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Everbridge Critical Event Management tailored for COVID-19

47 million. That’s the number of coronavirus-related messages Everbridge sent on behalf of its users in the past week.

Everbridge Critical Event Management software is on the front lines of coronavirus IT response, aided by a specially targeted line of products and recent acquisitions.

Everbridge CTO Imad Mouline said the usage pattern for his company’s software is typically spiky. The system was built for large fluctuations in usage and can add capacity quickly.

“This is something we’re really, really good at,” Mouline said.

Other incidents have put Everbridge software to the test. For example, during Hurricane Dorian in 2019, Everbridge users sent out 14 million messages in just a few days, Mouline said, and that was in a smaller geographical area.

Everbridge takes on coronavirus with ‘Shield’

To aid employee protection and business continuity during the coronavirus pandemic, Everbridge launched COVID-19 Shield. The software as a service includes targeted pandemic data feeds and rapid deployment templates.

COVID-19 Shield uses the Everbridge Critical Event Management platform to help organizations identify risks, protect the workforce and manage disruptions to operations and supply chain.

Screenshot of Everbridge dashboard
An Everbridge dashboard shows assets that are potentially impacted by COVID-19 in the Washington D.C. area.

Everbridge has three COVID-19 service levels, which build on each other.

The entry-level “Know Your Risks” provides COVID-19 alerts featuring real-time intelligence such as case statistics, travel advisories, closures and supply chain impacts. The next level up, “Protect Your People,” manages critical response plans, automates communications and includes a potential threat feed and coronavirus-specific messaging templates.

“Protect Your Operations and Supply Chains,” which includes the other two offerings’ capabilities, automatically correlates alerts to physical assets, including buildings and people. It also initiates standard operating procedures to resolve issues and generates real-time status reports on remediation and recovery tasks.

COVID-19 Shield provides access to the Everbridge Data Sharing Private Network, where users can share information publicly and privately to facilitate enhanced local intelligence and response coordination.

Everbridge offers a “Rapid Deployment” package for governments, businesses and healthcare organizations that gets the COVID-19 Shield running in less than two days, according to the vendor. 

Mouline said the coronavirus-tailored products can help streamline communication, provide situational awareness and offer a quick form of protection.

Pricing is based on the size of the organization, for example, the number of people or assets in need of protection. Assets may include the number of office locations or supply chain elements.

The Everbridge Critical Event Management platform in total reaches more than 550 million people globally, according to the vendor, which is based in Burlington, Mass. Everbridge claims about 5,000 customers.

Learn best practices for pandemic response

Paul Kirvan, a business resilience and disaster recovery consultant, said it’s important for employees to heed messages from their businesses and government.

Emergency notification software such as Everbridge’s is most appropriate for notifying employees of any new company policies, government notifications, reminders about social distancing and hand washing, and other messages for broad distribution,” Kirvan wrote in an email. “The same can be true for notifying remote domestic offices, overseas offices, regulatory authorities, government agencies and other important stakeholders.”

Information sharing between companies and within industry groups is invaluable, not just for status reports but also to help share insights into effective crisis and continuity strategies, said Jackie Day, a partner at consulting firm Control Risks, on a webinar last week hosted by her company and Everbridge.

Companies should also take advantage of lessons learned from others who have gone through the pandemic crisis, such as Asian organizations, said Matt Hinton, a partner at Control Risks.

While talk of a business impact analysis is often greeted with eye rolls, Hinton said, companies with one are better prepared to deal with tricky scenarios.

There is no one-size-fits-all approach.

“Your actions have to be targeted,” Everbridge’s Mouline said.

Mouline advised organizations to clearly separate informational messaging from emergency messaging, as employees are bombarded with information.

You want to communicate on a regular basis, but you want to avoid over-alerting.
Imad MoulineCTO, Everbridge

“Use the alerting capabilities sparingly,” Mouline said. “You want to communicate on a regular basis, but you want to avoid over-alerting.”

And the crisis will end at some point, Hinton noted. So organizations need to be thinking about recovery and the transition back to the office environment.

“Recovery is often that forgotten son when it comes to crisis management,” Hinton said.

Everbridge acquires three companies

Everbridge has been busy with acquisitions lately, purchasing technology that is helping coronavirus response.

The Everbridge Critical Event Management platform’s new IoT extension module uses intellectual property from technology acquisitions of Connexient and CNL Software. Critical Event Management for IoT increases the number of uses for the Everbridge platform. For example, it improves the ability to coordinate first responders and other healthcare resources based on real-time data on the broader impact of COVID-19.

Specifically, Connexient provides information on indoor positioning and wayfinding, with a focus on healthcare organizations. CNL offers integrations with a variety of other types of devices, including access control systems, building management systems, intrusion detection systems and fire panels, Mouline said. The Critical Event Management platform will send out information on needed next steps, for example sounding an alarm or locking doors.

Everbridge also acquired cell broadcast provider One2many. The resulting unified Public Warning System provides a countrywide population alerting capability. The platform enables countries to share updates on viral hotspots and pandemic best practices; coordinate first responders and healthcare resources; establish two-way communications with at-risk populations; and manage disruptions to transportation, education and other services, according to Everbridge.

The three acquired companies have each become an “Everbridge company.” Everbridge did not release terms of the acquisitions.

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Forbes’ Google Cloud migration rooted in trust, cost savings

Forbes says its online audience grew from 15 million users per month in 2012 to 120 million in 2018, a growth spike that ultimately prompted a large-scale move off on-premises systems and into Google Cloud.

The Google Cloud migration now supports all three aspects of Forbes’ business: content, sales and its publishing infrastructure, according to chief digital officer Salah Zalatimo.

“[In 2020], we’re going to be continuing to mature our business model and diversify our revenue,” Zalatimo said. “Google Cloud is about giving us flexibility. We’re going to be able to establish new products and test new features really quickly.”

Forbes used to run its publishing operations on an on-premises, WordPress-based system that was heavily customized, with a front end clunked up by an accumulation of legacy code.

The number of actual people those audience figures represent is likely lower, as Google Analytics defines a user as a browser endpoint. Thus, if an individual read Forbes content both on a phone and a laptop, the user would be counted twice.

Still, the scale involved led to Forbes’ 2018 decision to build a new, custom publishing platform. At that point, the company determined it wanted to make a wholesale push into the cloud centered around one primary provider.

Google won Forbes’ business for several reasons, including pricing, incentives to help its Google cloud migration and a lower-pressure approach to sales, according to Zalatimo. “We didn’t have to make any hard commitments.”

While Forbes has a relationship with Microsoft as an Office 365 shop, it quickly ruled out Azure. “We talked to them, but the pricing was just too high,” he said.

Forbes also met with sales teams at AWS, where it initially hosted the new publishing platform, but ultimately decided that Google provided the most ease of use and the best level of automation for its needs. Forbes moved the publishing platform as part of its Google cloud migration during the first half of 2019.

Forbes has moved most of its digital infrastructure into containers and orchestrates them with Google Kubernetes Engine. It also uses the Istio service mesh to wrangle microservices. Google Cloud storage underpins the system and Google Pub/Sub supports serverless operations.

Forbes estimates that the move to GCP has saved 50 engineer-hours per week thanks to efficiencies and automation. Regression testing and new feature deployment time has dropped by 58%, according to the company.

In addition, Forbes is using Google’s AI and machine learning features to train models that suggest headlines, track trending topics and improve reader engagement.

Google Cloud hones enterprise chops

Former Oracle executive Thomas Kurian came aboard as Google Cloud CEO in November 2018. Since then, Kurian has moved to build out Google’s enterprise cloud sales and support organizations — areas where it had lagged behind competitors. Forbes’ experience on this front has been positive, Zalatimo said.

They are still maturing as an enterprise provider, and we knew that going in.
Salah ZalatimoChief digital officer, Forbes

“They are still maturing as an enterprise provider, and we knew that going in,” he said. “But they knew that going in, too.”

Forbes did work with a services partner to help with the Google Cloud migration, but Google’s account representatives were “extremely involved,” he added. “We always had access, even if it was less traditional.” As one example, Forbes’ teams might find themselves having to call a salesperson in order to escalate a technical issue, Zalatimo said.

Forbes is using a wide array of Google Cloud offerings, including its audience analytics platform, BigQuery data warehouse, Hangout meeting software and authentication service, all of which are well-established.


But of all the cloud providers with which Forbes works, Google stands out as keen on engaging customers very early on in the new product development process, he added. “A lot of [vendors] talk about it, and say they want to do it, but I don’t think a lot of companies actually do.”

Weighing Google’s influence

Walmart and other large retailers have shunned doing business with AWS, given how closely they compete with its parent company in e-commerce. Google’s kingmaker positions in general web search as well as the hugely influential Google News service might make a media company such as Forbes similarly think twice about making heavy investments in its technology.

Forbes did factor this into its decision, according to Zalatimo. “Our options [were] either to lean in or lean away,” he said. “At the end of the day, they do carry the leverage. As an independent publisher, we really don’t. So, if you can’t beat them, join them.”

The company is taking part in the Google News Initiative, where Google works with publishers on new product development and other collaborative efforts.

Forbes benefits from this relationship with Google — but not to the extent it gets any special insights into the Google News algorithm, which can heavily affect a publisher’s traffic when changes are made. “They are like Fort Knox about this,” he said.

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This group of businesses is the most often attacked on earth—here’s how we helped

There are 79 million businesses worldwide who meet the “small or medium business” (SMB) definition of having 300 or fewer employees, and those businesses represent 95 percent of all the companies on earth—which amounts to a staggering 63 percent of the world’s workforce. As gigantic as those figures might be, they’re belied by other numbers that cast a shadow across worldwide employment: Last year, 55 percent of SMBs weathered cyberattacks, 52 percent of these breaches were caused by human error, and, in a quarter of these cases, sensitive customer data was breached. The average cyberattack will cost an SMB U.S. $190,000 and, after a ransomware attack, only one-third of SMBs can remain profitable.

This year, these numbers will only increase because 90 percent of SMBs do not currently have any data protection.

In an era where nearly every company is, in some regard, a technology company, the upcoming end of support for Windows 7 on January 14, 2020 only adds to the pressure on these businesses.

We considered our responsibility to this community

During my keynote at Microsoft Ignite, I spoke at length about the challenges associated with app compatibility, and I shared how Microsoft has taken on a responsibility for compatibility. The reasoning behind this is simple: Among other reasons, when more organizations are operating modern infrastructures, it’s much simpler to keep attacks from spreading throughout the world. Similarly, as my team looked at the needs of the SMB community, we considered our responsibility to their security posture. After some analysis, we discovered a way to help them that didn’t exist within the enterprise offering of Microsoft 365 (a product we had fine-tuned to the needs of large companies).

The answer was Microsoft 365 Business, and I believe it offers SMBs the best possible opportunity to be secure and productive at the lowest possible cost. Microsoft 365 Business offers the same security tools used by many banks, governments, and multi-national corporations, as well as the very same productivity tools in Office 365.

Recently, we’ve undertaken an effort to think and talk about this topic differently.

While many SMBs don’t have the resources to hire a Chief Security Officer (CSO) of their own, I think this community can use Microsoft 365 Business like a CSO. I encourage you to spend a few minutes at YourNewCSO to learn how to use these resources right away. No matter where you are on your security journey, the site and these eight quick (and funny?) videos will show you steps to better secure your business.

Our data clearly demonstrates that combining security with a huge boost in productivity is the type of innovation that will set an SMB apart in a competitive environment. A recent study of two customers by Qualtrics found that employees using modern tools were 50 percent more likely to say they could better serve their customers, and they were 121 percent more likely to feel valued by their company—a sentiment that is directly tied to improved productivity, loyalty, and a positive organizational culture.

Fully use what you already have

Rather than simply try to sell something throughout this post, I’d like to point out some ways SMBs who already own Office 365 can improve their security without spending any additional money. Included below are seven steps to improve your security at no extra cost—you can also read how to do it or watch this quick overview.

  1. Check your Microsoft Secure Score.
  2. Set up Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA). Setting up MFA will prevent 99 percent of identity attacks.
  3. Use the built-in mobile application management tools in Office 365.
  4. Set up a separate account for performing administrative tasks.
  5. Use an antivirus solution that leverages the cloud to protect from the latest threats. Microsoft Defender provides some great out-of-the-box capabilities in Windows 10 that more than 50 percent of enterprises are using.
  6. Store files in OneDrive for Business, and the cloud becomes your backup. No more manual PC backups, which saves you time and money. Even better, if you are hacked and are regularly saving your documents to OneDrive, you can simply revert your files back to before the hack occurred.
  7. Stop email auto-forwarding.

As we found from talking with hundreds of SMBs, creating a culture of security is one of the biggest first steps you can take. Right now is the time to educate your employees about how to identify security threats (e.g., don’t click that suspicious link, and if you do, please let someone know), and with Windows 7 very quickly reaching end of support, use this as an opportunity to move to our best available, most secure platform. Microsoft 365 Business can help.

Office 365 security tips

Seven security features in Office 365 you can use to secure your organization.

Watch the video

Why move from Office 365 to Microsoft 365 Business

Office 365 provides the suite of productivity tools you know and love, including capabilities like Exchange Online, SharePoint Online, and OneDrive for Business. But when you move to Microsoft 365 Business, you get that power of Office 365 as well as a comprehensive, cloud-based security solution that lets you defend your business against advanced threats. Microsoft 365 helps you to protect against cyberthreats with sophisticated phishing and ransomware protection; lets you control access to sensitive information, using encryption to keep data from being accidentally shared with someone not authorized to see it; and enables you to secure the devices that connect to your data, helping keep iOS, Android, Windows, and Mac devices secure and up-to-date. Microsoft 365 Business is fully integrated with Office 365, so you have one place for administration, billing, and 24×7 support.

Next steps

In addition to visiting YourNewCSO, consider the value of insuring yourself against a cyberattack. I’m excited to announce that, starting today, we’re piloting a new program in the U.S. in collaboration with AXA XL (a global insurer) and Slice Labs (on-demand insurance platform) to offer a free cybersecurity health check and support AXA XL’s provision of cyber insurance for qualified customers that use Microsoft 365 Business, Office 365 Business, and Office 365 Business Premium.

With your permission, AXA XL will assess your organization’s security and offer their services to qualifying customers, potentially with a discount. You can find more information about the collaboration in the AXA XL and Slice Labs press release, and you can read more about their offering and purchase insurance.

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Author: Microsoft News Center

Startup Sisu’s data analytics tool aims to answer, ‘Why?’

Armed with $66.7 million in venture capital funding, startup vendor Sisu recently emerged from stealth and introduced the Sisu data analytics platform.

Sisu, founded in 2018 by Stanford professor Peter Bailis and based in San Francisco, revealed on Oct. 16 that it secured $52.5 million in Series B funding, led by New Enterprise Associates, a venture capital firm with more than $20 billion in assets under management. Previously, Sisu secured $14.2 million in funding, led by Andreessen Horowitz, which also participated in the Series B round.

On the same date it revealed the new infusion of capital, the startup rolled out the Sisu data analytics tool for general use, with electronics and IT giant Samsung already listed as one of its customers.

Essentially an automated system for monitoring changes in data sets, Sisu enters a competitive market featuring not only proven vendors but also recent startups such as ThoughtSpot and Looker, which have been able to differentiate themselves enough from other BI vendors to gain a foothold and survive — Looker agreed to be acquired by Google for $2.7 billion in June while ThoughtSpot remains independent.

“Startups have to stand out,” said Doug Henschen, an analyst at Constellation Research. “They can’t present me-too versions of capabilities that are already out there. They can’t be too broad and they also can’t expect companies to risk ripping out and replacing existing systems of mission-critical importance. The sweet spot is focused solutions that complement or extend existing capabilities or that take on new or emerging use cases or challenges.”

The Sisu data analytics platform is just that — highly focused — and not attempting to do anything other than track data.

A sample Sisu dashboard displays an organization's customer conversion rate data.
An organization’s customer conversion rate data is displayed on a Sisu dashboard.

It relies on machine learning and statistical analysis to monitor, recognize and explain changes to a given organization’s key performance indicators.

And it’s in that final stage — the explanation — where Sisu wants to differentiate from existing diagnostic tools. Others, according to Bailis, monitor data sets and are automated to send push notifications when changes happen, but don’t necessarily explain why those changes occurred.

Startups have to stand out. They can’t present me-too versions of capabilities that are already out there.
Doug HenschenAnalyst, Constellation Research

“We’re designed to answer one key question, and be the best at it,” said Bailis, who is on leave from Stanford. “We want to be faster, and we want to be better. There’s intense pressure to build everything into a platform, but I’m a firm believer that doing any one thing well is a company in itself. I’d rather be great at diagnosing than do a bunch of things just OK.”

The speed Bailis referred to comes from the architecture of the Sisu data analytics tool. Sisu is cloud native, which gives it more computing power than an on-premises platform, and its algorithms are built on augmented intelligence.

That speed is indeed a meaningful differentiator, according to Henschen.

“The sweet spot for Sisu is quickly diagnosing what’s changing in critical areas of a business and why,” he said. “It’s appealing to high-level business execs, not the analyst class or IT. The tech is compatible with, and doesn’t try to replace, existing investments in data visualization capabilities.”

Moving forward, Bailis said the Sisu data analytics platform will stay focused on data workflows, but that there’s room to grow even within that focused space.

“Long term, there is a really interesting opportunity for additional workflow operations,” he said. “There’s value because it leads to actions, and we want to own more and more of the action space. You can take action directly from the platform.”

Meanwhile, though survival is a challenge for any startup and many begin with the end goal of being acquired, Bailis said Sisu plans to take on the challenge of independence and compete against established vendors for market share. The recent funding, he said, will enable Sisu to continue to grow its capabilities to take advantage of what he sees as “an insane opportunity.”

Henschen, meanwhile, cautioned that unless Sisu does in fact grow its capabilities, it likely will be more of an acquisition target than a vendor with the potential for long-term survival.

“Sometimes startups come up with innovative technology, but [Sisu] strikes me as an IP [intellectual property] for a feature or set of features likely to be acquired by a larger, broader vendor,” he said. “That might be a good path for Sisu, but it’s early days for the company. I think it would have to evolve and develop broader capabilities in order to go [public] and continue as an independent company.”

Sisu is a Finnish word that translates loosely to tenacity or resilience, and is used by Finns to express their national character.

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Microsoft Teams reaches 20 million users, threatening Slack

More than 20 million people now use Microsoft Teams daily — up from 13 million in July. The product’s impressive growth has many analysts and investors worried about the long-term prospects of rival collaboration vendor Slack. 

Slack’s stock was down more than 8% Tuesday in apparent reaction to Microsoft’s announcement. The company’s value has been steadily declining since June as more and more financial analysts have voiced concerns about the rise of Microsoft Teams.

Unlike Slack, Microsoft has a massive base of existing customers to target. More than 200 million people use Office 365 every month, and those customers usually have access to Microsoft Teams at no additional cost.

“Microsoft has the advantage of including Teams collaboration with a lot of their Office 365 packages,” said Rob Arnold, analyst at Frost & Sullivan. “And that literally gets it in front of more users than Slack can ever hope to.”

Microsoft also has a vast network of partners worldwide that provide services and support to businesses using its software. Slack launched its partner program last week, but so far has only recruited small and midsize firms.

Slack has attempted to undercut Microsoft’s growing user count by focusing on user engagement. Among paid customers, Slack users spend nine hours connected to the app and 90 minutes actively using it each day, the company said.

“As we’ve said before, you can’t transform a workplace if people aren’t actually using your product,” a Slack spokesperson said in a statement Tuesday.

There is, however, no evidence to suggest Teams users are less engaged with the app, as Microsoft has not released comparable statistics on the subject. Microsoft said Tuesday that users conducted 27 million voice and video calls in Teams last month, and interacted with documents stored in Teams 220 million times.

More than 12 million people used Slack daily in September. Use of the app has more than tripled over the past three years, making the vendor a leader in the market for team-based workplace communications software.

Slack often leads larger rivals Microsoft and Cisco in adding innovative features. For example, Slack developed a way to export emails to Slack in a few clicks earlier this year, while Microsoft won’t launch a similar feature until early 2020.

But Slack has never made a profit, losing nearly $139 million on $400 million in revenue last year. Attaining profitability will require selling to more businesses with thousands, if not tens of thousands, of employees. Many of those companies already use Office 365.

In an interview last month with the Wall Street Journal, Slack CEO Stewart Butterfield said 70% of its 50 largest customers were using Office 365. He also pointed out that many of the top Google Search trends for Microsoft Teams were related to uninstalling the app.

Over the past year, Slack has been redesigning aspects of its user interface to be friendlier to the average office worker. The company launched the tool originally for software engineers, which led to quirks in the way users interact with bots and integrations.

This month, Slack is in the process of rolling out a new toolbar for writing messages that resembles what users are accustomed to when using apps like Microsoft Word. The toolbar lets users bold, underline and italicize text, and create numbered and bulleted lists. Previously, users had to do unintuitive things like put asterisks on either side of a word to make it bold.  

But Microsoft has also been investing heavily in Teams, naming it the successor to Skype for Business. Just last week, Microsoft announced a partnership with Salesforce to integrate that vendor’s online sales and service platforms with Teams. The move could further boost the adoption of Microsoft’s product.

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The story of ADLaM is now a limited-run hardcover book from Story Labs

The African language Fulfulde is spoken by more than 50 million people worldwide. But until recently this centuries-old language lacked an alphabet of its own.

Abdoulaye and Ibrahima Barry were just young boys when they set out to change that. While other children were out playing, the Barry brothers would hole up in their family’s house in Nzérékoré, Guinea, carefully drawing shapes on paper that would eventually become ADLaM – an acronym for “the alphabet that will prevent a people from being lost.”

In the decades since, ADLaM has sparked a revolution in literacy, community and cultural preservation among Fulani people across the world. Abdoulaye and Ibrahima have dedicated their lives to sustaining these efforts, including expanding ADLaM’s reach through Unicode adoption. And thanks to support from a dedicated cross-company team at Microsoft, ADLaM is now available in Windows and Office.

My team at Microsoft Story Labs recently had the privilege of working with Abdoulaye and Ibrahima on a longform feature story about ADLaM. Today I’m happy to announce that we’ve printed a limited-run book version of that story that contains both the original English and an ADLaM translation, so the community of millions now using ADLaM can enjoy it in print. A few copies of the book will be available in a contest giveaway by Microsoft Design on Twitter. The rest will go directly into the hands of the amazing people behind the unique achievement that is ADLaM.

When you’ve been working in the digital realm for most of your career like I have, it’s kind of a treat to make something you can hold in your own two hands! But the biggest reward here was the opportunity to shine a light on remarkable people like Abdoulaye and Ibrahima who have achieved so much, and the team at Microsoft who lent a hand.

Steve Wiens

Microsoft Story Labs

Story by Deborah Bach & Sara Lerner. Design by Daniel Victor.

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Author: Microsoft News Center

MyPayrollHR arrest brings relief, but few answers

The FBI said Monday it arrested the head of MyPayrollHR and charged him with $70 million in bank fraud. The arrest is gratifying to some victims, who saw their paychecks vanish from their bank accounts just a few weeks ago. 

But the FBI’s arrest of Michael Mann, 49, doesn’t answer many of the questions hanging over this case, including where the still-missing funds have gone. Mann ran the parent company of MyPayrollHR, which suddenly shuttered Sept. 5.

The FBI complaint, filed in U.S. District Court in Albany, accuses Mann of creating businesses that were used in a scheme to obtain loans and lines of credit. It alleges the fraudulent activity may have dated as far back as 2010 or 2011 and may have totaled about $70 million. The complaint went on to say that Mann “wished to accept responsibility for his conduct and confess to a fraudulent scheme that he had been running for years.”

Mann also told the FBI that MyPayrollHR, which was founded in 2006, was legitimate. Indeed, customers had no inkling of the fraudulent behavior until the payroll money vanished. Funds were “reversed” or withdrawn from accounts used for direct payroll deposits.

“Now that Mann has been arrested, that will help shed a little light on things,” said Brad Mete, managing partner of two recruiting and staffing firms with 800 employees in Fort Lauderdale.

What happened to the money?

“But I still don’t know where the money is — especially the taxes we paid,” said Mete, a nearly three-year customer of MyPayrollHR.

Mete has more than $75,000 in withholding taxes from one pay period that disappeared with MyPayrollHR. But the government will still want its money, he said. He manages Affinity Resource, an employment agency, and IntellaPro LLC, a professional staffing firm. He doesn’t know whether the money has disappeared or is sitting frozen in a bank account.

Mete is trying to recoup the missing withholding taxes through a fraud complaint with the bank. He is investigating possible insurance coverage.

The National Automated Clearinghouse Association (NACHA), which develops rules and standards for the automated clearinghouse (ACH), an electronic funds transfer system, said its “ongoing investigation” of the incident “continues to show that fewer than 400 companies and approximately 8,000 employees experienced unauthorized payroll reversals.” This was in a written response to questions from SearchHRSoftware.com.

NACHA said that, as of Sept. 19, it estimates that “about 97% of people that had unauthorized reversals have had their funds restored.” The FBI put the total number of MyPayrollHR clients at about 1,000.

New regulations may be on the way

Mete questions NACHA’s claim that only 8,000 employees were affected. “There is no way it’s that little,” he said. Out of his two firms, 600 of his 800 employees were impacted by reversals, and he knows anecdotally from other firms that they had hundreds affected.

Mete suspects the industry will downplay the impact of the MyPayrollHR incident possibly to avoid new regulations. Regardless, new regulations may be on the way.

Last week, the New York State Senate announced a package of bills in response to MyPayrollHR. They include new criminal penalties for intentionally misappropriating payroll, tax credits for victims and restrictions on deductions from employee accounts.

NACHA defended the ACH system. It “has strong consumer protection measures in place. There are rules in place to prevent unauthorized withdrawals, and to allow consumers to be re-credited in the event that there are unauthorized withdrawals,” it said in an unsigned statement. 

“This is an unprecedented and isolated incident, and obviously, these rules were circumvented in this case,” NACHA said in its statement.

MyPayrollHR’s ACH provider was Cachet Financial Services in Pasadena, Calif. Cachet’s services include direct deposit for payroll processing firms. It provided the services to MyPayrollHR for about 12 years, it said in an earlier interview with SearchHRSoftware.com.

MyPayrollHR uploaded a file instructing Cachet to take money out of employer accounts. The money should have been put into a Cachet settlement account. But that didn’t happen. To fulfill the transaction, the ACH system took money out of Cachet’s holding account to pay employees. Cachet says it is out $26 million and is a victim of fraud.

Cachet initiated reversals to get its money back from employee accounts. Some accounts had two reversals, because the first reversal was not coded in accordance with NACHA standards. It then changed direction, and started a process urging banks to reject both its reversals.

Reversals were outside the rules

In its statement, NACHA said that “Cachet should not have sent any reversals in this incident. This is not permitted by the NACHA Rules, and is not in keeping with any industry standard or best practice.”

Lawsuits seeking class action status are now being filed against MyPayrollHR, and the ACH firms involved, including Cachet, which declined further comment.

The payroll problem is not completely resolved for Tanya Willis, executive director at Agape Animal Rescue in Nashville, but her organization may be in better shape than most.

Most of the seven shelter employees have been made whole by banks, which can take 45 to 60 days to fix the problem, according to Willis. One employee had a nearly $1 million deduction in a checking account. First Tennessee Bank, whose name appeared on the screenshot showing the negative $999,193.75 balance, declined to comment.

In an interview Monday, Willis said it appeared that the employee with the $1 million deduction had access to her accounts, but she wasn’t completely certain of the employee’s status.

Animal rescue is rescued by its supporters

The apparent fraud has cost Agape about $10,000 in withholding taxes for a calendar year quarter. But Agape appealed to the community for help.

“Our supporters and our donors stepped up and made us whole and we’re out saving dogs again,” Willis said. The shelter has been able to raise the money to pay their tax bill due Oct. 1, she said.

Willis worries about the for-profit businesses that can’t turn to donors to get help. “I know that there are still so many people in worse situations, and I’m thankful that we’ve been able to go to the community and raise the funds needed to get us back on track — but I want that for everybody,” she said.

Willis was contacted by the FBI, and she sent them every document she could think of to help the investigation.

Mann is cooperating with authorities

On Sept. 10, Mann met with the U.S. attorney in Albany, less than a week after MyPayrollHR closed.

Mann started cooperating with the FBI before the investigation began. It was about two-and-a-half weeks ago that his attorney, Michael Koenig at Hinckley, Allen & Snyder LLP, reached out to authorities.

In an email statement, Koenig said that he “pro-actively called the United States Attorney’s Office before any law enforcement or regulatory agency contacted Michael Mann.”

Mann “has been cooperating with authorities since that initial meeting, and will continue to do so, in order to fully and accurately detail what occurred,” Koenig said.

The five-page FBI complaint only hints at motive. The court filing said that Mann claimed “he committed the fraud in response to businesses and financial pressures, and that he used almost all of the fraudulently obtained funds to sustain certain businesses, and purchase and start new ones.”

Mann faces up to 30 years in prison and $1 million fine, according to the Justice Dept.

But the court document does provide insight into what might have triggered the sudden problem at MyPayrollHR.

There are still so many questions that employers have.
Melanie O’MalleyOwner, O’Malley’s Oven

Mann told authorities that Pioneer Bancorp Inc. was his largest creditor. The decision to siphon off money “was precipitated by [Mann’s] decision to route MyPayroll’s clients’ payroll payment to an account at Pioneer instead of directly to Cachet. He did this in order to temporarily reduce the amount of money he owed to Pioneer. When Pioneer froze Mann’s accounts, it also (inadvertently) stopped movement of MyPayrollHR’s clients’ payroll payments to Cachet.”

In a U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission filing Sept. 11, Pioneer described the “potentially fraudulent activity” without naming MyPayrollHR.

Much remains unsettled

A closed Facebook group for victims of MyPayrollHR now has over 2,000 members.

A moderator of the group, Melanie O’Malley, owner of O’Malley’s Oven, an Albany, NY bakery, and a MyPayrollHR customer, said much remains unsettled.

“Some employees are still missing money, and employers are at a complete loss,” O’Malley said.

She described the general reaction to news of Mann’s arrest as relief.

“There are still so many questions that employers have,” O’Malley said. “I think seeing charges gives us hope that perhaps we’ll get some answers, and a sense of our chances of recompense.”

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Nextlink Internet and Microsoft closing broadband gap in central US – Stories

The agreement could bring broadband access to benefit more than 9 million people, including approximately 1 million in unserved rural areas

REDMOND, Wash. — Sept. 18, 2019 — On Wednesday, Nextlink Internet and Microsoft Corp. announced a partnership that will help close the broadband gap in Iowa, Illinois, Kansas, Nebraska, Oklahoma and Texas, bringing high-speed internet to hundreds of rural communities. The agreement will further enable Nextlink to substantially expand their coverage areas and is part of the Microsoft Airband Initiative, which is focused on addressing this national crisis, with the goal of extending broadband access to over 3 million unserved people in rural America by July 2022.

Lack of broadband connectivity is a pervasive national issue, and particularly acute in rural areas of the country. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) reports that more than 21 million Americans lack broadband access, the vast majority of whom live in rural areas that continue to lag the national rate of broadband usage. The problem is almost certainly larger than that, though, as other studies and data sources, including Microsoft data, have found that 162 million people across the United States are not using the internet at broadband speeds, including approximately 29 million people across Iowa, Illinois, Kansas, Nebraska, Oklahoma and Texas.

“It’s time to deliver on the connectivity promises that have been made to people across the country, and this partnership will help do that for many who have been left behind and unserved in the heartland of America,” said Shelley McKinley, vice president, Technology and Corporate Responsibility at Microsoft. “In the past two years with our Airband Initiative, we’ve seen that progress is possible — particularly when the public and private sectors come together. Partnerships with regional ISPs like Nextlink that have the desire and wherewithal to provide internet connectivity are a critical part of closing the broadband gap and helping families, children, farmers, businesses and whole communities to not only survive, but thrive in the 21st century.”

Nextlink will deploy a variety of broadband connectivity technologies to bring these areas under coverage, including wireless technologies leveraging TV white spaces (e.g., unused TV frequencies) in select markets. Nextlink will continue its deployments in Texas and Oklahoma and immediately begin deployment efforts in Kansas, Nebraska, Iowa and Illinois, with rollouts planned through 2024.

Nextlink CEO Bill Baker noted, “Nextlink is tremendously excited about the opportunity to join forces with Microsoft. This agreement will accelerate the rollout of high-speed broadband access to underserved areas that are desperate for this critical service. This in turn will make those areas more attractive for employers who require high-speed broadband to operate. By itself, this project is going to generate hundreds of full-time, long-term jobs in rural communities as Nextlink builds out and services the required networks. The overall impact to rural communities in terms of job creation and increased viability for all employers is tremendous.”

“This partnership will enable the coming of precision agriculture, IoT, digital healthcare, access to higher education and overall economic growth,” said Ted Osborn, Nextlink SVP of Strategy & Regulatory Affairs. “Our experience tells us that advanced broadband access and community support can make these promises a reality in relatively short order.”

Improved connectivity will bolster economic, educational and telehealth opportunities for everyone in the region, and could be particularly impactful for farmers. Together, the states covered in part by this deal — Iowa, Illinois, Kansas, Nebraska, Oklahoma and Texas — account for more than $120 billion in annual agricultural value, or 29% of the agricultural output of the United States, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). With broadband access, farmers can gain better access to markets and take advantage of advancements in precision agriculture, enabling them to better monitor crops and increase their yields, which can translate into significant economic returns. The USDA estimates widespread use of connected technologies for agricultural production has the potential to unlock over $47 billion in annual gross benefit for the United States.

The partnership builds on Microsoft and Nextlink’s efforts to close the digital divide. Nextlink is familiar with the needs of rural communities and was awarded federal Connect America Fund funding to expand broadband access to unserved rural communities. The companies will also work together to ensure that, once connectivity is available in these regions, people will receive the digital skills training to help them take advantage of the economic and social benefits that come with broadband access.

About Nextlink Internet  

Nextlink Internet, LLC is a residential and commercial internet access and phone services provider based in Hudson Oaks, Texas. The company is a leading provider of broadband services to rural school districts and municipalities. Since 2013, the company has organically attracted over 36,000 broadband subscribers using solely private capital and has managed industry-leading operating metrics. Nextlink optimizes its IP-based optical-fiber and fixed wireless network with an unrelenting commitment to customer service to achieve high customer satisfaction.

About Microsoft

Microsoft (Nasdaq “MSFT” @microsoft) enables digital transformation for the era of an intelligent cloud and an intelligent edge. Its mission is to empower every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more.

For more information, press only:

Microsoft Media Relations, WE Communications for Microsoft, (425) 638-7777, [email protected]

Dale Curtis for Nextlink Internet, [email protected], (202) 246-5659

Note to editors: For more information, news and perspectives from Microsoft, please visit the Microsoft News Center at http://news.microsoft.com. Web links, telephone numbers and titles were correct at time of publication but may have changed. For additional assistance, journalists and analysts may contact Microsoft’s Rapid Response Team or other appropriate contacts listed at http://news.microsoft.com/microsoft-public-relations-contacts.

 

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Author: Microsoft News Center

Kaseya ramps up managed compliance services focus

MSP software vendor Kaseya revealed it has invested $10 million into a newly formed business unit dedicated to managed compliance services.

The division focuses on Kaseya Compliance Manager, a platform the vendor developed after acquiring RapidFire Tools in 2018. Kaseya Compliance Manager lets MSPs assess and monitor customers’ compliance posture within a number of regulatory frameworks, including the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), the Payment Card Industry Security Standard, and General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). The platform can also help MSPs and their customers demonstrate compliance with cyberinsurance policies. Kaseya recently appointed Max Pruger, formerly chief revenue officer at CloudJumper, to lead the unit as senior vice president and general manager of compliance.

“We as a company believe that compliance is the next big managed service. It is a close cousin to security … [and] a fantastic opportunity for MSPs to expand their business and monetize a very low-touch type of offering,” said Fred Voccola, CEO of Kaseya.

What Kaseya Compliance Manager does

Fred Voccola, CEO of KaseyaFred Voccola

According to Voccola, Kaseya’s compliance management platform scans a customer’s networks and infrastructure to gather about 70% to 90% of the data required by regulators. The remaining 10% to 30% of information can’t be obtained through automated processes, so the software generates a checklist to guide that information’s collection.

“What our product does is it automates everything that can be automated and then it lists the 50 to 100 items that have to be ‘manually’ proven,” Voccola said.

HIPAA, for example, states that a medical provider must physically store patient files in a room with secure locks on the doors. In this case, Kaseya Compliance Manager would direct the MSP and its customer to take photos of the door locks and load the photos into the software, he said.

Once the information is collected, MSPs can then generate documentation and reports to show the customer has met compliance requirements.

In addition, Voccola said the software lets MSPs continually monitor customers’ compliance status. MSPs can receive alerts if changes in a customer’s network or infrastructure cause a compliance issue.

Enabling managed compliance services

A portion of Kaseya’s $10 million investment will go into developing resources to help MSPs establish managed compliance practices. Resources include a content library to learn about how to price, sell and deliver the services. “MSPs don’t have to be an expert in the compliance framework with this offering. That’s the biggest part of it,” Voccola said.

Max Pruger, senior vice president and general manager of compliance, KaseyaMax Pruger

Kaseya is also encouraging MSPs to use the platform internally. Under certain regulatory frameworks, such as HIPAA, MSPs must demonstrate internal compliance before they can touch customer data. Voccola said Kaseya gives MSPs the license for their own internal usage for free when they purchase Kaseya Compliance Manager.

Pruger added that MSPs can also benefit from using the software internally for showing continual compliance with cyberinsurance policies. “Every MSP out there should have cyberinsurance,” Pruger noted.

Voccola said that regulatory compliance will soon become a common part of doing business for all MSPs in the U.S., especially as states roll out localized privacy legislation. He cited the California Consumer Privacy Act introduced in 2018, as an example.

Pruger agreed. “I will say that in the next 24 months, every single MSP will have to have a compliance practice, because every single state in the United States is going to have specific compliance rules that they are going to have to follow,” Pruger said.

In the next quarter, Pruger said he aims to bring Kaseya Compliance Manager to market across GDPR, cyberinsurance, HIPAA and NIST frameworks. “As far as cyberinsurance, HIPAA and NIST go within the U.S., every single MSP has to be [compliant with] at least one of those,” he said. He noted that he will look to add more compliance standards on the platform.

Only about 400 MSPs are currently using Kaseya Compliance Manager, Voccola noted — a number the company hopes to greatly increase in the coming months.

SADA offers flat-rate GCP services

SADA, a business and technology consultancy based in Los Angeles, launched four flat-rate packaged offers for Google Cloud Platform adopters.

The packaged services include Anthos First Step, Anthos Flat-Rate, Database Migration Flat-Rate and VM Migration Flat-Rate. SADA delivers the services for a flat price and according to a fixed time. Miles Ward, CTO at SADA, said the GCP services address customers’ uncertainty and risk when moving to the cloud. An organization may balk at a cloud migration service if the service provider can’t cite a definitive delivery schedule or set a fixed price.

“The ability to have a flat-rate offer lets the conversation start,” Ward said. He noted customers are more likely to greenlight a project if the service is prescriptive, time-bound and available at a specific price point.

The Anthos First Step package provides the first phase of setting up and using Google Anthos. The offering includes x86 portable or rack-mounted infrastructure and Google Anthos, VMware vCenter 6.5 and F5 Big-IP Virtual Addition. SADA provides on-site hardware and software installation, a hands-on lab and a help desk trained on Anthos/Kubernetes.

Anthos Flat-Rate covers the second phase of an Anthos implementation. The package includes everything in the first-step package as well as additional items including a review of the initial implementation, identification of production goals and stakeholders for readiness reviews, and any additional equipment delivery and validation, according to SADA.

The Database Migration Flat-Rate package includes migration of a customer’s database to GCP, while VM Migration Flat-Rate migrates a customer’s virtual machines to GCP.

Hostway, Hosting rebrand as Ntirety

Emil Sayegh, president and CEO at NtiretyEmil Sayegh

Hostway Services Inc. and Hosting, which merged in January, have rebranded as Ntirety.

The managed cloud services company is based in Austin, Texas, and has vendor certifications with companies such as AWS, Microsoft and Oracle. Emil Sayegh, president and CEO at Ntirety, cited “strong synergy” between the companies’ offerings and no overlap between their customer bases. On the IT side, the companies had both been using ScienceLogic to run their businesses. The consolidation of those instances has generated cost savings, Sayegh noted.

No additional acquisitions are in the offing this year, but Sayegh noted the potential for merger and acquisition activity in 2020.

Other news

Christian Alvarez as vice president, Americas Channel, at NutanixChristian Alvarez
  • Nutanix has appointed Christian Alvarez as vice president, Americas Channel. Alvarez was previously worldwide head of channels and distribution at Juniper Networks. He has also held positions at Cyan, a Ciena company; Avaya; eLandia Group; Connexion Technologies and Terremark Worldwide, a Verizon company. Nutanix said its partners include value-added resellers, distributors, system integrators, OEM partners and technology alliances.
  • Hewlett Packard Enterprise launched HPE ML Ops, a container-based software product to support the machine-learning model lifecycle, according the company. An HPE spokesperson said the vendor believes the product presents an opportunity for partners. “Channel partners need to build a practice in this area and develop expertise in data science, AI [and machine learning], and advanced analytics. It’s an opportunity for them to … provide a strategic advisory role for their customers as they look to deliver game-changing business innovation with AI,” the spokesperson said.
  • NYI, a hybrid IT solutions provider based in New York, has acquired a data center in Chicago. The former Navisite facility is geared toward edge and IoT requirements, according to the company.
  • In distribution news, Ingram Micro inked a deal with CoreKinect to provide its IoT sensors to U.S. channel partners. Meanwhile, Tech Data signed an agreement with OPAQ to provide its network-security-as-a-service cloud platform to U.S. service providers.
  • Mission, an MSP based in Los Angeles, said it obtained AWS APN Premier Consulting Partner status.
  • Axcient, a business availability and cloud migration company, unveiled a lead generation program that it said is free for all Axcient partners.
  • Opengear, which specializes in enterprise automation, network resilience and security, will host its first channel partner conference Sept. 16-17 in Dallas.

Market Share is a news roundup published every Friday.

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7 smart tech developments for people who are blind or have low vision | Microsoft On The Issues

It’s estimated that there are about 36 million people in the world who are blind, and a further 216 million who live with moderate to severe visual impairments. Although the World Health Organization points out that up to 80% of vision impairment around the world is avoidable with better access to treatment, the number of people who are blind or have low vision is rising as the global population ages.

But technology is playing a vital role in tearing down barriers, and artificial intelligence is making real inroads into improving accessibility.

Here are seven examples of how smart technology can be a game-changer, allowing everyone to interact with the world in new ways.

[Subscribe to Microsoft on the Issues for more on the topics that matter most.]

The eye in AI

As we’ve reported, Microsoft’s Seeing AI is an app designed to help people with low vision or who are blind. It enhances the world around the user with rich audio descriptions. It can read a handwritten note or scan a barcode and then tell the user what the product is. Point a camera at something and the app will describe how many people it can see and where they are in the image – center, top left and so on.

3-D Sound Maps

YouTube Video

For a sighted person, walking along the street can mean taking in every detail that surrounds them. Microsoft Soundscape replicates that behavior by building a detailed audio map that relates what’s taking place around a person with visual impairment.

It creates layers of context and detail by drawing on location data, sound beacons and synthesized 3-D stereo sound to build a constantly updating 3-D sound map of the surrounding world.

Knowledge at your fingertips

Braille has been used for nearly 200 years as a tactile way of reading with fingertips. It has now jumped from the page to the screen with the updated version of Narrator, the screen-reader for Microsoft Windows, supporting digital Braille displays and keyboards.

Outside of Microsoft’s efforts, Braille touchscreens that work in the same way as tablets have already proved popular among students and teachers. At the Assistive Technology Industry Association’s 2019 conference in Orlando, Florida, innovations on display included the BraiBook, a Braille e-reader that fits into the palm of a hand, and even an electronic toy called the Braille Buzz, designed to teach Braille to preschoolers.

Beacons of change

Bluetooth beacons, such as those being used by the company Foresight Augmented Reality, act like highly precise, personalized guides for people who are blind or partially sighted. While basic GPS technology can take users to a location, beacons mounted in a store, restaurant or public building can guide them to the entrance of the building in question. And when the user is inside, other beacons can direct them to the bathroom or other important facilities.

Electric vehicles

The European Union is taking no chances with people’s safety. New legislation means electric vehicles have to be audible  at low speeds and while reversing. Some manufacturers are already incorporating artificial noise into their electric vehicles.

Smart Glasses

Researchers at Ajman University in the United Arab Emirates are working on the development of a set of smart glasses that can use AI to read, provide navigation information and potentially identify faces. Glasses are connected to a smartphone through a processing unit, allowing the system to function without an internet connection.

These smart glasses are still in the early stages of development but are said to work with a reading accuracy rate of 95%.

AI for Accessibility

Microsoft’s AI for Accessibility program was launched last year, with a $25 million commitment to put Microsoft technology in the hands of start-ups, developers, researchers and non-profits in order to drive innovation and amplify human capability for people with disabilities. The program is continuously looking at new projects to support.

For more on these innovations and accessibility initiatives at Microsoft, visit microsoft.com/en-us/accessibility and follow @MSFTIssues on Twitter.

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Author: Microsoft News Center