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Government Procurement Cycles Clashes With Speed of Technology

Technology product development and lifecycles are getting much shorter. Unfortunately, the current process for most government funding approvals and procurement cycles have been used for decades. Combined, legislation funding approval, the proposal process, and then the final choice of a vendor can take between 18 to 36 months (the technology implementation has not even started). With some larger projects – delivery of the technology solution is yet another 2 to 5 year cycle. The end-to-end process before the business is using the new solution can take 3 to 8 years. For commercial software like Microsoft Windows, a new version is released every 24 months, most consumer technology products have new release cycles every 12 months, and now, many mobile apps have quarterly release cycles. Restrictive rules Regulatory rules can be so restrictive, that they choke off innovation, and end up imposing more risk onto government agencies. By the time they finish their project, the technology which was purchased has become either obsolete, or needs new funding for an upgrade. In fact, The Standish Group, an IT research firm, found that 94 percent of large-scale federal IT projects have been unsuccessful during the last decade. Yet, the United States has had rigid procurement rules and a system of checks and balances in place, in order to prevent such scenarios. I believe one of the biggest factors preventing successful government IT projects is the lengthy procurement process. Also, procurement rules result in poor communication. How much a contractor knows coming into a procurement, and how well that company understands the requirements, can make the difference between an agency making the right or wrong solution. Yet current procurement rules often prevent or restrict the types of communications that take place. More frequent communication with the bidders during the RFP process would decreases the chances of an unpleasant surprise or people walking away if they find their expectations are off. There must be some way to begin making incremental decisions during the selection process, which creates a better fit for what a government agency is trying to do. When you look at the projects which are not successful, I believe some of the seeds of failure are in the procurement process. How can government modernize their business model? When we go and buy a car, we do not tell GM, Ford, or Tesla how to make their vehicles with 120 pages of requirements and rules. We have memorized our outcome of needed features such as price, color, interior and exterior options. If our “outcome” requirements are met, we pay for a car and drive it home. So how can “outcome” requirements be met? Think Business First and Technology Second – Spend time looking at the business problem that the technology needs to solve before issuing a bid. Make sure that the focus is on results, and not on a tech-only software product installation. Throw out the RFP – Write a short, concise outcome of business rules, business process, and business benefits, and how the agency is going to be using the system. Better communication and engagement of vendors – Once a RFP is issued – all communication stops. A vendor can only communicate with an agency via written questions, at the beginning of the RFP process. Buy an outcome. Force all of the risk onto the vendor.  Have the vendor make the choices as to the technology stack and process they want to take to achieve your outcome. The agency will pay nothing until the outcome is delivered. It won’t be easy, but government must continue to push the envelope to encourage an approach that enables it to strike a balance to keep up with technology and innovation. Incremental communication and engagement of vendors is a step in the right direction. Outcome-based procurement will prevent corruption and waste, because government entities will not pay any money to the vendor, unless the outcome is achieved. New models will help government to keep up with the speed of technology, and will help to achieve outcomes that matter.

Lessons Learned #3: The Difference Between Business Rules and Business Process

Using the same playbook for strategy is not working for most companies, because the pace of change and is so rapid, and competition is constantly evolving.  To understand what is unique about your business, the diagnosis and separation of Business Process vs. Business Rules needs to be understood. Business Process clearly describes the work performed by all resources involved in creating outcomes of value for its customers and other stakeholders, as stated by the Business Process Manifesto.  Business Process outlines the activities and variations made up of all different levels of detail. These activities are executed either by a human being (with or without the support of technology) or are fully automated. The Amazon distribution model is an example of both human and robot business processes, used to complete packaging of orders for delivery. Business Rules are lists of statements that tell you whether you may or may not do something, and give you the criteria and conditions for making decisions. They define or constrain some aspects of business, and always confine answers to being either true or false. According to the Business Rule Group, business rules can be categorized as one of the following types: Definitions of business terms Facts Constraints Derivations Business rules can be hidden in source code (e.g., legacy systems), workflow descriptions, decision tables or tacit knowledge buried in people’s heads.  Business rules which are constantly changing are embedded into business processes. Examples of a business rule would be the pricing structure at a large retail store, how sales tax is calculated, and when discounts and promotions should be applied.   Another example is if a new Federal or State law determined if a payment to a claimant should be made for an Insurance claim. Separation of Business Process vs. Business Rules Business Rules need to be separated from Business Process. Think of the game of football; you have the rules, which can determine the process (outcome of the play). Having your business rules in business processes can cripple the business process.  This is especially true in highly regulated industries, such as Financial Services, Insurance, and Healthcare.  When rules are embedded in a process, that process will need to be reprogrammed each time the rule changes. Separating the rules that govern a process will not only provide a superior level of flexibility and configurability to adapt, but will also allow for consistent execution of business policy. In most cases, the separation of the two will also allow for a reduction in the number of decision branches involved in the process. Some organizations can reduce the number of steps in their business processes by 50%. Knowing this, create an internal plan to centralize all of your business rules, so that you can have a holistic view of the process, and ensure that both business and IT are looking at the same rules. This is not an easy process, and trying to consolidate all business rules at once is not recommended. Instead, look at each department or function of your business, start the consolidation process there, and then centralize. Summary Separation of Business Processes and Business Rules needs to be understood and implemented to achieve rapid innovation and strategic improvements. Consolidate and centralize your Business Rules.  The results will lead your company to faster and more agile decision making, and allow for more rapid course correction with strategies. Want to see more lessons learned? Check them out here.

Founding partner Chuck Czajkowski enjoys the adrenalin of ‘implementation weekends’

Chuck Czajkowski keeps life in perspective and takes success in stride. “When we moved into the garage, we thought it was nice,” says Chuck, one of three founding partners of M Corp. The company had its first “headquarters” in Chuck’s garage in Sacramento. His wife agreed to the arrangement, but only if the backyard became her own space. “I thought that was fair, it was a pretty big sacrifice,” he laughs. Despite being limited to the garage and laminate flooring under their feet, Chuck and his two fellow partners – Alex Castro and Hung Lee – have sprouted a rather successful company that continues to thrive. It’s an excellent location for M Corp – and Chuck. Many of the company’s clients are a few blocks away. And numerous restaurants, from bargain-priced eateries to white-linen restaurants, are also within walking distance, a big selling point for Chuck, a foodie. Several musical venues are close, another benefit for Chuck, who plays the guitar and was a self-admitted “punk rocker” as a kid. The new office is also relatively close to his home in McKinley Park, an older neighborhood in East Sacramento. Chuck was recently honored as a Neighborhood Hero by the McKinley East Sacramento Neighborhood Association (MENA). Chuck, a former board member of MENA, volunteers to oversee the association’s website, EastSacWatch.com, and several other community websites. It’s a balance between the business world and life away from work that helps Chuck deal with the demands of a fast-growing company, especially during the first few years. “We invested all our money back in the company” in the early years of M Corp, says Chuck. The investment has definitely paid off. M Corp is one of the nation’s fastest-growing companies based on annual revenue growth, according to Inc. magazine. In fact, the company’s annual revenue has greatly exceeded the partners’ original goals. The company has completed almost 20 legacy modernization projects since starting in 2003, including efforts for the Employment Development Department and the California Public Employees’ Retirement System (CalPERS). “It showed that can take something and deliver as promised,” Chuck says of the CalPERS and EDD projects. “They’ve laid the groundwork for moving forward.” Indeed, both projects – completed on time and within budget – helped the company and partner CherryRoad Technologies recently grab a $26 million contract as part of the Financial Information System for California Project, commonly referred to as FI$Cal. “We competed against the bigs and won,” he says. “We proved ourselves with the EDD contract. We want to have projects that we are responsible for; we want to own it.” But Chuck admits that any level of success also requires some level of luck. “Everything comes with a little bit of luck,” says Chuck, citing a visit to Philadelphia when he ran into an executive with the General Services Administration that helped M Corp in the early days. “Luck happens all of the time, but you need to know how to take advantage of it.” Of course, dedication, experience and hard work are important, too. Many employees remember Chuck’s commitment on the EDD project, when more than 4 billion rows of data were successfully transferred to a new system during a round-the-clock effort on Thanksgiving weekend in 2011. “Those are the best times, when everyone is excited,” Chuck says of his first-rate team that worked on the multimillion-dollar project. “Anyone who had an available pair of hands, we put them to work. That never-say-die attitude was infectious.” Chuck led the charge. He worked 27 hours straight on the project over the holiday weekend. He slept on the floor when he could find a few hours of down time. “Implementation weekends, when everything is going crazy, that’s fun for me,” he says. “We had our share of hiccups, but we had built in enough support. We really did something special. We got it done, and made it a success.” Colleague and employee John O’Reilly agrees. “Chuck knows the business,” says O’Reilly, a consultant with M Corp. “He understands our needs; he gives us a lot of support. He’s just one of the gang.” It’s a bit of a balancing act being one of the founding partners – and all of the demands and pressures that come with it – while working with employees and contractors on projects. Being a good business partner requires keeping a close eye on the bottom line, but Chuck says other efforts are important, too. “We treat our people well and with respect,” says Chuck, a computer science graduate from Sacramento State. He was a consultant for much of his career before M Corp, except for a brief stint with Ford Aerospace following graduation. “If you keep your employees happy …” But business partners must also be challenged and happy — and share a vision. “We all have the same attention to detail,” says Chuck, who adds that each partner has their own special skills. “Hung and I are technologists; Alex is the big thinker. Alex has become more realistic, and Hung and I are dreaming of more big projects.” It’s a dream that has become a reality for the trio. “When we first went in there, it was an old, bombed-out building,” Chuck says of the company’s first office following his garage. Alex and Chuck wore gloves with fingers cut out because the building didn’t have heat the first few months. “It was just a cement rectangle with racquetball paint on the walls. I thought, ‘This is where we are going to build M Corp? It turned out really well.” Now, the new office – on the fifth floor of the historic Regis Building at 11th and K Streets – is undergoing its own dramatic changes. “They wanted everything to be monochromatic,” Chuck says of his business partners. “We want it to look elegant, professional but not high-end. It’s like how we work – you can get what you want at a reasonable price.” And that’s part of Chuck’s upbringing. His family lived in Chicago and St. Louis, before he moved to Sacramento, where he attended high school and later Sacramento State. “I’m a Californian now, but I have that Midwest mentality,” says Chuck, who met his wife, Marcia, when he was working on a consulting gig at Vision Service Plan (VSP). The couple have two sons – R.J., 11, and Mack, 8, The mentality has helped the company and his own success. “Now, that we’ve become more successful, it’s more about being part of a company that I want to work for,” says Chuck, who shares an office with his partners. “We want to maintain our quality and how we treat people. At the end of the day, we’re all still friends.”

Turbo Charge Your Project Decision Making Process

Research suggests that we make around 35,000 decisions every day, ranging from the mundane (what shoes to wear) through to potentially life-altering situations. Successful project management relies upon efficient and agile-structured decisions in a timely fashion. Within project management, this would be the “Decision Making” area benchmark. This area addresses the ability to intake, categorize, and affect decisions in a risk-managed way to ensure that the initiative’s execution will not be delayed by decision-making processes. There is a significant variance in the way decisions are made in each of the internal stakeholder operating units. Sometimes taking a methodical approach to decision making can be in direct conflict with the decision-making practices of a project life cycle, and with how other operating units make decisions. The decision-making process represents a significant vulnerability to the initiative, and might affect the amount of time which may be needed to execute decisions. Red Flags in Decision Making Process Decision-making process is not clear within operations. Decisions are made without the benefit of impact analysis. No formalized process to gather business team and technical team input regarding the impact to workload and schedules. Difficulty in reaching consensus on practice changes, which leads to last minute system changes. Ambiguity in decisions can trigger uncertainty regarding why and how decisions are made. Decision making pertaining to workload priorities, which might require a shift during the project have a clear chain of authority. Recommendations For Better Decision Making Teams which historically worked in an autonomous model for decision making regarding operations and technology need to be streamlined to a consensus model. The Project team may require training on the decision-making processes used within the context of consensus project delivery. Use impact and options analysis and a collaborative process to make decisions regarding changes. It is recommended that one creates a communication plan when key IT decisions are made, providing some context around the decision and ensuring that all staff receives the same intended message regarding the decision. Throughout the project, recognize the need to scale back on special requests and work outside of the required workload. This will free up time to make timely decisions and course corrections on the Project. Leadership will determine which projects and work take priority. Summary Projects encounter different experiences and biases, time constraints and pressures on various team members. With collaborative projects, we cannot avoid making decisions. Effective project management must rely on individuals and teams making informed decisions on a regular basis via a streamlined consensus model, or team members may suffer from decision fatigue!

M Corp’s Providing Data Architecture Services for the Department of Finance-FI$Cal Project

M Corp has been awarded the RFO for Department of Finance, FI$Cal Project, for Data Architecture Services.  FI$Cal is California’s major effort to modernize and reengineer the financial business operations of state government on an enterprise-wide basis. It is a business transformation project for state government and will prepare the State systems and workforce to function in an integrated financial management environment through the implementation of ERP software.  FI$Cal is a partnership of the Department of Finance (Finance), State Controller’s Office (SCO), State Treasurer’s Office (STO), and Department of General Services (DGS). The state was seeking experienced contractors to provide general support for, and knowledge transfer of, general data architecture activities including Master Data Management (MDM), Business Intelligence (BI and reporting), Enterprise Data Warehouse (EDW), Legacy Systems Analysis; Data Analytics, Data Availability and services, Data Security and Master Data Management and Architecture.   M Corp’s proposed staff and approach to the project resulted in a win for M Corp and for the FI$Cal Project Team.  

Every American Should Receive New Social Security Numbers

With the breaking news of the Equifax cyberattack, approximately 50% of all Americans have had their social security numbers stolen. It’s time for each one of us to get issued new social security numbers, using new and more secure methods. History of Issuing Social Security The Social Security Act was signed into law by President Roosevelt on August 14, 1935. In addition to several provisions for general welfare, the new Act created a social insurance program designed to pay retired workers age 65 or older a continuing income after retirement. The process of issuing Social Security numbers is called “enumeration.” John Sweeney received the first SSN account, and his was not the lowest number ever issued. That distinction fell to New Hampshire resident, Grace Dorothy Owen. Ms. Owen received number 001-01-0001. The nine-digit SSN is composed of three parts: The first set of three digits is called the Area Number The second set of two digits is called the Group Number The final set of four digits is the Serial Number After understanding the history and the why and how of the social security number issuance process, you can see that it is archaic by today’s standards. Advanced Encryption Standard (AES), is a specification for the encryption of electronic data established by the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) in 2001. AES has been adopted by the U.S. government and is now used worldwide. The algorithm described by AES is a symmetric-key algorithm, meaning the same key is used for both encrypting and decrypting the data. I am not a software programmer, or a crypto-security or data scientist expert, but must there be a safer way to issue, encrypt, and safely store our social security numbers? What if we used massive government super computers with 256-bit encryption to generate our new social security numbers? Can’t our social security number be like a Bitcoin and use blockchain technology as a ledger system? We could automatically get notified if our new social security number was queried or used in any way. If your social security number was stolen, it is out there in the cyber-world forever. I do not want to always be looking over my shoulder to deal with another incident of identity theft, so UNCLE SAM – please issue me a new, more secure social security number! What’s your answer to this problem?

State Lands Commission Hires M Corp for Software Solution Project with a Far-Reaching Effect

M Corp is providing procurement support for the California State Lands Commission by defining the scope of work and requirements for a lease-management software solution. The State Lands Commission provides stewardship of public land, waterways and resources through economic development, protection, preservation and restoration. A recent state audit found the commission is not appropriately tracking the status of some of its leases. The commission’s lease application, management and billing processes are currently supported by outdated technology and paper file systems. M Corp has been hired to help the commission improve its monitoring and management of leases by implementing a commercial, off-the-shelf lease management software solution that provides a centralized database to support lease applications, management and billing processes. The State Lands Commission may lease sovereign lands for any public trust purpose and must often decide whether to issue a lease for a proposed project. Commission leases of land generally fall into several categories: recreational, commercial, industrial, right-of-way and salvage. Specific examples of such leases include private recreational piers, commercial marinas, yacht clubs, marine terminals, oil and gas pipelines, fiber-optic cables, bank stabilization, and wetlands and habitat management projects. The State Lands Commission includes the Lieutenant Governor, State Controller and Director of Finance. The commission has more than 200 staff members, including specialists in mineral resources, land management, boundary determination, petroleum engineering and the natural sciences.

Executive Sponsorship Track at Project Delivery Summit in June

M Corp is an anchor sponsor of Public Sector Partners’ Project Delivery Summit 2014, an all-day conference to connect with and educate state employees who oversee and participate in state information technology projects. Several hundred people – including many state officials and employees – will attend the conference June 5 at the Sheraton Grand in downtown Sacramento. M Corp, which has completed more than 20 large state IT projects, is co-sponsoring the Executive Sponsorship track, a two-meeting session that will discuss the challenges of major projects and the essential qualities to make them a success. The Executive Sponsorship track will address “how everyone can row together for success,” says M Corp Chief Operations Officer Deanne Wertin. “We want California projects to be successful. This is a great way to educate and share our experiences.” M Corp Chief Executive Officer Alex Castro, one of the company’s three founding partners, will lead a panel of experts who will share their experiences on actual projects and the challenges they faced and how effective leadership dramatically affected the outcome. Also as part of the panel discussion, oversight executives will detail how a project is measured and what issues they look for in the delivery process. M Corp has completed numerous high-profile projects, including efforts for the California Public Employees’ Retirement Systems (CalPERS) and the Employment Development Department. The company is currently partnering on the legacy system services work for the massive Financial Information System for California project, often referred to as FI$Cal. M Corp is also sponsoring the summit’s lunch keynote speaker Gopal Kapur, founder of the Center for Project Management. Kapur is an expert on business and project management. The Project Delivery Summit will educate, foster collaboration and provide network opportunities for state officials and employees as well as private-sector contractors for the state. The end result is to deliver successful IT projects, says Public Sector Partners Chief Executive Officer Russ Hicks. Learn more about the Project Delivery Summit by visiting http://pspinfo.us/events/projectdelivery2014/.

Partner Hung Lee Takes Success In Stride

M Corp has come a long way from a garage, where founding partners Alex Castro, Chuck Czajkowski and Hung Lee were surrounded by tools and trimmers. Now, the company is on the top floor of a century-old building, a block from the Capitol and around the corner from some of the newest – and some may say coolest –restaurants and nightclubs in Sacramento. Many of the company’s clients, such as California Public Employees’ Retirement System (CalPERS) and Employment Development Department (EDD) are a few blocks away. “Chuck and I sat there the other day and asked each other, ‘Did you ever think we’d be here?’” says Hung during a late-afternoon break at a downtown restaurant. “Even in our wildest dreams, looking out at K Street … I just didn’t see this.” Indeed, the fast-growing company – listed at No. 637 on the Inc. 5000 list of privately owned U.S. firms – has come a long way since it started in 2003. And so has Hung. The environmental science degree graduate who had a difficult time finding a job in Massachusetts and later in Los Angeles, has hired dozens of employees during the past decade. She credits some of her success to EDS Corp. founder Ross Perot, sort of. The billionaire and one-time presidential candidate’s company hired Hung for a training program and she moved to the Sacramento region, where she learned about the IT industry. “It was literally a godsend,” she says. “It was a great opportunity.” She later joined the now-defunct ISP, where she met Chuck while working on a project for the Employment Development Department. “Chuck and I really work well together,” says Hung, who also worked with him on a California Alcohol and Drug Programs project. “We’re builders and developers at heart … we’re techies.” Soon, the two discussed developing a program for counties that expanded the Alcohol and Drug Programs project statewide and formed M Corp. “We were a little ahead of our time, that was our brainchild,” says Hung, adding that the statewide project never materialized, but M Corp did. Chuck knew Alex Castro, who became one of the founding partners of M Corp. One of the company’s first long-term contracts was a modernization project for the state Office of System Integration. “That project is near and dear to my heart,” she says of the five-year project to migrate data from a 30-year-old system. “There are so many things that I’ve learned along the way, to change a system that has been there for a lifetime and a day. I learn the most from stuff that doesn’t always go well. It’s like battle scars.” Every project has its challenges, but some go even better than expected. Case in point: A project to migrate 4 billion rows of data for the EDD on Thanksgiving weekend in 2011. “There’s a lot of pride with the project, it’s a huge accomplishment,” says Hung, who worked on the multi-million dollar, multi-year project. “That was a huge feat. I don’t think many companies could do that. We did everything right.” The successful EDD project gave M Corp some much-deserved attention in the industry and the media, and helped paved the way for other large-scale projects. But Hung keeps everything in perspective. “I kind of roll with it,” Hung says of the firm’s success. “I try to enjoy it while we’re here in this space.” She adds the partners get a lot of attention, but M Corp employees deserve a lot of the praise and recognition as well. “We’re really lucky, we’ve found some people who are very sharp and dedicated,” Hung says. “We couldn’t do it without folks like that.” But the never-ending demands take a toll, she says. “We’re growing so fast, one of my wishes is that we could get together more and collaborate,” Hung says of the 100-person staff, including employees and consultants. “In order to get even better, we have to get our teams together more often.” A much larger office just a few blocks from many of its clients and employees should help. “At the end of the day, it’s about being the best we can,” says Hung, who has a similar outlook when it comes to successful – or disappointing — bid contracts. “It feels so good, this huge sigh of relief,” she says of winning a contract, especially those proposals that can literally take hundreds of hours and multiple teams to prepare. “It feels very good … to see something come to fruition. But I’m kind of numb (when hearing about a successful proposal), my head is already in the next place.” So much that she keeps everything in perspective, especially the time between submitting the bid and and hearing if it’s a winning proposal, which can take a few weeks. “Once we submit something and we’ve tried our best … it’s kind of out of our hands,” she says. “I worry about the process, before we submit.” Her approach is dramatically different than of partner Castro, who is always nervous until the contract is final. “That’s what really makes us work,” Hung says of the three partners. “If the three of us were so alike, we’d be so unbalanced. And there is always someone to break a tie. Hopefully, we’re all good at articulating at what we want to see happen.” So what would Hung rather be doing for three months or so? “I’d like to be futzing around,” laughs Hung, who has two children – Ben 18, and Elisabeth, 13. She would like to spend time gardening and traveling to Boston, where she was raised and where she earned her Bachelor’s Degree in Environmental Science from the University of Massachusetts Amherst. “I’d like to not have to be on someone’s schedule.” For now, Hung is happy with her fast-paced projects, the relationship with her business partners and the success of M Corp. “The three of us really set the pace,” she says. “I’m always thinking ahead.”

M Corp hires industry veteran as Chief Operating Officer, establishes titles for founding partners

M Corp, one of the nation’s fastest-growing IT firms, has announced major changes to its executive team with the hiring of a chief operating officer and establishing defined roles for the three founding partners. The Sacramento-based company – a provider of Legacy Modernization, Business Analytics, and Readiness solutions for government and private-sector clients – has aggressive growth plans for the next several years, creating the need for a COO and formalized C-level positions for the partners. COO Deanne Wertin, an industry veteran, will handle the daily business operations and will focus on expanding the firm into new markets. “We’ve enjoyed tremendous success because of our people and our disciplined approach to solving client problems,” says Alex Castro, one of the three founding partners. “Now, we want to raise the bar and challenge the company, and ourselves, even more. Deanne brings the experience and skills needed to help make M Corp a nationally recognized firm.” Castro will assume the chief executive officer position. Fellow partner Chuck Czajkowski has been named chief technology officer, while partner Hung Lee is the newly created chief development officer. “M Corp is an excellent company with a great team of employees and consultants who consistently deliver,” says Wertin. “We want to build the company into a major player that successfully handles high-profile modernization projects, just as we’ve done in California again and again. Reaching that goal requires that everyone focus on their key strengths and that we utilize their skills as effectively as possible.” Wertin – most recently senior vice president of client services with The Walz Group and a former consulting president/ and general manager for MAXIMUS – joins one of the nation’s fastest-growing firms. In September, M Corp ranked No. 1,159 on the Inc. 5000 list of privately owned companies with a 362% increase in revenue during the past three years. The company has made the closely watched and prestigious list the past two years. “We’re truly challenging ourselves, our employees, everyone connected to the company,” says Lee. “We’re committed to producing the same top-notch efforts on projects – and focused on expanding the firm into more markets.” The founding partners started the company in 2003 with an office in Czajkowski’s garage in East Sacramento. The company later moved to a loft in the Arden area before moving to a 5,000-square-foot office in downtown Sacramento in June. The company’s new office, in the century-old Regis Building, is a block away from the Capitol and near many clients, including the California Public Employees’ Retirement System (CalPERS), and Employment Development Department. We want to be the nation’s go-to company for modernization projects while also enabling our clients’ business success in other ways. “We’re looking at new markets that make the most sense for the company, and creating an environment that attracts the best talent in the industry” says Castro.