On-Demand: CAPstone: Shattering the Tech Ceiling | Part II – Baretz+Brunelle

November 17, 2022

Joining us for the second installment of the series is the COO from a for-profit marketing and legal firm who uses her degree in computer science and fluency with software programs to manage the day-to-day operations of the business.


Transcript

Rahul Mahna: Hey, great Bella. Thank you so much and good morning to our West Coast friends. Good afternoon to our East Coast friends. Thank you for taking some time. We're going to have a wonderful fireside chat today and talk about some really interesting topics. So by way of background and introduction, as Bella said, my name is Rahul Mahna. I'm the managing director of our outsourced IT practice at EisnerAmper. And through that time of being able to run this practice, I get to see a lot of individuals, a lot of technologies, a lot of firms. And over the years, I've run this webinar series and the last few years was focused a lot on technology, technology partners, and different ways people are implementing those technologies. This year, I thought to do something a little bit different, so I wanted to focus on some of the executives that I deal with and what their path has been to becoming a technology expert, if you may.

Or if they have technology rolling up under them and they're acting more in an executive position, they're reporting to the board of directors, they're a C-level executive themselves, I thought it'd be a really nice opportunity to hear some of those voices in the past of where they've gotten and how do they get there and what are some of the values and attributes that help them in managing their businesses and managing their technology and their field. And so that's where we are today and we have a wonderful guest, Poonam Jain, who's from Baretz+Brunelle. I'd like to say Baretz and Brunelle, it feels a little easier to say, but Poonam can guide us a little bit easier with that. And I hear about the firm, just to give some context, they're legal industry advisors providing corporate communications, digital marketing, and new law services to law firms and alternative legal service providers.

That sounds like the corporate pitch. I'm sure Poonam can give us much more details about what the firm actually does and how it accomplishes its goals. With me, is my esteemed colleague, Denise, a good friend in the firm and someone who understands a lot about tax and audit, but also about how executives operate and what they need to do to be effective in their roles and how they interact with board of directors. And at her time, she often deals with these folks. And I'd love to give Denise the opportunity to introduce herself a little bit.

Denise Finney: Well, thank you, Rahul. Well, yes, my name is Denise Finney. I'm a partner at EisnerAmper and I specialize in auditing employee benefit plans and I'm the partner in charge of our pension services group. So it's a pleasure to be here and I'm excited to be part of this discussion today, and thank you Rahul for having me. Poonam, it's a pleasure to have you here today with us and thank you so much. I'd love to have our audience learn a little bit about you, how you started out, and how that path led you to become the COO of Baretz+Brunelle.

Poonam Jain: Well, good afternoon all. Thank you Rahul and Denise for the introduction and giving me the opportunity to be part of this webinar. Starting off actually, I started as a client services coordinator in a small PR firm. And when I was hired, the firm wanted to go virtual. It was fairly a new concept in those days. It gave me the opportunity to handle the entire business operations in a company with around maybe like 15 people at the time from my home office. And I used to handle admin, HR, and client billing tasks. Technology played a very important role in any virtual company, whether it was 20, 25 years ago or today, even more so in an office space or virtual. But in those days, it used to be unheard of having a virtual office. But one thing that held us together, was technology. And though we used email and phone systems to connect to each other, we did staff meetings in Webex, and then came Skype, and then various chat applications, iPhone.

And technology, it always has been a very fast paced environment. But good thing was, I was very comfortable and eager to learn new technology and implement it in the company to successfully manage the virtual environment we had. Taking ownership and dedication played a big role to where I am to today. And in addition to technology, my strength was also to manage online time, expenses, and billing systems, which actually brought me to Baretz+Brunelle. So I've been here for about 10 years, managing most part of all the operations, finance, and day-to-day stuff that goes on in the business, and this just pretty much took me from one level to the other. And the opportunities and the variety of tasks that was in my plate successfully gave me the opportunity to lead the business operations entirely at B and B.

Denise Finney: That's great, thank you.

Rahul Mahna: That sounds fantastic. And so Poonam, going back to my earlier comment about the name. So I think I've now heard three pronunciations, Baretz Plus Brunelle, Baretz and Brunelle, and now B and B. So maybe you could help us, what's the right way to say the firm's name? How would you like us to think about the firm? What does the firm do?

Poonam Jain: So yeah, actually first when Spencer Baretz told me that he has named the company Baretz+Brunelle and not Baretz and Brunelle, that was my challenge everywhere, including even IRS. So I think officially, we go with as Baretz+Brunelle LLC. I tend to use in writing, B+B. And I honestly correct almost everybody who writes B and was like, "Please use B+B." But it's hard to say B+B, you're right. So verbally, we use B and B. So it's absolutely okay to use B and B.

Rahul Mahna: Okay.

Poonam Jain: So what B and B does, is we do have different forms of services. One is the very first and foremost, which gave birth to B and B, was the classic services, which includes strategic consulting, PR, crisis communications, and content writing. And this is all mainly with the law firms around the country.

We have new law services that give access to most comprehensive research, insights, and analysis again to law firms. We have advisory services which deal with revenue optimization, operational efficiency, and leadership training. Last but not at least, we also have the law firms who do not have internal resources to extensively research a prospective executive hire, positions that they want to hire for partners, CEOs, COOs. And there is a lot at stake to find the right fit between the partner, between the prospective, and the firm. We all know how much money and effort goes into hiring people, leave alone hiring executives.

So our talent intelligence team does all the research, all the legwork, and prepares a pre-hire intelligence report and beyond and help the law firms to hire people that might be the right fit. They do not provide any opinion, they just merely give the facts, give the research, what they have found in their research just to report. And like I said, B and B clients are mainly law firms. We service law firms generally that are under Am Law 100. The firms often deal with high profile cases. So we are a PR communications agency, which is a very fast-paced environment. So if you're working... Especially when you're working with lawyers. Our consultants keep up with the legal news every minute of the day, literally every minute and act very fast with their clients or on the behalf of their clients, whether it's day, night, weekends, weeknights, you name it. Everybody is on standby 24/7.

Rahul Mahna: That sounds like my business entirely with IT. So it's a very good relation and I can understand that a lot. Our people have to stay on top of everything, whether it's alerts in your case, news alerts. Our case, technology alerts and know what is happening 24 hours a day. So it sounds like your firm's a very fast paced firm. Would you say that everybody is working at that kind of level?

Poonam Jain: Absolutely. I think starting from admin position all the way to the top, everybody is fast paced. It's like you'll miss something if you're not there. Definitely. I think in general, any PR firm is fast paced but especially with us dealing with lawyers, a story could come out at any time of the day. So our consultants are pretty much on standby.

Rahul Mahna: That's amazing. And so you're small, you're fast running. And I know from some of our other clients, sometimes they bifurcate and make different divisions or different specialty areas. Have you segmented the company at all or does everybody have one mission, or do you have different divisions?

Poonam Jain: No, we do. We do have different divisions and mainly, they are like our practices. So we have classic, we have TIA practice, talent intelligence analysis, we have new law, we have digital team, we also have advisory services. And we're about five, six divisions that are led by the two partners in the company.

Rahul Mahna: Okay. Okay. And so we have a small fast moving team. It seems like everybody's very energized, everybody's on the ball. We have a few different divisions or practice areas to what you said. And so with this kind of disparate workforce that we're living within right now and people working from home, working from different areas, let's talk about your clients. Where are your clients and how are you delivering to your clients? What role is technology playing in delivering services to them?

Poonam Jain: So our clients are actually placed all over the US, just like our employees. Our employees are in 14 different states, which is kind of a plus because we have clients all over US. Our staff being in several states kind of get to our clients. If a situation arises that they have to be present in their offices, they can really hop on and get to that. So mainly dealing with law firms tend to make the urgency more of an urgency and that helps our clients to deal with their situations more effectively. Sorry, Rahul, I think you had a second part on that question too, I'm sorry I missed it.

Rahul Mahna: No, no, no. That's very helpful and I understand where you're going. What I'm trying to figure out, is how do you deliver the services? You've got a disparate workforce that works for B and B, you've got clients now that I understand, are all over the country. When you have to do a client deliverable, how does your team organize? How do they take that? How do you present it to clients? I'm just trying to get an understanding of your technology mix and how you internally operate, as well as deliver to clients.

Poonam Jain: Well, the one answer would be technology. We have and must use technology as effectively as we can. All our consultants are really technology savvy. If they come in and they're not technology savvy, they have to get to it fast just because we can't operate. And the way we work is, first of all, being a heavy user of technology, we are using Microsoft Office apps to coordinate among each other within the organization and with our clients. We use Teams to collaborate within the firm, again outside the firm.

We also use Zoom calls, Webinar, and we hold meetings through any channel that we can find. So a client may comment, tell us they don't like using Teams, they don't have a Zoom account but they use Skype. So, "Can you guys hop in on a Skype call?" Well, our consultants are ready to do that because again, technology is the key to the way we function. We use Teams and Microsoft SharePoint to collaborate, so that's how our paperwork is done or client documents are prepared. We use secured links to share information, to pass information, to get information. So it's like day in, day out, technology is our best friend.

Rahul Mahna: That's great.

Denise Finney: So we learned a lot about your company and what you do overall, servicing your clients and a little bit about your technology as well. Let's talk about your current role, like what your daily responsibilities are. Do you have one, what you're doing every day, is it just a little bit of everything? And what kind of responsibilities do you have in your role?

Poonam Jain: Well, I wear many hats all day long. It's fun. It can be stressful, but it's a lot of fun. I have the role as an HR person, an admin person, maintaining vendor relationships. Again, being part of the technology that people are using and for myself to make everybody's and my life a little bit more easier, work more effectively. And honestly, anything and everything that is not part of consultants job description. I'm supporting our staff all day long, day in, day out with whatever they need to serve our clients.

I help onboarding, off boarding staff and everything in between. Process payroll, implement HR and admin policies and procedures, admin things like acknowledging employees, simple things like their birthdays, their B and B anniversaries, little of everything can involve... And sometimes, being a fast-paced environment... And obviously, our motto is, "Clients come first." There are times that I'll have a list of things to do but at the end of the day, I might have done one or two because my day went by supporting the staff and that comes first. So that's generally overall my responsibilities. Anything and everything that comes on the admin side that we can do, we help.

Denise Finney: That sounds a lot like some of my days as well where you have your well intended list, and then all of a sudden something else becomes priority. And so it's about adjusting and shifting and pivoting as to what needs your attention the most.

Poonam Jain: Exactly.

Denise Finney: How do you handle that? What are some of the challenges that you face on a daily basis?

Poonam Jain: Time. Like everyone else, there's not enough time in the day. I think some of the challenges we do face... Yes, technology is one of them, even though we try to train our staff and explain how things work, but it's not always possible. And also, they need one to one support sometimes. And I think that's where Eisner's manage technology services came in to our rescue, to my rescue I would say, is that part I don't have to worry about. It's just one of those challenges that are there on daily basis, and Eisner was very helpful to take that off my plate. Other challenges? I would say more like getting people to follow policies and procedures, all the stuff that we worry about. People have requested for day off, are they within their timeframe, within their accrual period... Have they accrued that? So little things that come on the admin level or HR level, those are our really my day-to-day challenges. And keeping good records, staying organized because you don't know and those 40 people who can ask which question. And then just knowing my systems very well.

Denise Finney: Yes, and-

Poonam Jain: And keep learning. That's the challenge. Keep learning, keep up to date.

Denise Finney: Absolutely. And how has that technology and your experience with technology really played a role in your decision making? It seems like you've got a lot of decisions to make every day. Time is of the essence and you really want the technology to make it the most efficient.

Poonam Jain: I think the decision making process is mainly because at least for once, I have tried... So starting with technology is again one thing. Technology evolves very rapidly. So keeping up with technology, and I'll give you an example, very simple thing was one of the challenges number of years ago we had, we were virtual so our documents had to be centralized so anybody can access any document. And I remember number of years ago, we had SharePoint, wasn't working out very well. So we ended up researching and found another software called ShareFile and we used that for collaboration, a wonderful tool at the time. And then eventually realized that it lacked collaboration, people were pulling out the documents, making changes but forgot to put it back. So collaboration piece was missing. That led us to come back to Microsoft and use Teams. So Teams is such a robust program. Not only you can hold meetings and make calls, but you can also use it for real time collaboration and store your documents.

So we moved to Teams. We are a virtual firm. Again, we need something where everybody can just go online from anywhere, enter their time, enter their expenses, and then we do have our billing based on how people enter their time and expenses. That's how we bill our clients. So it had to be a software where they're not dependent on sending me anything or sending anybody anything and putting it into the system for us to generate bills. It's all online, it's real time. People enter their time and expenses and at the end of the month, we can successfully generate bills out of that system. So that's another example. Another example would be using Asana. We have grown about 30% in the last one year and it was getting difficult to manage simple tasks between our team. So we recently started using Asana so we can make kind of a step-by-step process and have people accountable to what they're doing. So-

Denise Finney: Thank you.

Poonam Jain: Technology has been an integral part.

Rahul Mahna: Yeah, I was just thinking about that and I'm sorry to cut you off there. I got a little excited thinking about all these platforms. So in preparing for this webinar, Denise and I used a lot of Teams in how we had to prepare and doing shared documents and shared editing of files and it's really nice to see. So I've been in the industry for 20, 30 years and I've seen the small and midcap market, that's really been my bread and butter and how I've serviced that industry for a long time. And it was very hard for years ago, as you must know, Poonam, and some of the comments, you had to have one system to do this, one system to do that. None of the systems talked to each other. Everything had an extra cost. So you needed a Webex, you mentioned earlier, and that was, I think I remember it was like 50, $60 per person at one point when it started.

Then, you needed your Word an Excel, Microsoft CD that used to buy. That was another expense. And so you had all these disparate expenses and I think for the market, you really see how Microsoft's really kind of brought it together. And for those things you said, we can now... Again, Denise and I using as an example, we can chat, we can video, we can share word Excel files, we can share them, we can video as well as text chat. And I remember back when we used to use AOL chat, do you remember the little guy with AOL and he used to have all our AOL friends?

Denise Finney: Right.

Rahul Mahna: So the industry's really kind of moved along to... I think all of this tech is moved to facilitate this kind of world we're living in now, which is the hybrid. People working from home, people working from an office, clients all over the world. And I think we see that more and more now, I would say. Some of our clients are looking more like you. And that's what I find very interesting about your firm, where there's no static office. It used to be everybody came to the castle, there's no castle anymore. So now, everybody's outside of the castle and so many challenges have happened because of that.

So you mentioned your firm's growth, which I think has been fascinating to learn about where the market had, I think it was the New York Times called the Great Resignation and it got tagged as that. And then there was a really tough time of losing people and hiring people over the last, call it 18 months. And I know Denise and I struggled with that in our firm. And I'm curious, you said you had a lot of growth. Could you talk a little bit about as an executive of a small to medium sized firm, how did you handle, let's call it the Great Resignation? And more importantly, with your growth, how did you find people of quality and what was your process of how you did that?

Poonam Jain: Actually, for the most part, our digital team handles putting the word out. They use LinkedIn platform to do so. We do get client and employee referrals. Some of the people we've had, and good ones, did come directly from our clients. But I think mostly, we use LinkedIn. And once we find the right candidate, again the virtual interviews are set up. Depending on the position, we do try sometimes either having... We do have offices in New York and Chicago. New York we have always had, but Chicago is something that came up in last year and a half, because we were growing fast and digital team really thought it would be nice to have an office there and have people you know, at least coming in sometimes, if not every day. So that kind of led to other things as to... Sorry, I lost my thought here for a second.

Rahul Mahna: That's okay. That's okay. So maybe I can bring it back a little bit. So you grew from 15 people roughly, let's call it 18 months ago. Is that roughly about right? And so where are you today?

Poonam Jain: Yeah. We hired almost 10 people in last year or so.

Rahul Mahna: Oh, wow.

Poonam Jain: So we grew pretty fast and our revenue grew 30% as a result. So with that kind of growth, we had to figure out ways to manage everybody, to manage their task force. And again, technology is a rescue these days, especially when everybody's not in the same office. Like you said, it's no longer a castle where everybody is sitting and doing their work, or there are no onboarding manual or onboarding staff manual or paperwork that we hand out to people and they fill out the paperwork. And actually, it's been quite a few years now and we only got better, is we handle the paperwork, all the onboarding paperwork online.

There's no printing of forms, nothing doing... Once a person is hired, an agreement is signed, I start the process online with our payroll company and we just go on onboarding process and all the forms are filled out online and one thing leads to another. Once they are onboarded into the payroll system, it kicks into our benefits system, which is a separate system. So it kicks into benefits and that thing kicks into our Cobra plan. So they're all interconnected, they're all integrated and one system pushes into everything. So there's a lot of use of technology in day-to-day operations in hiring people once a contract is signed.

Rahul Mahna: And do you use recruiters or do you just use LinkedIn?

Poonam Jain: Actually, so far, we have used only LinkedIn or by word of mouth. We have used recruiters in the past but very, very rarely. I think I've been with the company for 10 years now and I would say maybe two, three times at the most I have seen anyone coming through a recruiter.

Rahul Mahna: Wow.

Poonam Jain: But generally, just LinkedIn or word of mouth.

Rahul Mahna: Wow, very interesting. I'll just make one note, that it's approximately 2:30 East Coast time. If anybody has any questions, there's a QA box there right on the screen. Please feel free to put them in there at any time, and then we can address them there. So with that, Denise?

Denise Finney: Yes, I love all the technology that you're using. And you've mentioned LinkedIn, it's one of my favorite tools to get out there and see what's new and to be able to provide the latest information. And I was interested in how you use your payroll software and your benefits, that's all integrated. And I guess what I'm getting at, is I hear that you tried something and then it didn't work out so well. So new technology comes out, you're trying it. I feel like that you're looking for the best tools that work for you and you're not afraid to make any changes. Is there any particular tools that you have seen that it's just your go-to tool, that you couldn't live without, so to speak? What do you use to make yourself fast and nimble?

Poonam Jain: I think if I would say the changes I have made past in our payroll platform was a big one. Mainly, we went from just a standalone payroll company, to a company that would handle the HR platform also. Because that used to take a lot of my time, it was manual work. So it was definitely a time to see if we can do all that online and also be in compliance. We are in 14 states and keeping up with the laws of those states plus federal, it's a challenging job. So having a partnership with a payroll company and a payroll and benefits partner companies is really important. And I know we are still challenged with a staff manual, keeping up with that so that we can have it updated at all times or at least in a decent amount of the time, go through the changes.

So I think that's where our integration comes in between the different platforms we have, to meet the challenges. That's one. And the second one I would say, is keeping all our staff collaborated, on the same page. So that's one of the big things. We have several teams within the company, lead in by different partners. And sometimes, they have to go outside their team and do things or borrow someone from another team. And we have to have tools in place so they are not looking around for information, for the data that they need to support the other team. And that's only possible by using some kind of a collaborative tool. In our case, we are using Teams, we're using Zoom and any and everything, Asana. Those are the tools that we use to go back and collaborate, and that's the only way we can effectively serve our clients.

Denise Finney: Right, absolutely. And with the technology as your background and computer science, how has all of that impacted your leadership style?

Poonam Jain: I think just the basic understanding of programming with my computer science degree kind of led me to think more "technologically", if I can say that. So it was the basic understanding that I got from my education would kind of guide me through that, "Okay, we need this kind of technology tool to accomplish so and so." I had a better understanding that if our team is lacking in something or can use some tool to work more effectively, then we need to look for it. I'll give you an example. Right now, I'm looking for a tool. Being a PR company, we have lots and lots of subscriptions. I can never get a handle of it. Tried it before when we were small, had not that many subscriptions. Started with an Excel spreadsheet, continued through.

But I tell you that's where I lack, because I'm looking for a software or some kind of a platform where when we sign up for something, we input that information, cost, renewal terms, what is a timeframe that we have subscription for and put a reminder. "Okay. So and so subscription is going to be coming up for renewal on such day and this subscription requires a note," a 30 day or a 60 day or a 90 day note to cancel it. There are times that you want to move to a different subscription. So I don't know how to do that. So I'm looking for that, because that's my challenge right now and I'm looking for something where I can do that. So these kind of challenges and the technology things that we want to think out of the box, we want to use it in our systems, in our operations to serve our clients. Again, our goal is to give the clients the best we can, and these technology tools are the ones that get us there.

Denise Finney: I can see Rahul's mind spinning like, "Ooh, how do we make this work?"

Poonam Jain: That would be a blessing to me, if we can do something like that.

Rahul Mahna: I was just thinking maybe we've got a financial expert, Denise, subject matter expert with you, Poonam, a technology expert with me. I think we have a little company we could set up here. This is perfect.

Poonam Jain: And I'm sure if we talk to other people in the firm, I'm sure they'll come up with other things that they are being challenged with. I know one of the things we got challenged, was it was a simple process that we hired somebody and I started dealing with some of the basic things, getting their picture taken, them writing their bios. And so we had several people involved after that and nobody knew what stage we were in, and we were kind of putting our... Emails were going around, "Is this done? Has the photograph been taken? Have they written their bios?" So our digital team stepped up and was like, "You know what? Let's put this in Asana." So everybody is assigned a task and that way, they know where we are, what we are doing. And then we always have Teams, where our documents are safe.

So a task that sounds simple but might not be simple, because there are so many things you do on onboarding and some things are just meant for me. But there are some things that after I do it or while I'm doing it, other people need to be notified and they need to be watching out for certain things or looking to complete... One task is dependent on the other. So they are looking that if this task gets done, we start on the next thing. So Asana made that easy. This could be a good example how we can make our processes more simple, understandable, accountable to everyone.

Rahul Mahna: It makes a lot of sense. I take one little step back, I'm still focused on people and I think it's very interesting how you've grown that way. And I also find it interesting how businesses have adapted to having a need and to having the right people there to support them. So I know this summer, and Denise, not to put you on the spot, but I know you had some large projects that you're working on and you brought in an entire staff from a different country to help you with that and you had a whole team in our office to help you. And so maybe you share a little bit about that project. I think it'd be interesting.

Denise Finney: Sure. So the employee benefit plan group, we have about 350 people that we train annually, firm wide. And this past year, went to Mumbai, India, and also Hyderabad and we trained about 70 people in our employee benefit plan group. And it takes time and effort, but it's surely worth it. And we started this effort about five or six years ago. So, it was wonderful to see that walking into a room five years ago, 20 people. Here, I'm delivering the training for the week's time. Fast forward five years later, I've got four of the people that were in the training five years ago, and now they're the ones delivering the training and I'm there to support the 70 folks. So, it was great to integrate and we had about six folks from our India offices travel to our metro park New Jersey office and stay the entire summer, which is when our employee benefit plans audits are being worked upon.

We could have had more if it wasn't for COVID and Visa stipulations and problems getting Visa appointments. So, we're looking forward to next year, increasing it. But I know what you're saying, Rahul, about the castle is no longer there but it's still important to have it. So, we all like the camaraderie, we all enjoy learning from each other and there really is nothing better than being able to just say, "Hey, you want to grab lunch and have a nice conversation with each other?" But to be able to have that flexibility and to be able to have our team here, but also be talking and coordinating with our teams back in India at the same time. It is very important. And we definitely use our tools such as Teams, very much so. It's very easy to schedule meetings with personnel, with clients, even on demand like, "Hey, can you join this call real quick?" "Yep." You send it, you're on, you're collaborating in real time. And that's very important.

Rahul Mahna: Yeah, you had a great team there and I just loved exactly what you said, the dynamic. So, Poonam, you're hiring people all around the country, Denise, you're bringing in half a dozen people from another country to work in your offices. And by the way, I used to bribe them with donuts. I don't know if they told you that, but I used to bring the little boxes of Munchkins all the time. It was great. They enjoyed it. And so, we, as an outsourced IT practice, I encounter this a lot and so I have some of our clients that are insourcing it. So, they think they're going to best serve their firm by just having one or two or three people run IT. I have some people that want to fully outsource it, because they think their skills are best used to run their business and they want IT and the expertise that one or two or three people can't always have. But they want a team to bring that expertise in.

And then we've got a new thing as well happening where it's a hybrid, where there might be one person or two people at a client site, but they want the structure and the knowledge base and the skill sets that a team of 50 can bring to overlay and to do it that way. And so it's a whole new world that's evolving. I think we're all going to see it by using technologies, by using platforms by people in different areas.

And long story. But Poonam, there is a point to all this for you, and I would love to get your perspective as an executive running a firm, you thought about IT, you had it insourced for a long time, then you decided... I'm sure you went through the process of should you outsource it, should you hybrid do it? And I would love to get some of your thoughts because I think there's a lot of firms in your exact boat of which path should they go. And I would love to get your ideas and your thought processes for everyone, to hear what you went through and what your leadership team went through to come to the decision to outsource your IT.

Poonam Jain: We had always had an IT partner with us, their role was very limited. Well, before I came into B and B, IT company was doing everything. When I saw 10 computers lying around the office and not being used, my curiosity was, "Why aren't they being used?" And I got the information, "Oh, the IT guy picks it up and does programs it for people, blah blah blah." And all that kind of information was shared. So I was like, "You know what? I'm computer savvy. I set up my computers at home and otherwise, I've been already working in a virtual environment before that. So why not I take up on that?" So I started setting up the computers for incoming employees, outgoing employees, taking their computers, making it ready. So that thing went on along with doing some basic support.

So while we were a smaller company with limited resources, we didn't bring IT company unless we needed to. I became kind of called IT coordinator basically, all the IT issues went through my desk. Generally, I could solve 50, 60% of those. But then when I can resolve it, I forward it to our IT partners. As we started to grow, things really got out of hand where not only I was spending so much time setting up computers, replacing and buying computers, and then supporting the team in their day-to-day IT issues. That's when I started thinking about it. But I was not really convinced until last year. And the reason was because I just realized cyber security is becoming an issue, and that was way beyond my understanding. I could understand the basics, what we need to get done, but how to accomplish that was something that we had to leave to IT experts.

And that's when my research started, was that this will not only... So initial research started for cyber security. And looking into cyber security, we realized that it's not just cyber security, everything is so interlinked that it's time for us to move to manage technology services. And I was very fortunate that both the partners, both the owners, Spencer Baretz and Cari Brunelle, they are very open and they also believe in having latest technology placed for everybody's benefit. So we approached the idea to them and gave them reasons, cyber security and much, much better support, faster support. And that's when we started shopping around and landed up with managed technology services.

Rahul Mahna: That makes a lot of sense. And the one key that I see throughout your messaging is cybersecurity, right? It wasn't so much the computer, but you were worried about regulations, framework, the evolving world that has happened through nation state actors and we know there's a lot of discomfort going around in the world. So you were concerned about cyber. And we hear this often, I have to say. It was just on a call this morning with the exact same concept, that they were very concerned about cyber security and had to learn through regulation and compliance. And as regulation and audits are becoming much more IT inclusive now, whereas before they were not, they're really starting to add more, executives like yourselves are having to become more aware of technology and cyber and bringing on partners that understand it a little bit better. I don't think so but I just wanted to ask, with your current business operations or with some of your clients, do you have any touchpoint on any regulation or compliance? Or is there anything that you are concerned about either today or in the future as the business involves?

Poonam Jain: Yeah, I think our data getting compromised is always a big thing. I think it seems like... And no matter how much measures we put in place, that's a risk. But how big that risk is, is something that we all need to look at closely and we definitely have as a firm. And in past few months, as it became more and more evident that you don't want to get hacked, there were changes we had to make. We had to put multifactor authentication in place. We had to make sure that all our staff, when they joined, take cybersecurity training. We imposed once a year annual cybersecurity training after that. We do phishing tests, and then of course the implementation has been by Eisner now and that has helped me relax a little bit. And then yeah, we often have our clients asking basic questions. When they want to do business with us, they will ask questions like, "Do you have a cybersecurity policy?"

Because I think that's kind of, they see a cover up that if you have a cyber security policy, there are some ground rules that you're following because otherwise, you can't have that policy. Or if you have a policy, it won't be any good. So that's one of the things we have been asked by our clients. Then, another thing that I think they ask, is if we had a breach of claims, breach or claims in the past. That's one question. What do we have for our emails? Do we have an email filtering system? Do we have controls in place for fund and wire transfers? Because obviously, they're going to pay us, they want to make sure that we have some kind of system in place that makes everybody's information secure. Do we back up our data? Do we have an antivirus installed? So these are some of the common questions some big firms do ask us and we have to have all this in place.

Rahul Mahna: That's very interesting to hear because my guess is, they have some government or regulatory or compliance standard they're trying to meet and they're going downhill to make sure everybody in their food chain is adhering to what they're probably attesting to that they are doing. And so there's a concept called vendor management that is getting more and more popular in our world of outsourced IT, which is how do you regulate the vendors that you have, that you are either paying money to or giving money to? So vendor supplier relationships. And it's funny, as you talked earlier about subscriptions, it's a little bit similar. So these tools allow you to track when a contract date started, when it ended. And so that's a simplistic thing I think you were mentioning earlier, perhaps one way to help manage some of these subscriptions. But also, for your vendors, there's methodical ways where you can ask them to supply annually their vulnerability tests, their policy, so you can keep track of it all.

So you know also, as B and B, who you are working with is also adhering to the same thought process that you are thinking about. And many of those technologies that you mentioned you're deploying and then therefore, your client's asking you as well. So it's a constant pyramid and food tree that is getting much more documented, I would say, in general. And so we see a lot of growth in this vendor management area, I have to say. And all the facets of tracking vendors and suppliers to make sure that when audits come around, they have everything in place. So with that, I know we only have a few minutes left and Denise, I think there's a couple questions that we can maybe ask Poonam to round out the hour here.

Denise Finney: Absolutely. Let's take a look at some of these questions that came in. Oh. Poonam, what advice would you give to women who are interested in pursuing a career in technology?

Poonam Jain: I think I would say take time to stay on top of technology changes and believe in your capabilities. It's not that easy to make your place in the technology world. Maybe it's easier now than it was when we started, well when I started. But with hard work, it definitely pays off. So just stay on it, don't accept technology the way it is, and learn about new things that are coming up.

Denise Finney: Yeah, and that's what I see that you did too. It wasn't the status quo. You were taking a look and saying, "All right. Does this make sense? What's new? What's out there? Let me..." And that kind of leads into the next question that came up. You don't seem afraid to change. Why is change so important?

Poonam Jain: Well, we're living in a robust environment. Change is natural. I think we all need to accept that. And if not, then we will not progress personally or in a society. It's a very, very natural thing. And once we accept and adapt the change around us, not only we can do our jobs more effectively, but I think it'll benefit our personal lives. We learn to be efficient in every sense of the way and be independent. These days, look at our kids, look at the grandkids people have, they know how to operate an iPad or a smartphone and learn the function before probably we can. So we must change. We have to adapt to the changing environment. I think to me, the way for me to go.

Denise Finney: Absolutely.

Rahul Mahna:I agree. My little three year old nephew, he goes to my house where I have a television on the wall and it's a little bit lower, and he touches it thinking that it's an iPad. So he's already prepared for screens and screen time and touching, and it's fascinating to watch that. So with perhaps just a minute or two left here, before we turn it back to Bella. Poonam, as an executive, you operate with your leadership, perhaps you have a leadership committee or board of directors. What technology are you thinking about in the future? Where do you think you're going to have some efficiencies for your organization and are there any technology tools around that?

Poonam Jain: Oh, boy. I think we all can use some system to get control of our inboxes. Well, I think we are all in that place. It just seems like there's a never, ever ending email flowing through your inboxes. But anyway, that's a personal thing for me. But I think as a company right now, we are not looking per se for the benefit of the entire company in a way. But indirectly, it will benefit. For example, I think my biggest challenge I said is a subscription list. That's my nearest goal right now, is to look for a system where I can have the subscription list in there to manage it. And I'm sure there are plenty others that will come up as we get into the future, we grow. But that's something that kind of technology we are looking for right now just to help-

Rahul Mahna: That's great.

Poonam Jain: All of us to work better on day-to-day basis.

Rahul Mahna: Appreciate and value some of the concepts of leadership and curiosity and learning and testing. I think Denise and I commented before about how you're just fearless about doing this and trying it, and I think those are some good values as takeaways. So we both thank you so much, Poonam, for your time and sharing all of this with us. I'm sure it was very enlightening to everybody who joined and thank you again. And with that, Bella, I'll turn it back to you.

Poonam Jain: Thank you, Rahul. Thank you, Denise. Thanks all. Appreciate the opportunity.

Denise Finney: Thank you.

Rahul Mahna: Bye.

Poonam Jain: Bye.

Transcribed by Rev.com

About Denise Finney

Denise Finney is the Partner-in-Charge of the Pension Services Group dedicated to employee benefit plan audits. With 15 years of public accounting experience, she specializes in assisting clients with annual audit requirements regarding employee benefit plans.

About Rahul Mahna

Rahul Mahna is a Managing Director and leads the Outsourced IT Services team. He has extensive experience in IT software development and provides cybersecurity solutions to our clients.

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