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Bears Business Brief: Addressing the cybersecurity talent gap

By: Josh Davis

Josh Davis headshot
Josh Davis

A recent report on the health of the job market for cybersecurity professionals estimates the national cybersecurity unemployment rate to be 0% [1]. As rare as this number is for a measure of unemployment in any profession, in the case of cybersecurity, 0% unemployment does not even fully capture the extent of the cybersecurity talent gap. The same report indicates that 2016 ended with 1 million unfilled cybersecurity job openings and projected growth of that shortfall to 1.5 million by 2019. For those entering the field, this is welcome news. For corporations, however, this number reflects the magnitude of a growing challenge related to the day-to-day protection of data assets and assurance of IT-enabled business process integrity.

For many companies, the talent shortage is no trivial matter. In a recent report published by Intel Security, 71 percent of survey respondents believed the shortage in cybersecurity skills has resulted in direct and measurable damage to the enterprise [2]. Compounding the issue is that as the shortage of cybersecurity talent grows, so do the frequency and the variety of attacks worldwide. Attacks can range widely in technical sophistication — from zero-day vulnerabilities in vendor-provided software to phishing emails that trick unsuspecting users into handing over logins and/or other sensitive information. According to Symantec’s 2016 Internet Security Threat Report, cyberattacks across the technical spectrum are experiencing an uptick in volume. The ISTR specifically highlights a 125 percent increase in zero-day attacks, a 55 percent increase in employee-targeted phishing campaigns, and a 35 percent year-over-year increase in the use of ransomware [3]. In the face of these challenges, now is the time for dedicated efforts to increase awareness about the breadth of opportunities the field of cybersecurity provides and to develop a sustainable talent pipeline for jobs in this dynamic field.

While the term ‘cybersecurity’ is pervasive today, surprisingly few young people I talk to are truly aware of how diverse the field of cybersecurity is and the career-path options it affords. Lack of awareness limits the number of individuals who consider cybersecurity at the right time in their high school and college years, despite the health of the job market and availability of well-fitting career paths. We cannot expect students to prepare for jobs they do not know exist! In addition to educating young people about cybersecurity, now is the time for coordinated industry and academic efforts to co-develop a sustainable talent pipeline in cybersecurity. Such efforts should start by identifying the most critical foundational knowledge and skills required for success, the role of academia in delivering that knowledge, and the role of industry in providing meaningful developmental experiences to students.

While an important and growing threat, the cybersecurity talent shortage is not insurmountable. That said, there is work to be done. Industry and academia need to work together to increase awareness among our future workforce and co-develop meaningful opportunities for education and experience in the field. These collaborative efforts can lead to a robust and sustainable pipeline of cybersecurity talent that meets the workforce needs of today and tomorrow.

  1. http://cybersecurityventures.com/career-news/
  2. https://www.mcafee.com/us/resources/reports/rp-hacking-skills-shortage.pdf
  3. https://www.symantec.com/security-center/threat-report

Joshua M. Davis, Ph.D. is a professor and head of the Department of Computer Information Systems in the College of Business at Missouri State University. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of South Carolina. His research interests are in the areas of organizational IT competence, e-value creation, and enterprise IT architecture.

This article appeared in the May 25, 2017 edition of the News-Leader and can be accessed online here.

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Bears Business Brief: What did the market do today?

By: Kent Ragan

Dr. Kent Ragan

We have all heard this question asked and answered – many times. “What did the market do today (WDTMDT)?” I just made up the “WDTMDT” textspeak, hoping that this forum might launch its use — just not while driving, PLEASE! Maybe it will go viral!

As is sometimes the case, asking a question can lead to many other questions. While I tend to believe that WDTMDT is typically answered to the questioner’s satisfaction with, “The market was up/down (by so many points),” the question might deserve a response such as, “As measured by which index?” or even “What is ‘the market?’” Both are fair questions.

Initially, let’s use the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) as “the market,” simply because it is the oldest stock exchange in the United States — dating back to 1792 — and is the world’s largest stock exchange in terms of the “market capitalization” or “market cap” (the total value of all stocks listed to trade on that exchange). The NYSE’s market cap is an approximate $20 trillion, having grown from $14 trillion five years ago.

With our definition of the market, WDTMDT is asking what happened to the value of the 3,000 or so stocks listed on the NYSE. Admittedly, we are very unlikely to overhear an answer similar to “The market cap of the NYSE went from $20 trillion to $20 trillion, 200 billion today. We are VERY likely to hear an answer like, “The market was up 200 points today,” or “The market closed at 20,800 today.” Why the latter rather than the former?

Perhaps the easiest answer is that it would be cumbersome to discuss market performance in terms of trillions of dollars, with daily changes sometimes amounting to $200 billion or more. While a 1 percent change in market cap is admittedly a large change in one day (annualize that by multiplying the 1 percent change by the approximately 250 trading days in one year to see that is a huge change), it can certainly happen, and would amount, approximately, to a $200 billion change in market cap that day. Given all of the zeroes involved, there must be an easier way to describe the market’s movements. Enter the various stock indexes.

The simple answer is that each of those indexes, while designed to measure the same thing — stock market performance — approach their task very differently. Given their significant differences, it might surprise you that they ever agree — or that they really were designed to measure the same thing! Next time, we will further examine how each of those indexes is calculated.

Kent P. Ragan, Ph.D., is professor and head of the Department of Finance and General Business at Missouri State University and holds the Chartered Financial Analyst credential. He may be reached at Kentragan@missouristate.edu.

This article appeared in the May 20, 2017 edition of the News-Leader and can be accessed online here.

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Bears Business Brief: A business case for passionate customer focus

By: Brad Thomas

Brad Thomas headshot
Brad Thomas

Great product? Check. Pricing strategy? Check. Expense control? Check. Understanding of codes, laws and regulations? Check. Guaranteed success? Maybe not!!! Even with the best of plans and resources, business success is tough unless the organization has a plan, backed by a sincere desire, to build real and lasting relationships with the customer.

Explore the history of any successful customer-dependent business, and chances are a founder or key contributor has a drive, a passion, a pursuit to provide a quality product/service to the customer. Not only do they want to please the customer; they also have a passion for serving the customer well.

Throughout the Ozarks, such success stories abound. Countless local business people know that caring for the customer is good for their business. In addition, the culture of the Ozarks highlights another important factor: taking good care of the customer because it is the right thing to do!

Are there businesses based solely on entrepreneurial drive or business objectives? Yes, of course. However, the survival rate of any business is directly linked to the level of the organization’s passion, appreciation and respect for their customers. The deeper those roots, the more real and sincere relationship the organization can have with their customers.

Customer-centric principles are now more critical than ever. In the past, retail/service choices within a community may have been few; but, today’s customers have far more choices regarding where they can spend their money. Social media and the internet have allowed local, regional and national businesses to gain access to new customers at a level never before possible. Disappointed customers now aggressively seek out alternatives.

Businesses offering “best in class” customer service typically have the following common principles within their culture:

  1. THRIVING PASSION to provide the customer with a QUALITY product or service.
  2. EMPLOYEES who genuinely care about the customer and show appreciation to the customer.
  3. EMPOWERED CULTURE that quickly works to remedy any quality issues.
  4. FOCUSED UNDERSTANDING of why customers love the core product/service.
  5. WILLINGNESS TO ADAPT to the customer’s EVER-CHANGING NEEDS, WANTS and EXPECTATIONS while never forgetting #4 above!!!!

Following are a few examples of customer-focused words:

Chick-fil-A (corporate purpose): “… to have a positive influence on all who come into contact with Chick-Fil-A.”

Bass Pro Shops: (mission) “… inspiring people to live, enjoy and conserve the great outdoors”.

Silver Dollar City/Herschend Family Entertainment: “Create memories worth repeating.” (Core values): “We greatly exceed guest’s expectations”, “We serve others”, “We create emotional connections” and “We constantly improve”.

Pyramid Foods (owner of area grocery markets including Price Cutter, King Cash Saver, Ruby’s):  “…dedicated to providing consumers the very best food and service at the very best prices.“

Most important for successful customer-focused organizations, the principles are evident through the behavior of men and women of all organizational levels with customer-focused behavior evident every minute of every day. Businesses can audit their passion for the customer by asking: “Who is the champion for our customer”? “Who REALLY cares if we disappoint a customer?” Customer-driven organizations consistently strive to answer “everyone”.

Now take that passion for the customer and a quality product and a solid business/marketing plan. Even in today’s challenging competitive environment, such a business has a much greater chance to not only succeed but to thrive.

Brad Thomas is general manager and senior vice president of Silver Dollar City. He earned his bachelor’s degree (cum laude) and MBA from Missouri State University. He is a 2005 graduate of Leadership Missouri and currently chairs the Board of Directors of Leadership Missouri Alumni Association. He has earned the Certified Festival and Event Executive designation from the International Festivals and Events Association.

This article appeared in the May 13, 2017 edition of the News-Leader and can be accessed online here.

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Bears Business Brief: Worker Classification Matters

By: Kerri Tassin

Kerri Tassin

In recent articles, I discussed self-employment tax issues and the sharing economy and focused on independent contractors and their tax responsibilities. But what if you’re an employer trying to determine whether the workers you hire should be treated as independent contractors or employees? What difference does worker classification make?

Whether an employer classifies workers as independent contractors or employees makes a difference for both the employer and the worker. This issue is complex, and the determination involves close evaluation of the facts and circumstances in each situation. No “one size fits all” rule applies.

Worker classification matters because the employer and worker’s tax responsibilities vary depending on the employment relationship. Generally speaking, independent contractors have responsibility for their own payroll tax reporting and payments, while employers of employees must withhold, report, and remit payroll taxes for their employees. In addition, year-end reporting for an independent contractor varies from that required for employees. Employers may be required to send a Form 1099-MISC to an independent contractor, showing how much the employer paid to the independent contractor during the year. On the other hand, employers will send a Form W-2 to employees, showing how much each employee earned during the year and the taxes withheld from those earnings.

So how does an employer begin to decide how to properly classify a worker as an independent contractor or an employee? Except in certain circumstances where statutes apply, the Internal Revenue Service and courts will examine certain characteristics of the employment relationship. Internal Revenue Publication 1779 breaks these characteristics, or factors, into three main categories: behavioral control, financial control and the relationship of the parties. According to Treasury Regulation Sec. 31.3121(d)-1, if the employer has the right to direct and control the means and results of the work, the worker should be classified an employee. It does not matter whether the employer actually exercises control, only that the employer has the right to direct and control.

According to Internal Revenue Manual Exhibit 4.23.5-1, behavioral control includes factors such as training and instruction. To what degree does the employer provide training and instructions for the work to be performed? Financial control includes factors such as whether the worker has a significant investment in facilities or tools of the trade, whether the worker incurs unreimbursed expenses, the worker’s opportunities to realize a profit or loss, and whether the worker makes his/her services available to the general public. Factors that may help determine the relationship between the parties include the degree of permanency of the working relationship, whether the worker receives any benefits, whether the parties have a contract, and whether either party has the ability to terminate the working relationship.

No one factor determines whether the employer should classify the worker as an independent contractor or an employee. The classification decision must take into account the type of work, relevant factors, and ultimately whether the relationship indicates that the employer has the right to direct and control. Proper determination of the worker’s classification matters to both the employer and the worker. The determination involves the consideration of many factors, and employers would do well to seek professional assistance in this matter.

The material in this article is for general informational purposes only and does not constitute tax or legal advice. Please consult with your own tax adviser regarding your personal tax situation.

Assistant Professor Kerri L. Tassin, CPA, JD teaches tax accounting classes in the School of Accountancy at Missouri State University.

This article appeared in the May 6, 2017 edition of the News-Leader and can be accessed online here.

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Bears Business Brief: Help your workplace wellness program work for your organization

By: Lori Peterson

Lori Peterson headshot
Lori Peterson

Although there is uncertainty surrounding the future of the Affordable Care Act, health care costs will almost certainly continue to rise. Workplace wellness programs, a popular method companies employ to help reduce health care expense, are now used by more than two-thirds of US businesses. Now a $6 billion industry, questions have arisen about the efficacy of some of these initiatives. Which programs should your organization pursue, how should the impact be measured and how can management and employees benefit?

Many workplace wellness programs have two components — lifestyle management and disease management. The lifestyle component focuses on employee health risks such as smoking and obesity. Generally, support is offered to help reduce risks associated with developing chronic conditions. Disease management programs are designed to encourage employees to manage chronic conditions so they can take better care of themselves. Some estimates indicate that at-risk employees can consume 50 percent of a company’s health claims expense.

An extensive 2013 RAND Wellness Programs Study determined that wellness programs had little, if any, immediate effect on the amount employers spent on health care. Other recent studies confirm those outcomes. However, there are other ways these programs contribute to employee health (e.g. avoiding amputation from diabetes, reducing heart attacks from heart disease and reducing pneumonia from emphysema). All of these contribute to savings through reduced emergency room visits and hospital admissions. Some risk factors take years to develop into a chronic condition, and not all participants with a risk factor later develop a disease. Therefore, determining the return on investment can be complicated. Organizations with years of experience running such programs suggest it may take three to five years to see a return on investment.

Employee buy-in is critical to a program’s success. Employers cannot force employees to live healthier lifestyles, and even thinly veiled penalties may hurt employee morale if employees see shifting costs and an unsupportive workplace environment rather than a long-term corporate wellness goal. Wellness programs have backfired when previously happy employees became anxious about losing their jobs. For example, employees reported feeling that when someone noticed them eating something unhealthy or smoking a cigarette they would be seen as a bad employee and less attractive to the organization.

Transparency will help employees trust the workplace wellness program and the employer’s motivations. When employees can see the true costs of health care coverage the organization bears, along with projected increases, they will have greater motivation to participate. Offering incentives to support the creation of new habits will be more successful than offering penalties or forcing activities on employees. It is also important to protect participant data and avoid discriminating against people with health conditions who may not wish to share their health information.

When organizations explore the total return on wellness, the numbers beyond claims expenses will be important. Organizations may realize reduced absenteeism, greater engagement, improved productivity, reduction in unscheduled paid time off, greater retention, fewer worker’s compensation claims and increased employee satisfaction — all which may contribute to the organization’s bottom line.

Lori T. Peterson, Ph.D. is an assistant professor of management at Missouri State University. The views expressed in this article reflect those of the author, have been distributed for educational and informational purposes only, and should not be construed as investment advice or a recommendation of any specific security, strategy, or investment product.

This article appeared in the April 29, 2017 edition of The News-Leader and can be accessed online here.

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