Bob Brandkamp, Avista Corp.’s risk manager, was the 2019 Walton Lecture speaker.

Fall Events Wrap-Up

By Sue McMurray

Bob Brandkamp, Avista Corp.’s risk manager, talks about risk management.

Walton Lecture Series Features Avista Corp.’s Risk Manager

Something as simple as sitting in the back of the room during a presentation can pose a degree of risk, according to this year’s Walton Lecture speaker, Bob Brandkamp.

To demonstrate the concept of personal risk, Brandkamp, Avista Corp.’s risk manager, jovially picked a student from the back row of the auditorium to join him at the front of the room, hand out T-shirts for participation, and contribute to the conversation for the hour-long lecture.

“I’ll bet you didn’t think sitting in the back was a risk,” Brandkamp says. “But my point is that people view personal risk through different lenses.”

It is important for future risk managers to have soft skills, such as communication, creative thinking, and problem solving, “so that people and companies don’t look at you like you said a four-letter word when you talk to them about risk,” he says.

During his presentation he spoke on the evolution of risk management and insurance as they relate to business—from thirteenth-century mariners’ insurance to today’s corporate environment steeped in multiple risk factors.

“The way to differentiate and make yourself valuable from others is by accepting that risk exists and managing it,” he says. “Understand your company’s goals and look for ways to mitigate risks, no matter what your level is.”

Hoops Institute Partners with State for Inaugural Tax Conference

The inaugural Washington State Tax Conference drew more than 150 people to Pullman.

The Hoops Institute of Taxation Research and Policy, in partnership with the Washington State Department of Revenue, sponsored the inaugural Washington State Tax Conference in July, drawing more than 150 people to Pullman to discuss taxes from a variety of perspectives.

“I was proud to partner with the Hoops Institute to present the first annual Washington State Tax Conference,” says Vikki Smith, Department of Revenue director. “The conference intentionally brought in a mix of speakers from private industry and government to provide different viewpoints.”

Washington tax law, digital product taxation, and tax litigation were among the topics discussed, and every panel included a taxpayer, a tax auditor, and a tax advisor.

National tax experts Helen Hecht and Jeff Friedman addressed pending tax issues affecting the state, such as a tax nexus, a legal term for whether a state has the power to tax a business; apportionment, a formulary system to determine corporations’ taxable share of profits; and the Multistate Tax Compact.

Caleb Allen, a tax policy specialist with the state Department of Revenue, Kristin Bosworth, state and local tax manager at Amazon, and Carolynn lafrate Kranz, a partner with Kranz & Associates PLLC, addressed digital goods and services—an area Washington state tax authorities are just beginning to examine.

Based on positive survey results, the Department of Revenue will be working with the Hoops Tax Institute to put on a conference in 2020, Smith says.

“Mr. Hoops, who endowed the Hoops Tax Institute, understood that people find it difficult to discuss tough issues like taxes in public,” says Jeff Gramlich, professor of accounting and director of the Hoops Tax Institute. “It was refreshing to see the sharing across opposing viewpoints and the professionalism on display. Mr. Hoops would be proud.”

Seattle Power Breakfast Discusses Influence of Data Analytics In Business and Sports

From left, Dean Chip Hunter and panelists Kyle Smith, Lisa Young, and Darren Algers discuss the use of data analytics.

In just the last two years, 90 percent of the world’s data was created—an opportunity that can be both galvanizing and overwhelming for businesses trying to get ahead of their competitors. At the Seattle Power Breakfast, panelists Lisa Young (’02 Comm.), Darren Alger (’93 Pol. Sci.), and WSU men’s head basketball coach Kyle Smith shared insights on how data analytics has affected business operations within their workplaces and suggested tips for smaller businesses who can’t afford to hire analysts.

“How quickly we can digest data and make decisions is revolutionary,” says Young, Seattle Seahawks’ managing director of corporate partnerships. She says the Seahawks use data holistically to make decisions that support their revenue and entertainment goals as well as players’ health. “We’ve worked with partners to capture sports science data sets that show us how our players are feeling, what they’re eating, and how much sleep they need,” she says. “It gives us a competitive advantage to be able to see who might need to sit out of practice, for example.”

Smith also uses data analytics to boost recruiting efforts and optimize strategy and player health but says data can sometimes be too influential. “Looking at the human element and sometimes going off gut instinct is very important to me,” he says. “I constantly remind myself that I’m working with 18 to 22-year-olds and fostering a good attitude and work ethic in them will help prepare them for success in the world.”

“Data can reveal false premises and biases and give you an advantage over competitors, but you have to leverage it well in order to bring people together,” says Alger, CEO of Unify Consulting. “We love our AI solutions, but it’s really still about the people.”

For smaller organizations interested in using data analytics, the panelists suggests several small-scale approaches. Surveying, even with a small sample size, can be valuable, says Young. She says focusing on just one area of need at a time and applying the same successful tool to other areas can sometimes create a domino effect towards buy-in.

To start moving away from spreadsheets or antiquated systems, Alger suggests organizations try public or shared software tools such as the cloud to better understand their business objectives and desired outcomes. To encourage an organization to start using data, it’s important to get a coalition together to show the leadership how valuable it is, he says.

Business Technology Symposium Illustrates How Business and Technology Work Hand-in-Hand

Speakers at the Biz Tech Symposium were Brian Abrahamson (left), chief information officer, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory; and Joan Qafoku, senior consultant, cybersecurity at KPMG.

In the midst of a digital revolution, closing the divide between those who understand technology and those who don’t will be one the of biggest challenges future business leaders will face in their careers, according to Joan Qafoku (’15 MIS), KPMG senior consultant on cybersecurity, and Brian Abrahamson, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory’s chief information officer, who spoke at the 2019 Business Technology Symposium.

One strategy for bridging this gap is to embed tech professionals throughout an organization versus siloing them in a department, says Abrahamson.

Qafoku says there is a lot of cultural change happening in the way companies perceive information technology. There is a shifting mindset toward automating things and having one digital workflow, and marketers will soon have extensive information technology and data analytical skills that can be relevant to any position, he says.

The art of simplicity in both business operations and user experience is another key to a company’s agility, says Abrahamson. Traditional business becomes complicated over time due to regulations and processes, and a high degree of complexity can drive inefficiency, he says. One way companies can differentiate themselves is by simplifying the way they work with technology.

“I encourage students to think beyond IT as an ability to code and go through software stocks,” he says. “People who can understand analytics, manipulate data, and analyze trends may have broad career opportunities.”

Young people with technological intuition derived from internships, project management, or even social media may be ahead when it comes to career success. “If you can translate innate knowledge into a business application, you will create incredible value for a business,” Qafoku says.