31 July 2014

A contemporary tale about hiring in Canada

Ever since the onset of the Great Recession, the Canadian job market has seen some interesting shifts:
  • People are more reluctant to move around, which has really caused significant constraints for those few who are working, or those who are out of work, who are looking for new opportunities. In Finance, the only significant churn I'm seeing is among Financial Analysts and entry-level Controller positions.
  • In a connected matter, there appears to be very little internal transfer or cross-training to speak of in many organizations. There are, on the other hand, still too many examples of exits due to restructuring. That does little to help morale for those who are left.
  • While accountants have never been the most social of people, many professional networks have vanished with the closure of many companies in Ontario's manufacturing heartland. The various professional accounting bodies have done little to help those in need—especially those with longer work experience who have been put to pasture—and I don't think the forthcoming merger in connection with the new CPA designation will help one bit. There have been too many instances I've heard about where professional accountants have been out of work for three years or more!
  • Recruiters are doing less head-hunting and more order-taking, while still demanding fees of 20%-30% of base salary. I've observed that, even when they ask for references at the beginning, they're never checked until a prospective employer has taken the bait and made an offer. That's quite a difference from the days when a candidate would have never been taken on until at least two members in the recruiter's network had given positive comments about the person in advance. I know of many current situations in which recommendations to a recruiter have resulted in no action taken, even if just a courtesy call.
This has really affected someone of my acquaintance, who got her CMA three years ago to top up her MBA. Her employer during her time in the CMA Strategic Leadership Programme refused to fully reimburse her tuition fees (which were quite considerable), even though others in the same large organization got 100% funding. Despite the CMA claims that management opportunities awaited their graduates, the only ones that employers were looking for were in the FA area. She accepted a position in another large organization, but she soon learnt that there were no opportunities for movement, and her position was in a pay grade that was too low for her abilities to be properly noticed. Sadly, she was unable to survive one of their subsequent (almost quarterly) restructurings.

Her work with recruiters here proved fruitless, for the reasons I've given above. Interestingly, one of her friends in the US passed her name on to one of the larger corporations down there, to which she e-mailed her résumé. Here's what happened next:
  1. She was called by one of their internal recruiters and told that they expected her to fly down to New York City for two back-to-back interviews the following week, to be followed the next day by two back-to-back telephone interviews which she conducted back home in Toronto.
  2. All her travel expenses were fully refunded for the trip, and the hotel room was billed directly to the company.
  3. She was offered the job a week later, which she decided to accept. The first day of employment is expected to be immediately after Labour Day.
  4. They then e-mailed her instructions for accessing their "onboarding" website, where many data fields had already been populated from scanning her résumé. She had to fill in the remaining required fields, in order to initiate their processes relating to applying to US Customs and Immigration to get her TN status set up in order to work there, as well as for the dossier for her employment background check. This also included scans of other pertinent paperwork, including her previous visa history in the US in connection with her studies and subsequent employment there, before she decided to come up here several years ago.
  5. There were several follow-up e-mails for further scans of documentation in order to complete the requirements of their checklists. This includes written consent in order for the background check to commence.
Note the huge contrast:
  • It appears that US employers are looking for talent, they are willing to look far afield for it, and they find it cheaper to do that work in-house. I've been finding too many Canadian employers only want to look around the corner, and then try to campaign for TFWs.
  • They are conscientious enough to do their due diligence beforehand, as well as getting the paperwork properly arranged to get the selected candidate onboard before the work starts. There are too many places up here that don't undertake that very simple step, preferring to tie up their new hires with boring paperwork during their first few days on the job.
There are some risks:
  • She will be working in a State where employment at will is the norm. That is a lack of job security that does not exist up here.
  • The employer has a reputation for expecting their staff to put in very long hours.
  • If the job does not work out, TN status is employer-specific, and thus not portable to another employer.
Will it turn out well? Let's wait and find out.

25 July 2014

Some thoughts on what IT should provide

As I have been responsible for managing IT infrastructure, architecture and software development for several organizations, I try to keep up with the latest developments. That can be a daunting task! Here are some ideas for consideration:
  • At a minimum, network security will require firewalls within your system, between what is available just within the organization as opposed to that which may be publicly available.
  • Multiple servers will be needed to provide different capabilities. Thanks to virtualization, this does not necessarily mean a different box for each server.
  • Laptops and tablets may be de rigueur, but regular PCs and thin clients have their place as well within the office. As well, don't forget the useful data that comes from scanners and mobile devices. Tailor the architecture according to what is really needed, as opposed to what the latest fads may be or what users may be campaigning for.
  • In a similar vein, not everyone needs their own personal printer, black-and-white printing is preferable to colour, and not everything needs to be printed in hard copy. In the first two cases, managed print services should be actively employed; in the last, crystallizing output in PDF format for storage in document management systems should be a preferred choice for any office (as opposed to saving everything on local hard drives), as well as providing version control.
  • Use open source software whenever you can. While Microsoft, SAP and Oracle are excellent, keep an open mind: databases such as MySQL, PostgreSQL and Firebird are also great, LibreOffice is a wonderful office suite, and OpenBravo and Adempiere (among others) work well for ERP.
  • Collaboration is always to be preferred, and blogs and wikis can convey information far more effectively in that regard. Embedding files and images within your posts can convey a message more powerfully as well.
  • The following is probably the minimum number of servers I can see for any size organization these days: ERP, accounting, email, fax, printer, document management, web, blog, and wiki. Bug reporting and data warehouse servers are probably desirable as well. It's preferable to design how these will all interrelate with each other at the very beginning, in order to ensure that it will remain scaleable with some degree of ease.

22 July 2014

It's good to cooperate with the government, but be careful!

Here is a (somewhat extreme, but it does happen) scenario:
  • The board of directors has had a dust-up, and everyone resigns.
  • The CRA (or another regulatory agency) sends a letter inquiring about a certain matter.
  • Even though you may never have been a director, you inform the agency that you will be dealing with it.
Not so fast! That simple, friendly act could get you into a lot of trouble down the road.

Canadian corporations statutes have certain provisions defining who a "director" can be. S. 109 of the Canada Business Corporations Act, for example, states it this way:
(4) If all of the directors have resigned or have been removed without replacement, a person who manages or supervises the management of the business and affairs of the corporation is deemed to be a director for the purposes of this Act.
(5) Subsection (4) does not apply to

(a) an officer who manages the business or affairs of the corporation under the direction or control of a shareholder or other person;
(b) a lawyer, notary, accountant or other professional who participates in the management of the corporation solely for the purpose of providing professional services; or
c) a trustee in bankruptcy, receiver, receiver-manager, sequestrator or secured creditor who participates in the management of the corporation or exercises control over its property solely for the purpose of the realization of security or the administration of a bankrupt’s estate, in the case of a trustee in bankruptcy.
To put it succinctly, "a person who manages or supervises the management of the business and affairs" would be held to be a de facto director of the corporation. In Bremner v. Canada, 2009 FCA 14, the husband of an ex-director advised the CRA to forward any correspondence concerning a company to his attention. That was enough to attract a notice of assessment under s. 323 of the Excise Tax Act for liability of unpaid taxes! While the husband had once been a director, but had resigned some time before, this definition could catch someone who has never held such a position.

S. 227.1 of the Income Tax Act attracts similar liability, and various other federal and provincial statutes contain onerous provisions for directors of companies that fail to honour their liabilities. This must be seriously addressed in setting up governance policies for any organization, and it definitely requires help from your legal counsel.

21 July 2014

If you want to secure a government contract, have a clean record!

It's always useful to scan the various articles that law firms publish on the web, in order to keep yourself up to date on developments. Even though I'm not a lawyer (and have never played one on TV!), it helps to have a working knowledge of the law, in order to help manage risks better for any company or client I may be working for.

McCarthy Tétrault have just published a good one (available here) about what it takes to keep your nose clean if you are trying to get a contact, standing offer or supply arrangement from Ottawa. Specifically, you must be in a position to certify that neither your company, its affiliates, nor any of the directors or owners concerned, have been convicted or discharged in the past ten years of any of the following specified "integrity offences" (which include similar offences in foreign jurisdictions):
  • paragraph 80(1)(d) (false entry, certificate or return), subsection 80(2) (fraud against Her Majesty) or section 154.01 (fraud against Her Majesty) of the Financial Administration Act
  • section 121 (fraud against the government and contractor subscribing to election fund), section 124 (selling or purchasing office), section 380 (fraud against Her Majesty or section 418 (selling defective stores to Her Majesty) , section 119 (bribery of judicial officers, etc.), section 120 (bribery of officers), section 346 (extortion), sections 366 to 368 (forgery and other offences resembling forgery), section 382 (fraudulent manipulation of stock exchange transactions), section 382.1 (prohibited insider trading), section 397 (falsification of books and documents), section 422 (criminal breach of contract), section 426 (secret commissions), section 462.31 (laundering of proceeds of crime) or sections 467.11 to 467.13 (participation in activities of criminal organization) of the Criminal Code
  • section 45 (conspiracies, agreements or arrangements between competitors), section 46 (foreign directives), section 47 (bid rigging), section 49 (agreements or arrangements with federal financial institutions), section 52 (false or misleading representation), section 53 (deceptive notice of winning a prize) of the Competition Act
  • section 239 (false or deceptive statements) of the Income Tax Act
  • section 327 (false or deceptive statements) of the Excise Tax Act
  • section 3 (bribing of a foreign public official), section 4 (accounting), or section 5 (offence committed outside Canada) of the Corruption of Foreign Public Officials Act; or 
  • section 5 (trafficking in substance), section 6 (importing and exporting), or section 7 (production of substance) of the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act.
There are further points to consider:
  • All directors and owners must furnish a Consent to a Criminal Record Verification, and may also be called to supply fingerprints and proof of identity.
  • During the term of the agreement, any changes to directors and owners must be notified, together with any related Consents.
  • Subcontractors must also be required to comply with the above requirements.
  • After the ten-year period, control mechanisms must be in place to ensure continuing compliance.
  • There can be no "end runs", such as assigning contracts without government consent to other parties, even arising from a reorganization. The courts have been quite strict on this.
In addition, if you are bidding for a public tender in Quebec, you will need to comply with the Act Respecting Contracting by Public Bodies. Among notable provisions in that Act:
  • The Conseil du Trésor maintains a list of enterprises that are ineligible to obtain government contracts.
  • Enterprises that are bidding for contracts in excess of a specified value must first obtain an authorization from the Autorité des marchés financiers.
  • The list of offences under Schedule 1 applies to enterprises, plus their directors and any shareholder that holds more than 50% or more of the voting rights, and the Autorité will not issue an authorization if any of them has been convicted of any of the offences within the last five years.
Therefore, any corporate group should have, as part of its governance policy, procedures in place to ensure that no part of the group, nor any controlling shareholders or officers, is offside on any of these requirements. I would personally also check to see if there were any civil or administrative proceedings, or complaints or resignations, that may have arisen in any of these matters, such as is done for anyone that is dealing with securities. The extra cost involved would be minimal, in order to ensure an ethical environment.

17 July 2014

After this week's Ontario budget

Here are the combined marginal tax rates for Ontario for a single working person, after taking into account the changes announced on Monday. For this presentation, I am taking all taxes, reductions and surtaxes into account, including CPP/EI and the dreaded Ontario Health Premium. However, the Working Income Tax Benefit and Ontario Tax Credits are not taken into account - that is an exercise for another day. As you can see, the rates jump around a fair bit. The effective thresholds for when Federal and Ontario tax kick in are different from the base amounts that are normally publicized, as the effects derived from the CPP/EI inclusion in nonrefundable tax credits must also be taken into account.

Tableau's presentation is a bit complex. Here is the summarized version on an Excel chart, showing the total marginal tax rates on a logarithmic scale. Unfortunately, Excel does not allow this on a more granular level:

It's also unfortunate that the Ontario Health Premium is structured the way it is, with 6% and 25% marginal spikes occurring over a short scale before flattening out. Surely a better way could have been formulated! I also take issue with the Ontario Tax Reduction and Surtax: it would be very easy to integrate them into the personal amount and the various tax brackets. That, however, would add visibility to the present structure, and that is something the present crowd at Queen's Park has tried very hard to avoid.

09 July 2014

Another Tableau dashboard example

This one focuses on the secondary schools in Simcoe County:
I've incorporated more useful ratings analysis, together with some tools for focusing on more pertinent drilling down. Enjoy.

06 July 2014

Better visualizations with Tableau Public

Spreadsheet-generated charts can be useful, but there too many times where better types of visualization are required. Fortunately, there are many options out there, but I find Tableau to be an excellent choice. Tableau Public is a great way to train yourself on its many possibilities.

Let's take some public data to analyze:

  • Rankings of all secondary schools in my home region (Halton),
  • that can be segregated by size of school enrolment and type of school board,
  • mapped out geographically on a map,
  • with identified trends for outcomes, as determined by the Fraser Institute, for 2014.

Here is a small demonstration of what can be done:

I leave it to you to investigate this more, and be amazed at what options are available.

05 July 2014

Is it time to exit Microsoft Office?

When I was over in China last March, I missed the big news that Microsoft would no longer support Office 2003 after 8 April 2014. As this version had been widely installed in most offices, and is still found in 28% of workplaces, the question is whether to migrate to newer versions or explore possible alternatives.

There is really only one reason to hang on to Office: Excel. There is a lot of development that has gone into add-ons that can really enhance its analysis capabilities, especially in the areas of:
  • Monte Carlo simulation (either with hefty price tags with Oracle's Crystal Ball, or free with SimulAr, but others exist as well),
  • heavy-duty mathematical analysis with R through RExcel, and
  • visual presentation (such as through Fabrice Rimlinger's Sparklines for Excel).
If your work requires ease of use through integration of applications such as these, then you will need to upgrade. However, most users do not require the power of extensions such as these. In that case, there are quite reasonable (as in free) stable alternatives that work quite well that can import and export from Office formats.

Check out Apache OpenOffice and LibreOffice. While functionally the same,the latter currently has a slight edge with respect to import/export filters and a wider selection of extensions to enhance its capabilities, as well as a development roadmap that is slightly ahead of Apache's. They are both worth exploring, and many large organizations have already undertaken migration in that direction. There are also ways to use the analytical tools I have mentioned above as separate steps in the workflow (as opposed to full integration), but I have not been able to find a suitable sparkline alternative for this platform.

Try it. I'm sure you will be pleasantly surprised.