02 Feb Access Answers: Episode 8
Access Sciences’ welcomes Jeff Moore, IT Manager for the Austin Convention Center — our first client guest! Jeff shares his thoughts on turning challenges into opportunities, the future of events, moving to the Cloud, and more.
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Episode 8: Turning Challenges Into Opportunities with Jeff Moore
Welcome to our eighth episode of Access Answers as usual. I’m your host, Julia Vergara along with Angela O’Pry. And today we have a very special guest with us. Our first non-Access Sciences guest, Jeff Moore.
Jeff is the IT Manager for Austin Convention Center. And we’ve had a lovely conversation and spent some time getting to know Jeff. We’re very excited about our conversation today and hosting you on our podcast. And you have lots to share about what you have going on with the Convention Center. So welcome.
Thanks, Angela. And yeah, it’s been fantastic. And Julia, thanks for taking care of us today and all of this technology that we have to get going. Yeah, it’s fantastic getting to know you both working with Access Sciences for several years now. And it’s been great to be able to work on collaboratively, work on some of these projects with you and the team there, being all my pleasure to be able to come here today and to talk more about what’s going on at Convention Center.
So, Jeff, we just saw in the news that the Convention Center is using the space as an alternative care site. Tell us what that’s like and how Corona is in your neck of the woods.
Right. So yeah, back in June, really, we started to spin up the alternative care site. We are using one of our event halls and we have it outfitted with a 100 beds and nursing stations. There are a lot of services that were prepared back then, and just getting it ready so that if our hospitals did spill over and patients needed care, they could go. And so, for months we have been ready and ready to go.
In January though, we’ve now been able to turn that over. The state came in and they have a contractor that works with many different cities on their care sites. And so, they’re now doing that with us. And so back on the 11th, we were opened. We had that contractor come in, we tweaked a number of things and we opened up or had it ready and started to receive people. As of today, I think we are at 36 patients.
And when we’re unable to do things like the events that we’ve done, being able to serve the community in this way is a fulfilling thing. Of course, it brings about a lot of challenges for us in terms of what we’ve had to do. Our facility has upped its cleanliness care and in certifications in that area. It has come in and reworked the ventilation system in that specific hall where all the patients would be, so that none of the air is circulated throughout the building anymore. All of that is circulated outside of the building.
And there are strategic areas of the center that are cordoned off that are making sure that people don’t get into what’s considered a hot zone. My team specifically is there’s each of the areas in terms of maintenance crew and IT that typically deploy equipment or services in unusual event have an equivalent liaison in that contractor.
And so, we have person that we’re working with there, and that way all of my team is doing everything on the backend and in other areas outside of what’s considered the hot zone. And so that they’re able to be safe while still helping the community get through this tough time.
That’s awesome. Well, I guess maybe I shouldn’t say that’s awesome that we have the need for that. I guess that would mean that the hospitals are filling up if they’ve gone to that plan of action, but awesome that y’all are able to provide a place for people in need.
It is. It’s something that we’re really proud of being able to do. And we’re looking forward to a time when we can begin to have events again. And until then, we’ve done this year, we set up for the care site and we also had two different shelters set up for hurricane evacuees.
We were able to use a little bit of that set up the space that we needed for that during those tricky times with severe weather, but that’s now passed. And we’re just focusing on the care site at this point and trying to get our community through, make sure that everyone is able to get the treatment that they can.
In December, we hosted a client focus group and you were able to attend that, Jeff, and you said something that really has not left my mind since then. You said, “When talking about transitioning from 2020 to 2021, that at some point we would be able to take the challenges and turn them into opportunities.” Tell the audience a little bit more about your perspective on that and where you were coming from.
Well, yeah, I think in the beginning, many of us were just wanting to see where this was going to head. Is this going to be just like the flu and we’re going to get over it here in a month or two? In which case, it won’t be long and we’ll just pop back into what we were. As you know each month started to tick by, it became clear that we need to do something. We need to be able to do something differently.
But there are many in the event industry that were still holding their breath, waiting for things to go back to normal. And even thinking that even if this was a prolonged series of illness, that at some point it would all return to what it was before, and we’d be having 20,000 person events again.
And so, at some point it became clear that other people are moving on. Our clients are moving on. Many of them are engaging with virtual event-based systems and vendors that can help them with that. And we’ve done a bit of that before at the Austin Convention Center with various clients. So, we’re no stranger to it.
And we partner with Freeman AV. They’re our preferred partner, and they have a system that they use that’s proprietary to them. And so, it was just made necessary that we really need to focus on this as not only a way to survive, but a way to thrive in a post pandemic economy and business with events. It really does pose an opportunity for us.
For those still holding their breath, hopefully there aren’t many of them who are doing that, but yes, as we transitioned into 20, many things went virtual and we’re hoping that in this year in 21 that things would move more toward the hybrid set up.
In either case you cannot take what used to be an in-person event and just plop it down into a virtual environment or hybrid environment and expect it to have the same sort of experience. It really does need to be rethought from the ground up. And that’s where your partnership with a venue and with your AV provider specifically is going to be very important.
And you’ve also talked a little bit about re-inventing the conference experience?
The idea of hosting 20,000 people again, are you seeing that in the future for 2021?
Well, I think it would be pretty aggressive to think that something like that would happen. At this point, we are still at stage five and city and so we’re not supposed to be meeting any more than 10 or so people outside of your home citywide. So, we have had a couple of events namely exams, sergeants exams, engineers exams, things where people can be safely socially distanced. And those were approved by our Austin Health Department.
But altogether it is going to be very hard to have things at even half the capacity that we had prior to the pandemic for a while. And so, it’s going to be, as you say, that that challenge is going to need to be something that we really undertake to be able to keep people’s attention on a virtual or hybrid event is much different than it is in person.
So, think about when you’ve gone to conferences, you sign up for it, you book your flight, you get your hotel taken care of, you take that time out to travel to that event. And you’re there, once you’re there, you’re there. And yes, you may get buzzed with text messages and you may still be doing email and working in your room at night, but they have your attention, right? You’ve been able to devote your attention to that. And why not? You’ve made such an effort to get there, right?
With virtual and hybrid event with the virtual portion of that, you are literally going to your next room and you’re getting on and your attention really has to be captured and held. And so, in many cases as I’ve been talking with others in the event industry, the focus is really upon how we’ve done with news in the past.
It used to be, we’d have these very long programs of news articles in the newspaper that were quite lengthy. Now, these days we have little tiny bits of information that come out us frequently as opposed to one long article. And so, the same goes for what some are doing in the event industry now.
So, they’re breaking up what used to be a two-to-three-day full day in-person event. And there’s beginning to break that up into virtual bites that lasts across two to three weeks. So that way people have more flexible schedule, they’re able to space it out. And the parts that they do experience are much shorter. And so that keeps their attention.
The challenge really is to say, why is it as a venue in Austin, Texas, would someone want to come and still have their event here to host that hybrid event here? And really the answer comes about because we want to be able to still have your event, have the Austin flavor.
So, in working with some of the events that we’ve done thus far specifically ones out of our Palmer Events Center facility, we have people speaking from the balcony with the Austin skyline in the background. There are Austin musicians that are portioned in for breaks. And all of this continues to give you the feel of having your event here in Austin, even though it may be virtual.
Well, Austin is certainly a very cool place. I’m very sad that some of my trips there last year were canceled. The food is awesome. The environment is so cool. And I think the world is seeing that and really appreciating Austin right now, which is to your advantage. I suspect with the big companies moving in, like Samsung just announced that they’re expanding their facilities there and Tesla and lots of other Silicon Valley’s moving there. Have you noticed a change or in the feeling of the environment or?
Well, I stay at home most of the time. So no, I don’t do that much. That’s a good old saying, yeah, I don’t get out much. I get into the garden and obviously we have these virtual meetings, however, no, I think that people here are doing their best to stay safe. A lot of exciting things are happening with business here locally, in terms of particular, those that are catering toward the needs of people in this lockdown.
And so, there are some really great things happening in terms of curbside systems that are spinning up and businesses that are using that. It is a challenge to keep some of your even iconic restaurants and bars and business under circumstances like this. But the changes have been made such that you can go to what was your previous favorite haunt.
And you can pick up those Enchiladas Curbside and even a Margarita to get. The alcohol rules prior to the pandemic were not so free. So, it’s been great to see companies and it’s been great to see how they have quickly mobilized toward these solutions. They’re really looking at the experience of their customer.
So, I know you’ve also mentioned before that pre pandemic the Convention Center highly preferred and relied heavily on that in-person collaboration. So, what was that transition to work from home like for you?
For me personally, well, you have to go back. So, I’ve been with Convention Center 12 years, and prior to that, I was in educational publishing. I did information technology systems in educational publishing for Harcourt Publishers. And with that, we went through many acquisitions. We had one, you would go to bed one night and wake up the next day, and now you’re reporting to a different team, many of the members being in London or in India, in Boston or Orlando.
And so, it just got to the point where many of us were already teleworking. And so, by the time that I had applied for the job and received the offer here at the Convention Center, I was working at home every single day of the week, and loved that work-life balance. Coming into the culture of the Austin Convention Center or coming into that event-based business, it was all about in-person interaction.
And so, at first, it met with a bit of challenge to do some teleworking, but they agreed after a while I could do one day and then up to two. And so, things just evolved from that point to the point that prior to the pandemic, many people in finance, human resources, in contracts, and purchasing things of those divisions where they had roles that were suitable to remote work were beginning to allow that.
So, for me though, a year and a half prior, I had taken on network services in the management of network operations and so I needed to be there more. And so, when we were blowing and going with events, I needed to really be onsite more. I was then fortunate enough if I was able to get half a day to work at home a week, and then the pandemic came, and we were all asked to work at home.
So, for me personally, this has been fantastic. I’ve enjoyed getting back to having this wonderful work-life balance, and it is so productive to be able to just immediately get up. My day starts earlier. My day ends later. I get so much more work done.
And that has always been one of the notions of telework, many studies over the past, probably two decades have shown that people that work at home are more productive. Arguably though, prior to the pandemic, many still perceived that while people may be more productive, they’re not more creative.
Creativity was seen as something that could only be had if you were in the same room, same big conference room with dry erase boards, sharpies, and post-it notes and ideating up on the board. And so, that’s something that probably had a certain amount of merit, but going into work during this pandemic, we’ve all begun to rely upon things like Teams and many of these other tools that allow us to not only communicate but collaborate.
So, for instance, in the city of Austin, we use office 365, or now Microsoft 365 suite of products. And so, we have been able to… one of our project managers, she is always on the bleeding edge of what’s being done in terms of design thinking and creative ways of developing things for people focusing on the user experience and how they feel more or less, more than really what they do, how do they feel about what they do?
But she has been using different tools. Every seems every meeting that we’re in, she has a new tool that she’s trying. And so, she’s very progressive about that. And early on in this process to ideate what you’d normally do in that conference room, she set up a meeting and we would have a PowerPoint deck and she would have a certain amount of her presentation happening in those slides.
And then we’d get to a point where, okay, now we’re going to spend the next five minutes. And each of you has a slide and I’ve pre-populated it with little squares. Those are going to be your post-it notes. And so, we’ll take the next two to three minutes and just fill out as many different solution ideas as you can to this problem and then we’ll come back together.
And then she started to ideate all of those together. And so, in fact, we did, we recreated the same experience that we would have had in the same room, and we did it all online. And I think so many system offerings now are moving in that direction because people are seeing value to working at home.
Particularly managers, managers in the past, always thought if I’m managing, I’ve got to be there and I’ve got to see my people to know that they’re working, but the thing is telework takes a shift in the way that you manage because you’re managing to results, you’re checking productivity. And in many cases, you get much more response from your employees when you do it that way.
That’s awesome. I love that idea with the different PowerPoint slides. We’ve tried a few different virtual white boarding options. And I think Julia, you wrote a blog about that.
Yes, yes. Way back when I started.
Yeah. So big fans of that, although I will say, I guess I’m realizing I’m a little bit more of a social person than I ever thought that I was, and I am missing that face to face, just social time, what I’m finding with the virtual meetings as we jumped right to business, just we have an agenda, we have a limited timeframe normally, because we’re bound by back-to-back meetings.
So, very limited to that 30-minute timeframe. We’re like, okay, let’s just get right into it. And even though you can see the animals and you can see the kids in the background, still just losing some of that personal interaction.
And then I started mid pandemic, so I don’t really know any difference.
Well, it’s funny when you just mentioned that Angela because I’m in meetings pretty much all day long, and there does begin to be that point. We get down to business straightaway and we move through and then, and I don’t know whether it’s me, I’m sure it’s not just me, but I do tend to diverge from top or the end. And such the case that we begin talking about whatever gardening projects or whatnot or whatever and checked out this valve that I bought and had just arrived yesterday.
And at that point you start seeing people disconnecting from the meeting and everything. So, I know that I tried to keep things as personal as I can as we were working, but just to keep that personal touch. And then there are certain ones on my team that they were the ones who on a daily basis, they needed to see their manager. They would pop in. And we’ve gone to maybe about a week, a one week check in where we’ll schedule some time, we’ll have a cup of tea or coffee online and just check in. And the rest of the time, it is team notifications, texts, et cetera.
Okay. So now we definitely have to talk about the gardening. And whenever we met at the beginning of January, we asked you if you would have your Instagram account live for the audience. So, now’s the big moment.
Right, and I do. And it is Anderson Moore Garden on Instagram. Anderson Moore Garden. That’ll be A-N-D-E-R-S-O-N Moore, M-O-O-R-E Garden. So, I just spun it up. Let’s see, maybe a week ago. And for all that I’m in technology every day of my life, I am not been a social media person. My wife Lisa has… We’ve had an Instagram account. I set it up a few years ago when we were headed to, let’s see, I think we’re going to Cornwall for holiday.
And so, it was like, I’m going to do this and I’m going to post the photographs. Things didn’t work for me, I think because it was a geographical fencing sort of thing going on. And so, I pretty much, it was dead to me. And so, I was on to something else, but I come from the website back age and she stuck with it. And so, she’s been helping me with this because I wanted to go back and collect as many of the photographs as I could.
And I collected over 300 photographs from the past six, we now have been here seven years in this house. And so, what I try to do though, because I can’t post all 300 of those photographs in the gallery or anything like that, what I’ve been doing is taking the latest chore that I’m doing in the garden, and then maybe attaching a photo or two of what it looked like several years ago.
And so hopefully this will be something that we’ll just carry on from here and be able to show both the current projects and past in the same quick blog like faction. And hopefully people will be able to enjoy that.
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Jeff, we really appreciate you presenting with us in the fall for a virtual conference about the journey to the cloud. This is a huge topic. And one that we know is very relevant people. We’ve done a few surveys last year asking where they were on their journey if they had started, kind of all over the place, I guess if you will, some people had not started, some people were in the sprawl stage, so they just had a mass that was growing very quickly that they were trying to contain. So, tell us about your journey at the Convention Center, where you are any advice or lessons learned for others?
Yeah, as I say, we’ve engaged with Access Sciences, so it has been several years ago now, big shout out to Todd and Pradeep from that end of it, from the very beginning, began working with them on solutions for putting our files. We had this legacy, like many organizations. We had a legacy of files jammed away onto a file share affectionately the S drive. And so anytime that you needed to find something, it was pretty arduous task.
Probably three, maybe three to four years ago, we onboarded Kimberly Dacola. She was my co-presenter there with Renu as well. And Kimberly had come in and has the records background. No one enjoys just delving into the details of information the way Kimberly does. And she’s so good at it. And she’s great at teaching us all what it is that we need to know, but of course, just like a technology, information has its geek speak, and a lot of people are put off by that, or let’s just say confused at the very least.
And so, she does a good job of trying to get with each division and to let them know this was four years ago. I don’t know what’s types of records series that they were going to need to work from because the State of Texas requires us to be able to retain information, retain that information for a specified amount of time based upon record series, and then to dispose of it. And there are city codes, not only are there state laws, but there are city codes that require this to be done.
Well, of course, here we are with our big jammed full file share and what are we going to do? And the last thing that you wanted is to be moving along with your regular Workday and have Kimberly’s show up in your doorway to say, guess what a public information request has come in. And so, within the next few hours, I need you to find all information relative to, you name the topic. Yeah, the last thing you would want to have.
And so, when we knew that we needed to organize things, when I first came to work there 12 years ago, we had this severely embarrassing out-of-date intranet site that had been put together that no one used anymore, except for that one folder that had all of our forms. HR still used that.
And so, we for a long time knew something has to happen with that. And when I first came in, my previous boss said, “Hey, can you just do some research and help us spin up a SharePoint site?” Having used SharePoint in publishing for years prior to that, I said, “Look, that is not a part-time venture, right? That is something that one is going to take a lot of a person’s time, if it is definitely a full-time position for at least one, if not more people.”
And the thing is it has to be set up and this is most important. It has to be set up correctly for it to continue and be used by people. If it’s not, they’re not going to use it. And we can’t possibly know the best way. And so, over the years, he would try come in and ask them somebody else, “Hey, could you possibly set up a SharePoint?” And we all just were very uncomfortable about it.
So now here we are and we’re getting to the point where we’re on Office 365, many of us using One Drive, we’re ready to go with our SharePoint site. The city had worked with a vendor on a similar mega menu and implementation of SharePoint, which with current SharePoint with modern pages and SharePoint was not working. So, we knew that we couldn’t just say, oh, well, let’s call up our communications and technology management department and have them deploy what they have because we didn’t really want what they have.
And so, we ended up going down this path and we reached out to Todd with Access Sciences. And how did we find out about them? Because if Kimberly had gone to one of her conferences, information management conferences and met Access Sciences there. So ever since it’s been a fantastic relationship we have from the get-go, it was very easy to work with Todd to come up with a stage implementation of how we wanted it to work this.
And so, yes, we started off with one of the things Access Sciences is great at is putting out their methods and technique for change management. As a vendor of your type, change management is crucial, right? You’re going to go in, you’re going to be affecting some type of change. Some system is going to be deployed, built, or configured, and that’s going to involve change.
So, from the get-go, that was part of Todd’s mantra. And we wanted to bake in change management with every aspect of these projects. So it started off, we started from the top down, we had a kind of a C-suite meeting where we brought all of our executives together and our director, and we were able to convey to them the importance of doing this and get their backing, not just their backing, but their direction down through the ranks to be able to ensure that if we take this on, it’s going to be huge, but here’s are the importance aspects of it.
Most notably the one that gets us in compliance with state laws and city code, right? And so that’s going to look great, should we ever need to audit things, right? And so that went really well. And then we, of course, came in. There was a certain amount of discovery. There was the initial rollout. There was then a follow-up.
And so, we have wonderful engagements and the way that it has been put out, as we’re collaborating with other people in other city departments that don’t have what we have, they look at that and they’re like, “Wow, is that SharePoint? That doesn’t look like our SharePoint.” And so, it’s been wonderful. And just to be able to get your arms around everything, have all the metadata and the taxonomy set up in that system to categorize the files, everything has been done wonderfully.
So, I’m curious your perspective about the change management. Julia just wrote a blog about Reinforcing Change for Microsoft Teams. So, would you say from your experience that the change management was harder to get buy-in before the system was implemented or would you say reinforcing usage and training after the implementation?
Before the implementation AKA with other systems?
Yes. Like buy-in to, I guess what Teams could do for them, or were people excited about what they could do with Teams and excited to use it?
Oh, okay. So specifically, with Teams, not necessarily SharePoint. So, the city had adopted Teams prior to this, we prior to that used Skype for Business. And so that transitioned into Teams. However, there were many of us that were still holding on dearly to Skype for Business. Because every time we went into Teams, it was just this universe and it was confusing.
And some of the departments in the city basically had made the call that go out and delete, go out and delete Skype for business off these people’s computers. We want to force them to use it. Probably not the best, right? You will use it even though you people don’t like it, right? It was something that we eased into. Okay. So, we had the luxury of easing into it.
And then we had some training days prior to the pandemic where we would pull people in, we’d have snacks, and we’d set up different booths, we’d have Microsoft app and they would demo some of their products and services. And then we would have proper sit-down training sessions. So, people started getting to know about Teams at that point. And then the pandemic occurred.
And see, that’s another example of just what a beautiful thing can come out of this disaster is that now so many people are using that platform to work collaboratively, to leverage. People that never wanted to be on video that are now on video they’re sharing their desktops. I like to refer to it as a forced reboot.
I like to go to conferences that feature CIO speakers, and a lot of these CIO conferences you can’t really go to, unless you’re a CIO. But one every year that would come through the Austin Convention Center, I used to love to go and listen to Russ Finney. He’s been on the cover of CIO Magazine a couple of times.
I remember him saying that someone had asked him, “How is it that you stay fresh in your career?” And he said, “The way that I do it is I pick a day and I reboot. I pretend like it’s the first day on the job. I’m just getting this job and I’m just going into it.” And he said, “So that would be my advice for anyone is pick a day, whether it’s annually, every six months quarterly and just reboot.”
And I love that. I love that thought. And I thought, “There is such value to that self-imposed reboot.” But then pandemic came and then you start to realize there’s value in the forced reboot. You didn’t have a choice, right? Look at all the good that’s come from us being able to having to go mobile. It’s been a huge motivation for us to do it.
And so, for those of us that were just tinkering around with Teams, no, we’ve certainly gone all in now. We’re making the transition and they’re attending little webinars here and there on how you can utilize various features. So, we’re learning stuff still all the time as the product is improving.
I love that reboot. That’s so relevant. I don’t know if you feel this, but it’s like, when people ask, how are you doing? And my immediate thought is, well, it’s just another day. It’s like Groundhog Day, over and over. And so, the reboot really makes you stop and think about what creative ideas you have or putting that positive mindset and the attitude going into it.
Yeah, and I think that that reboot is something that we can look at with events, right? Because why do you go to an event? Why do you go to a conference or a convention? It’s to meet people. It’s to also to go to a city that might be a destination. And now we’re dealing with the aftereffects of shutdown, restaurants and bars and shops that are shut down because they have not been able to survive sadly. The destination factor of an event becomes a tricky one.
Of course, on the other side of things, in terms of meeting people, I’ve been fortunate to be involved with the IAEE which you can’t say too fast, International Association of Events and Exhibitions. So, it is a great association for events professionals, and I’ve been fortunate to be asked over the last… this year was my fourth year that have participated in a technology reviews.
We typically did it like a Shark Tank event where myself and two other persons would be the sharks. And we would listen to tech startups get up and give their speeches about their new and emerging products, and then maybe choose a winner. So, this year I did interviews. I did 20-minute interviews with 10 different vendors over the course of two days. Also was fantastic experience.
And in there, you began to discover the types of technologies people are working on to enhance the event experience now for virtual and hybrid events. And so, prior to the pandemic, people were working on things like matchmaking capabilities. So, you’d register for your event. You put a little bit of information about yourself, your title, your job skills, et cetera, and the system would help match you with someone else.
And of course, now that is crucial and that is just crucial. And with breakout rooms, you can make those connections. It’s something that they were working prior to the pandemic with beacon and a badge. And so, you would be wearing… If I came into this area and Julia, you were also in the same field as myself, I could look around the room. I could see you, I could see your badge and it would have my name appear on it and little LED lights.
And that so I would know that if I came close to somebody with my name on their badge in like the little Mark Key across the top of the badge so that was a person that I needed to know.
And so, there were very unique ways of matchmaking that were happening even prior to the pandemic. But as I say now, all the more crucial when people are really trying to stay connected in the virtual hybrid environment.
That’s awesome. I had no idea that that capability existed.
Yeah. There are many things that have come up as of this year. There are those that are going into the consulting business of helping people put on those types of events, helping them redesign their events. And so, it’s not just systems, but services as well.
Yes. Well, we do hope that one day we can get back to the 20,000 person events. I would personally very much love to travel again and go to events and see people.
Just be in Austin again too.
Yeah, I know, I know.
Yeah. That is one of the things that though I’ve enjoyed working at home and though I feel like I’m able to get a lot done by teleworking. The downside is, yeah, you still can’t travel.
And I’m sure your garden’s been loving the extra attention.
I know it has. And lot of structural things that have been needing to be done back there for a long time. And so now it’s been great to get a lot of that done.
Yeah. I heard you give people tours of your garden sometimes if they’re lucky enough.
And that if we have a little bit of time left at the end of the meeting, and people have already made some comments about certain butterflies that are flying around or flowers that they see behind me, or I’ll offer to take them around on a bit of a tour and show them what I’m working on lately.
Yes. Well, we look forward to that and we will definitely keep following your account on Instagram to keep updated. And anyone who’s listening, certainly go give them a follow at Anderson Moore Garden. And thank you so much for your time today and being our guest on our podcast.
No, not at all. Thank you for having me as a guest, but really, I do feel like we are more of a family and more of a synthesized organization because we’ve just had such great experiences with Access Sciences, and I look forward to doing more collaborative work in future.