How to turn disruption into opportunity

Featuring Scott Adair, CPA, CGMA, CFO for the Rochester-Genesee Regional Transportation Authority, New York

Video transcript:

So disruption in my sector basically means, being in government means any sort of temporary change that we have in our normal day-to-day operations. It can create some challenges from us from a bus scheduling standpoint to meeting customer’s needs to meeting our own needs inside of our departments as we function on a day-to-day basis.

We’re really, in Upstate New York we’re actually focusing right now on Uber and Lyft because they’ve recently been introduced by state legislation to be able to allow for services in our region. And it’s led to some interesting challenges. We’re currently in conversation with both Uber and Lyft and trying to determine how they can help us with that first mile, last mile for public transportation customers because, you know, we try to stick to main routes, but that doesn’t normally get you to your house or to your employment place or your doctor’s visit. So Uber and Lyft we believe can be a real good partner for us in making sure that people can complete their transit experience.

We talk about disruption and we look at anytime you have to make a left-hand turn, it’s a disruption in our service model. And so everything is right-hand turns, so the profession looks at disruption as hard left-hand turns. We look in the transportation industry at disruption as an easy left-hand turn, so none of them come with any sense of easiness from anyone’s perspective but certainly are challenges from everyone’s perspective. And we are certainly facing some of those with Uber and Lyft being invited into our environment without a lot of control or say as to how they operate. So we, along with other transportation agencies across this country, have started to partner with them to figure out how do we make this system work jointly together so that it’s a positive for Uber, Lyft, and public transportation as well as the customer’s experience from their perspective. And there are certainly challenges out there, and, you know, we don’t know where it’s going to go or how it’s going to conclude, but we believe that in the near term it’s going to be real positive for most of our customers.

So on a yearly basis, say every 12 months pretty much, we go out and do a day retreat basically with our executive management team, which provides somebody from each sector of our environment to kind of talk about the – we refer to as our SWOT analysis our strengths, weak, opportunities and threats, kind of analyze those. And, you know, over the last couple of years we’ve been looking at certainly one of our strengths is our financial position that we have. We are very fortunate to be, knock on some wood, very well off financially at this point in time through proper management and stuff like that. But threats that we see, Uber and Lyft were a threat when we originally identified them, we continue to look at private – other private transportation providers, any of the colleges and universities that have their own transportation systems as they continue to look at how they can move their students around. We’d like to try to be a part of that, and matter of fact in our area we are partners with a couple of our colleges to help do that and we just entered into a big agreement with our community college to assist them in moving their students in between their two campuses, which are 12 miles apart from one another. So we think that will be a real positive, but every year we look at strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats, we kind of kick the tires on every corner of our environment to make sure that we’re doing the right thing for our customers at the end of the day because that’s really what matters and that’s what drives our business.

Disruption in general on the finance department kind of go hand and glove with one another. I often – folks in inside of my organization, and I believe this is true in a lot of other organizations, look at finance in a lot of times as the “no” people in the room that are always trying to say no to folks and stop progress. One of the things that I really think, especially in an environment where disruptions do occur, it’s really important that we as finance professionals get to those folks in operations and the other areas that are experiencing the disruption and make sure they realize how flexible we can be. We can do a lot of things in the backroom to figure it out after the fact because, you know, what we’re doing isn’t necessarily heart surgery, doesn’t need to be that – at that moment that we need to figure out exactly how to do it. But from an operation standpoint they certainly do need to focus on that immediacy of fixing the disruption or fixing the problem, as temporary as it may be, and sometimes that means, you know, it’s simple as saying “Don’t worry about it guys, girls, let’s get this thing moving back on the road, let’s get the buses back out there, the computer system went down. Let’s make sure we get the proper people in here to fix it. We’ll figure out the accounting and we’ll figure out the budgeting issues that surround it after the fact.” But the reality of it is we need the right resources put in the – on the bus at that particular point in time to get the problem fixed and move it forward so that our customers don’t suffer and longer term we don’t suffer as an organization from not – from being – from that disruption.

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