ready for a hurricane in Houston

Guest column

Houstonians are no strangers to hurricanes. We've already seen some activity this summer, and we still have a few months to go. Although we can't prevent every negative situation when it comes to weather, AT&T has picked up a few tried and true tips that can help you stay safe prepared during this hurricane season.

Tips to plan ahead:

  • Save your smartphone's battery life. In case of a power outage, extend your device's battery life by putting it in power-save mode, turning off Bluetooth and Wi-Fi, deleting apps, or putting your phone in Airplane Mode. This may prevent you from using certain features but will ultimately save battery power.
  • Keep your mobile devices charged. Be sure to have another way to charge your smartphone if the power goes out. One option might be using your car's USB port or a USB car charger.
  • Keep your mobile devices dry. Mobile phones can be a critical lifeline during a storm. To protect yours, store it in a water-resistant case, floating waterproof case, or plastic bag. A car charger or back-up battery pack can come in handy. If you have multiple devices to keep charged, consider a multi-port back-up battery pack.
  • Back up important information and protect vital documents. Consistently back up insurance papers, medical information and the like to the Cloud or your computer. With cloud storage, you can access your data from any connected device.
  • Have a family communications plan. Choose someone out of the area as a central contact in case your family is separated. Most importantly, practice your emergency plan in advance.
  • Store emergency contacts in your mobile phone. Numbers should include the police department, fire station, hospital, and family members.
  • Forward your home number to your mobile number in the event of an evacuation. Because call forwarding is based out of the telephone central office, you will get calls from your landline phone even if your local telephone service is down.
  • Track the storm on your mobile device. If you lose power at your home during a storm, you can use your mobile device to access local weather reports.

Likewise, we take a series of steps to ensure our Houston area network is ready to withstand the storm season each year.

Preparing our network in Houston:

When we know a storm is coming, we immediately assess what is needed to prepare our network. Some of those measures include:

  • Engaging Network Operations Center to monitor the network and partner with local personnel for recovery efforts.
  • Maintaining backup generators at cell sites and switching facilities in case of power loss.
  • Staging portable generators at strategic locations for deployment after an event.
  • Working with State and Federal Emergency Operations Centers to ensure first responders have the mobile connectivity they need before, during and after an event.

Keeping first responders connected:

Communication is critical to rescue and recovery efforts. That's why we were selected by the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet Authority) – an independent agency within the federal government – to deliver FirstNet® to first responders and the extended public safety community. FirstNet is the only nationwide network built with and for America's first responders. In the Houston area, agencies using FirstNet include Law Enforcement, Fire, EMS, and Emergency Management, among others. FirstNet is used in day-to-day operations and during emergency response, including hurricane preparedness and response. In addition, organizations and agencies that could be called on to help support public safety also use FirstNet. These include healthcare, public works, essential government services, school security, utilities, energy, and transportation that operate in support of primary public safety entities and are critical to the response efforts. Together, these agencies utilize the FirstNet network for broadband connectivity for voice and data to prepare for and respond to hurricane events. FirstNet provides the connectivity they need with:

  • Priority & Preemption: In emergencies and disasters, commercial networks can quickly become congested. That's why FirstNet is the only nationwide network that gives first responders always-on priority and preemption. It puts them at the front of the "communications line."
  • Greater Command & Control: Public safety agencies have access to a fleet of more than 100 dedicated mobile cell sites that link to FirstNet via satellite and do not rely on commercial power availability. New this storm season, there's a giant addition to the FirstNet disaster response arsenal: FirstNet One – an approximately 55-foot aerostat, more commonly known as a blimp. And, to give first responders greater command and control of their network, the FirstNet Response Operations Program aligns with the National Incident Management System to better guide the deployment of these assets.
  • Enhanced Coverage and Capacity: We've also deployed FirstNet Band 14 spectrum. Band 14 is nationwide, high-quality spectrum set aside by the U.S. government specifically for FirstNet. We refer to it as public safety's VIP lane- during an emergency, this band can be cleared and locked just for FirstNet subscribers.

Recovery and relief:

During those unfortunate times when recovery response is needed, our Natural Disaster Recovery program and FirstNet Response Operations Group have technology and equipment to help with relief efforts such as:

  • Mobile cell sites and mobile command centers, like Cell on Wheels (COWs) and Cell on Light Trucks (COLTs)
  • Emergency Communications Vehicles (ECVs)
  • Flying Cell on Wings (Flying COWs)
  • Drones
  • A self-sufficient base camp: complete with sleeping tents, bathrooms, kitchen, laundry facilities, an on-site nurse, and meals ready to eat (MREs)
  • Hazmat equipment and supplies
  • Technology and support trailers to provide infrastructure support and mobile heating ventilation and air conditioning
  • Internal and external resources for initial assessment and recovery efforts

Together, let's have a smart and safe hurricane season.

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Luis Silva is vice president and general manager at AT&T.