Venza works to build 'human firewall'

Joshua Bergen stressed the advantages of talking with customers directly at conferences like HITEC. Photo credit: Venza
Joshua Bergen. Photo credit: Venza

Joshua Bergen received his first introduction to “the wonderful world of accounting” running a reservation center for casino gambling boats. Coming from the managerial side of hospitality—he had worked at hotels while studying hospitality management at the University of Central Florida—the job allowed him to learn “a little bit more about running the business of the business.”

Roughly two decades later, Bergen’s current position, president of the data security company Venza, brings his career full circle in a way. “It’s very ironic now being that what we do, data security and privacy and protection in the credit card environment, because what led me to the accounting world was finding credit card fraud in my reservation department and reporting it,” Bergen said.

That early experience with credit card fraud—he said he found both intentional and unintentional examples—led him to pursue a bachelor’s in accounting. Upon graduation, he left the casino and cruise business for good and worked for roughly a decade in his new field of study, starting out at the Key Largo, Fla., Ocean Reef Club, and then moving on to Starwood Vacation Ownership and Wyndham Vacation Ownership.

“Fraud is what kind of pushed me toward the accounting, but what kept me in the accounting world was the structure and finding ways to be more effective, more efficient, more accurate,” Bergen said. Those ways to increase effectiveness, efficiency and accuracy presented themselves in different sorts of ways, whether it was “fighting with the wonderful world of government over some discrepancies on tax rates”—a half-million dollar discrepancy—or presenting the argument to Wyndham to allow its call center employees to work from home instead of paying for expensive real estate. “There’s no fraud going on there, but it still had the same philosophy and analytics behind it,” Bergen said.

After nearly five years with Wyndham, Bergen left the company for a year and then returned as VP of contact center operations and support. “I actually left the accounting world, but not too far behind. I worked in the group that I once did the accounting for, I then now flipped the card and I was running a big section of it,” he said. After a couple of corporate roles at Premier Management and Inn-Flow, he’s now been at Venza for a year and a half.

Bergen divided Venza’s business into three areas: privacy regulation compliance, data protection and Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard compliance. Between the three groups, Venza’s services include antivirus, backup recovery, data-breach notification, firewall management, information risk assessment, penetration and segmentation checks, privacy management and remote monitoring. Outside of these central services, the company also provides an educational human resources suite consisting of modules in sexual harassment prevention, diversity and guest relations, antibribery and acceptable use of a company’s network, website and equipment.

One of the things Bergen is most proud of from his time at Venza is one that won’t roll out until this summer. Called Project Basecamp, the program will reach out to 500 students at 10 different hospitality universities and educate them about technological and financial security. “I’ve jokingly said if I do a good enough job, they should actually need less service from us,” Bergen said.

Bergen stressed the importance of programs like this. Companies may have incredibly advanced equipment, firewalls and encryption, he said, but all it takes is one accidental mistake from someone within the system and all of that technology becomes moot. “So that’s why we focus on what we call the human firewall," he said. "They are the most valuable asset in all of this.”

Logic in Logistics

In addition to its three main umbrellas, privacy regulation compliance, data protection and payment card industry compliance, Venza offers other ancillary programs that support the hospitality industry. A lot of these things, Bergen said, are not necessarily a compliance item, but are services that help clients with compliance and data protection, things like antivirus and patch management. He gave the example of a hypothetical data breach, where a client would want to communicate to its guests or vendors that there was a breach. “We have tools that will help make that process easy,” he said. “So there’s no rule that says you have to have a tool that does that, right? I mean you can hand write a letter if you wanted, but we have tools and systems that plug in to our world that make it where if something happens, then we have ways to manage it.”

Clicking with Clients

Bergen said one of the most exciting moments for him from the past year was launching Venza’s new booth at the Hospitality Industry Technology Exposition and Conference. After years of being an attendee, his new role at Venza gave him the opportunity to come as a vendor. Plus, aside from being a neat personal experience, the trade show gave him the chance to meet with possible clients and discuss topics they might not otherwise be willing to talk about. “When the subject is data protection, discussions frequently touch on sensitive issues relating to legal compliance as well as business continuity risk,” he explained. Furthermore, HITEC provided an opportunity to sit down multiple decision-makers from hotel groups and discuss Venza’s products. “Discussions via web-conference are good, don’t get me wrong,” Bergen said. “However, they cannot compare to the efficacy of a conversation at HITEC when all the key players are together.”