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IT Sochi Solutions

Perhaps the main concern that the Russians may be addressing with sophisticated IT solutions during the Sochi festivities is security. Because the Olympics is such a major international event, there may be higher risks of an incident occurring. InformationWeek reported that the Russians have all their bases covered, thanks to technology.


Some of the most incredible IT advancements to be implemented as security measures at the Winter Olympics include facial recognition devices, drones and even submarine surveillance crafts that can detect any kind of activity that may be happening beneath the water. On top of all these tools, the Russians are increasing their use of innovation to perform a variety of functions not related to safety, ranging from keeping score at events to sending out mass media messages to even generating enough snow to ensure the games will go on.


In today’s day and age, unfortunately, it is not unheard of for technology to be used with bad intentions. For instance, a person may be capable of forging all kinds of documents, including official identification. Bearing this in mind, the Russians have decided to take screening one step further with Artec ID’s Broadway 3D Face Recognition System.


After landing in Sochi, travelers could be subjected to identity checks from these machines, which can pick them out from the crowd no matter the accessories they are wearing or how fast they are walking. This system is so precise that it can even differentiate identical twins. With this IT innovation, local authorities hope to be able to pinpoint potential suspects in the case of a threat or incident, which would significantly contribute to driving security during the Olympics.


As chief information officers and IT professionals of any level are well aware, any type of network communications that is not properly protected can be infiltrated. Although Russian authorities want to defend their own data and ensure that no one can access their own messages, they also plan to be on the prowl for other networks used as suspicious communications channels.


For this reason, the Federal Security Service of the Russian Federation hopes to employ a system named SORM to intercept virtual communications, according to InformationWeek. There is an entire network of organizations, each of which holds pieces to this system’s puzzle, making it challenging for outsiders to somehow circumnavigate its reach. Consequently, this system is bound to come across all kinds of messages, which will help the government thwart any plans of attack during the 2014 games.


As the Russians keep everyone at ease with their heightened security tools, these hosts can then direct their attention toward other matters contributing to the success of the Winter Olympics. For example, a number of events cannot take place unless there is snow on the ground – conditions that Sochi officials can guarantee with the use of some IT solutions.


InformationWeek explained that even though the Russians have managed to collect 16 million cubic feet of snow in preparation for the Olympics, they are going the extra mile by employing snow cannons to ensure that all of their slopes are blanketed in enough snow – albeit man-made – so that no issues pop up during certain games. In light of this venture, IT professionals can see that advancements within their field are greatly contributing to the 2014 Winter Olympics going off without a hitch, and in more ways than one. (Article reprinted from








Executive Recipe for Challenges: Add Levity & Stir

Quote for the week: “Give me levity, or give me death!” – Terry Braverman

Confronting a massive blunder that cost the company ten million dollars, Tom Watson, the founder of IBM, did exactly what an executive should do. The manager responsible for the error was called into his office. After a moment of tense silence, the manager muttered dejectedly, “I suppose you want my resignation.” Mr. Watson replied, “Are you kidding? We just spent ten million dollars educating you.” And with that light-hearted vote of confidence, the manager went on to become one of IBM’s highest achievers, eventually promoted to senior vice-president.


Merrill Lynch’s former Chairman and CEO, Dan Tully, infused a flamboyant, extroverted style to the stodgy world of finance during turbulent times. He welcomed friends, colleagues and customers alike with a broad comic brogue, and was known to croon “Danny Boy” to a roomful of brokers. He wore corny neckties and handed out tiny lapel pins depicting the Merrill Lynch bull to everyone from secretaries to the COO. Tully’s core philosophy: "Our most important asset rides the elevator to work every morning." When Tully stepped down from his position, a board member bemoaned, “He was the spark that started the engine at board meetings, enlivening all of us to be more resourceful and not take it all so seriously.”


Executives need to be skillful at reframing situations that present a challenge, and steering them into a positive direction. Joseph Kennedy, the patriarch of the Kennedy clan, was asked in a television interview about his reputation for maintaining his cool during heated business meetings. “I just visualize everyone at the table in their underwear,” he confided. This gave him a sense of amused detachment that allowed him to carry negotiations to a positive resolution.


One executive was literally caught with his pants down. A new executive had taken over her company’s banking relationship, and the bank’s CFO was giving her a tour of the corporate offices. “Cheryl, I need to show you the president’s office because it’s so elegant and comfortable, with so many amenities,” the CFO merrily remarked. “Well, maybe we shouldn’t disturb him,” Cheryl replied. But the CFO was insistent: “It’s no problem. He’s not in yet.” So they moseyed in and she was indeed impressed by the posh surroundings. Now at ease, she eagerly inquired about seeing some of the amenities he had mentioned. He escorted her around the corner to the president’s private washroom, pushed the door open and there was the president of the bank, sitting on the throne! As Cheryl’s face turned fire engine red, he looked at her and said very earnestly, “This is how I greet all our business partners. It’s nice to meet you. I don’t know who you are, but give me a few minutes and I’ll be right with you.” In retrospect, Cheryl said it set the stage for a very fruitful and close relationship, and in future meetings they would always laugh about their initial encounter.


At IBM, inside sales executive Karen Donnalley oversees a staff of customer service people who sell computers and accessories throughout the U.S. Servicing approximately 75,000 accounts “is a very difficult job,” she acknowledged. “It’s really important to recognize even the small successes in this environment. I try to make sure my team is happy. People who enjoy their job tend to do a better job.” In Donnalley’s work world, there are mornings started with the chaotic din contrived by musically inept salespeople on drums, tuba, accordion, and other instruments played in a “wake-up” concert. A gong is hit when a salesperson closes their first deal of the day, and they advance a wooden horse bearing their photo down a miniature race track. She’s initiated a crazy socks day, a silly hat day, and organizes monthly skits ranging from presidential debates to nostalgic dress up themes. Donnalley knows from experience that if her staff is feeling upbeat, it will be projected in the phone calls to customers, making them feel good as well. And a happy customer means more business. In one year, sales in her department ballooned 30%, and in six months her staff grew by 50%. “It’s very much about business commitment. I have my strong serious side too, but being able to laugh at myself and with my team elicits loyalty and dedication that I treasure. It makes people want to come to work.” And keeps other department heads eavesdropping, wondering what she’s concocting next.


A few years ago I worked with a CEO who was also a ventriloquist. He would bring a dummy to board meetings, especially when there was unpalatable news to be served. It seemed to make the news more digestible when it came from the dummy. Instead of an atmosphere of paralyzing fear and uncertainty, board members said it helped to cushion the blow, cause chuckles, and inspire creative alternatives. I asked him if he ever brought a dummy along to negotiate deals. “I did,” he replied. “He used to be our senior vice-president.”





Business + Art = Marriage Made in Heaven

If you haven’t been to Downtown L.A. recently, you will be startled by the Renaissance taking place. The restoration of old buildings, resurgence of business, and a rollicking arts scene of new music venues, art galleries, and proliferation of boldly expressive murals adding color and value to the urban landscape.

Keller-Williams commercial real estate agent Rene Garcia, who works at their Downtown office, asserts that “a nicely created mural not only enhances aesthetics, but typically increases the value of the building by 3%-7%, a positive for both resale and insurance purposes.” Potentially it could create additional revenue streams, if the building has a café and/or gift shop to sell the artist’s mural in smaller print form, other works of the artist, and related merchandise.

There is also the hipness factor, generating more people traffic to the property and yielding higher rental income from building tenants because murals are thought to be hip, a bit of a status symbol. It may even become a landmark, as some are on the monthly L.A. Artwalk, where murals ranging in theme from pithy to playful are listed on the walking route.                               

The business and art communities are working together synergistically to create dynamic partnerships and value for the entire Downtown community. Part of the reason new residents and visitors flock to Downtown is the growing body of public art surrounding them as they peer out the window of their new apartment or simply walk the streets.

Public art recently received a big nod of approval from the city, when a long-standing moratorium was lifted in September of last year. Not that it wasn’t already starting to flourish, due to the clout of powerful developers. “If a wealthy developer wanted a mural on their building’s wall, nobody from the city is going to stop them. But now it is going to explode even further,” says Daniel Lahoda.

Daniel, an artist himself and owner of the LaLa Gallery in the Downtown arts district, is a prime match maker between building owners and street artists in the area. I sat with him to discuss how the marriage of business and art manifests in many forms, and how it serves the community…


TR: What are the typical arrangements made between developers and street artists?


Daniel: It really depends. Everything is negotiable project by project. Sometimes the building owner is commissioning the artist, or the artist approaches the owner and just wants to use the (wall) space in which case there is generally no fee paid. Sometimes artists will come to us who want to turn their vision or artistic piece into a larger than life mural on a building. Other times what I’ll do if I have another patron involved who is supporting the production of the mural, I’ll offer the building owner a “maintenance honorarium,” just to ensure that they take care of the art. This also instills a sense of professionalism, so they know we’re not just off the streets trying to “bomb” their building. There is also a consultation process with people who are in residential buildings, getting their input on how they would feel about a mural for the building. People are almost unanimously enthusiastic, that it makes the place cooler and more hip. It improves their quality of life, for the owner it’s good p.r. and enhances the value of the property, and for the artists it gets their work up publicly in large format.


TR: Murals could take a few months to create. Would the artist be willing to do that just for exposure?


Daniel: Again it depends. I work with a lot of artists where the business model is that I represent the artist and I need to sell their work. So, I work with them to produce their artwork that I can sell in the gallery. When we make money from that, we’ll put some of it into creating a mural and the community benefits from that. More people see the art, which brings some of them into the gallery to buy more of the artist’s work.


TR: What about getting sponsors for the production of murals?


Daniel: We did a project with Congers (billboard advertising), where they gave us the money to produce a mural. At completion, we licensed the artwork to them to use in an ad. But we have to be careful with that; you run into problems with the branding. They may want the artist to compromise their work to suit the brand. I let them know that for example, we’re not going to put their logo on the mural, or do anything that shouts out their brand. In fact, studies show that it doesn’t work as well for them, when the viewer is forced into an “opt-in” advertising situation. And for an artist, if you come to be known as someone who will compromise their artwork for anybody at any price, then it doesn’t have much integrity to it, and you won’t attract the collectors.


TR: Are there any kind of metrics to appraise the added value of murals to a property?


Daniel: American Business Appraisers, who appraise everything from real estate to art, approached me back in September to figure out a way to apply appraisal value to the murals on buildings, even just for insurance purposes. They’ve noticed the national trend of mural mania, and if a mural is damaged by some force of nature or a car running into it, that value reimbursement should include money to repair the mural. So at this moment in time, there is no formal measurement of value, but should be coming in the near future.



Customer Service, A Quaint Notion

The premise of any business is to provide a service or a product that satisfies the needs of a client. In order to improve client engagement you have to invest in incentives, training and such things for the customer service staff to improve their engagement. So, good customer experience will cost a bit.


Think about the businesses you keep doing business with and what it is that keeps you coming back. A caring experience and consistency are typically on top. This does not mean utopian perfection, but just as important as smooth, positive transactions is how the glitches are handled. A customer whose business is earned at every interaction is a customer for life.


Good customer service is more the manifestation of an organization's culture, which must be consistently nurtured and celebrated by everyone within the organization. Every individual can embody a focus on superior customer service in their daily activities, communications and decisions, whatever their specific job title or level in the organization. If everyone from the receptionist to the sales staff to middle management to the CEO is customer-focused then the company truly has a sustainable business model, and it leads to not only above-average top line but also bottom line growth in the long term.


A business cannot provide great service that costs more than it will earn. So the million dollar question is how to decide what level of service is sustainable, and how one justifies that to the CFO or the CEO or the board. No one is going to allow you to spend money without first building a business case. The general answer is to provide an appropriate level of service to those customers you want to serve and to keep - it saves the cost of luring new customers and you should know what the existing customers can accept - and what they would reject.


The challenge is to strike a balance - find the appropriate level in alignment to the business strategy. If you want to have the very lowest costs then minimize or skip service (e.g. like Internet companies with no phone or live chat support); if you aspire for differentiation, then search for the appropriate service level by ROC (return on customer).


Perhaps the most important and lofty reason to provide excellent customer service: it's the right thing to do from a standpoint of purpose and integrity. So-called enlightened company cultures realize that not every policy makes sense from a purely financial perspective. However, employees, customers and vendors appreciate great service so much they reinforce positivity via communication, making the work place a very gratifying experience. These companies often don’t even attempt to measure the benefit this positive feeling brings - though it probably could be measured. The motivation is in the culture - they wouldn't do it any other way. It may yield lower profits, or it might not. The focus is to “do the right thing,” first, for the employees, customers, vendors - and lastly, shareholders.




Mending the Cost of Healthcare

QUOTE OF THE WEEK: "America's health care system is neither healthy, caring, nor a system.” ― Walter Cronkite

In November, the New York Times reported that the cost of a single medical suture in the U.S. had surpassed $500. The cost was based on a national average of the procedure performed in doctors' offices, out-patient clinics and hospital emergency rooms. Compare that to a doctor in Ecuador who estimates the average cost of a stitch in Ecuador to be $30 to $35. The comparison is in line with the latest World Health Organization's survey of health care costs by country. As of early 2013, the per capita expenditure on health care in the U.S. was $8,635 compared to $750 in Ecuador. Spending on health care in the U.S. represents 18.2% of the national GDP, the highest in the world, while it represents 8.8% in Ecuador.  For the record, the per capita cost in Canada is $4,500, 11.5% of GDP; $3,750 and 9.9% in the U.K.; $1,425 and 9.9% in Argentina; $1,135 and 8.4% in Panama; and $725 and 7.7% in Colombia. Is it any wonder why a growing number of baby boomers are heading south?

According to a new book in progress by economics advisor Ron Robins, one way to address the issue is to re-organize the health care system according to well-studied methodologies that show huge potential cost savings. While another way—garnering increasing attention—is by utilizing scientifically validated disease prevention interventions such as meditation: “Interestingly, by deploying the known methodologies and interventions, it might not be necessary to reduce benefits yet still be able to cut health care costs a stunning 50-80 per cent,” asserts Mr. Robins. “The current deficit account of the U.S. Government includes an astounding unfunded liability of $205 trillion. It equals a current debt of about $665,000 for every living American adult and child. And most of this sum pertains to health care. The health care costs quagmire poses a financial deathblow to the U.S. economy and its citizens. To avert this calamity, America’s health care system must be revamped.”

The major health care cost drivers cited:
The increasing incidence of chronic disease in an aging population

Relatively fewer workers to pay for increasing costs

Exceptionally high professional fees relative to other developed countries

Huge oversupply of services, equipment

Administration costs and fraud (worthy of specific mention here are costs of malpractice insurance and litigation)

As the elderly are responsible disproportionately for health care costs, some researchers suggest they be particularly encouraged to practice preventive modalities, be it a healthier diet, consistent exercise, and/or relaxation techniques. One leading researcher on health care costs, Dr. Robert Herron, wrote in the Huffington Post on July 13, 2012: “In the Medicare population… the highest spending 25% of seniors accounted for 85% of total expenses’ and that there was ‘a 28% reduction in doctors’ bills over five years from baseline for persistent high-cost people who practiced the Transcendental Meditation technique.’"

After reviewing the book, “Tracking Medicine,” by John E. Wennberg, researcher Arnold Relman commented, ‘[Wennberg] provides convincing evidence that oversupply of services throughout the U.S. adds greatly to the cost of care…that since the medical care in the low-expenditure areas is not discernibly different in quality from that in the high-expenditure areas, a huge amount of money could be saved if the country were to receive care the way it is provided in the low-expenditure areas. Wennberg estimates the savings would be about 30 to 40%.’”

Regarding administrative costs, OECD Health Division Director Mark Pearson notes that these costs constitute about 7% of all health care costs in the U.S., roughly double those of other developed countries.  And the FBI calculates that fraud costs the health care system about $80 billion annually—or about 3 per cent of all health care expenditures.

Conclusion:  The solution to the health care financial debacle requires radical changes to the health care system and Americans’ attitudes about their health and health care. It requires each one of us to assume greater responsibility for our health and well-being. This means we become knowledgeable about an array of healthy options and take action via our lifestyle choices toward disease prevention. As the demand for preventive medicine and healthy living continues to grow, reforms to the health care system should occur naturally and spur implementation of known cost-effective modalities. It means introducing scientifically validated cost-saving disease prevention programs such as meditation, T’ai Chi, and Yoga that also create an inner fulfillment and self-sufficiency, as opposed to externally-driven, instant gratification consciousness that engenders frustration, feelings of lack, and ill health.

Ron Robins estimates these recommendations could cut U.S. health care costs by 50-80% and dramatically improve health outcomes—all without reducing benefits.

“Patient refused an autopsy.”
“Vaginal packing out. Doctor in.”
“Large brown B.M. Walking down the hall. “
“Exam of genitalia revealed that he was circus sized.”
“Patient was to have a bowel resection. He took a job as a stockbroker instead.”





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