Tag Archives: Thursday

ONC, CMS information blocking, interoperability rules finalized

The 2020 HIMSS Global Health Conference & Exhibition may have been canceled Thursday due to coronavirus concerns, but federal regulators wasted no time in announcing that two long-awaited health IT rules finally have been released.

The finalized interoperability and information blocking rules from the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT (ONC) and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) will require healthcare organizations give patients access to data through standardized APIs within the next two years, said Don Rucker, national coordinator for ONC, during a media briefing Monday. The rules also focus on data sharing between health insurers, as well as exceptions to information blocking, or situations that do not constitute healthcare organizations keeping data from patients.

Both ONC’s information blocking and interoperability rule, and CMS’ patient data access rule, were finalized amid concerns about patient privacy. Organizations, including EHR vendor Epic, voiced concerns that there weren’t enough privacy protections in place to keep patient data safe.

Proposals for the two rules were unveiled at last year’s event and it was rumored they would drop in conjunction with President Trump’s last-minute addition to this year’s HIMSS speaker lineup, which was slated to start today.

ONC’s interoperability rule

ONC’s interoperability rule mandates that healthcare organizations use FHIR-based APIs to connect patient-facing and consumer-grade apps to patient EHRs. It’s part of the Trump administration’s push to consumerize healthcare.

At the start of the year, one of the biggest EHR vendors, Epic, publicly expressed concerns on sharing patient data with third-party apps because of the lack of outlined privacy protections. During the media briefing, Rucker addressed those concerns head on, saying that the apps will use the same, secure API technology used in banking apps. Additionally, Rucker said providers will be able to let patients know in a “deliberate, straight-forward way” what information they’re consenting to sharing through a patient authentication process.  

“That is not snuck in on the side,” Rucker said. “It’s central to the way that patients allow an app to get access to their information. We’ve empowered providers to communicate the privacy issues in that process.” 

Rucker said a second part of the finalized ONC rule identifies activities that do not constitute information blocking, which is the interference of a healthcare organization with the sharing of health data, and establishes new rules to prevent information blocking practices by healthcare providers, developers of certified health IT and health information exchange networks, as required by the 21st Century Cures Act.

The rule also requires health IT developers to meet certification requirements to ensure interoperability.  Health IT developers must comply with requirements such as assuring that they are not restricting communication about a product’s usability or security so that nurses and doctors are able to discuss safety and usability issues without being bound by what Rucker said has historically been called a “gag clause.”

The finalized ONC rule also replaces the Common Clinical Data Set (CCDS) data elements standard with the U.S. Core Data for Interoperability (USCDI) data set for the exchange of data within APIs. The USCDI is a defined set of data that includes clinical notes such as allergies and medications. The data set will support data exchange, Rucker said.

“These are standardized sets of data classes and data elements … to help improve this flow of information,” he said.

CMS patient access rule

The ONC rule goes hand in hand with the CMS rule, which aims to open data sharing between the health insurance system and patients.

Starting in 2021, the CMS patient data access rule will require all health plans that do business with the federal government to share data with patients through a standards-based API. The push to make it easier for patients to access health data follows a model CMS implemented with Blue Button 2.0, an API which gives Medicare beneficiaries the ability to connect their claims data to apps of their choosing, such as research apps.

The rule also requires health plans to make their provider directory available through an API, so patients know if their physician is in their insurance network.

“This will allow innovative third parties to design apps that will help patients evaluate which plan networks are right for them and potentially avoid surprise billing by having a clear picture of which clinicians are in network,” CMS administrator Seema Verma said during Monday’s media briefing.

Starting in 2022, Verma said insurance plans will also be required to share patient information with each other, which will enable patients to take data with them as they move between plans.

Additionally, effective six months from today, CMS is changing the participation conditions for Medicare- and Medicaid-participating hospitals as part of the rule. To ensure they are supporting care coordination for patients, Verma said the rule requires the hospitals to send admission, discharge and transfer notifications so patients receive a “timelier follow-up supporting better care and better health outcomes.”

“The Trump administration is pushing the healthcare system forward,” Verma said. “We are breaking down barriers to a seamless, data-driven healthcare system. The result of these two rules will be a more intuitive and convenient experience for American patients.”  

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Citrix patches vulnerability as ransomware attacks emerge

A new round of Citrix patches arrived Thursday for the vendor’s Application Delivery Controller and Gateway products as reports of ransomware attacks targeting vulnerable systems emerged.

The directory traversal flaw allows an unauthenticated party to perform arbitrary code execution. Originally, the Citrix patches were scheduled for release later this month, but last week the vendor accelerated the delivery and issued the first round of patches. Thursday’s patches are for Citrix ADC and Citrix Gateway versions 12.1 and 13.0. A fix for version 10.5 of the products is scheduled for release Friday.

The vulnerability, CVE-2019-19781, was disclosed in December before Citrix had an opportunity to develop fixes. Fermin Serna, CISO at Citrix, previously told SearchSecurity that the company decided to disclose the vulnerability at that time because it had received three separate reports of the flaw within two days, which indicated the risk of exploitation was higher than normal.

In a blog post, Serna urged customers to immediately apply the Citrix patches and also advised customers to take advantage of a free scanning tool, co-developed with FireEye Mandiant, designed to detect indicators of compromise in customer environments running ADC, Gateway and SD-WAN WANOP products.

It’s unclear how many unpatched systems are currently online. Security researcher Victor Gevers, who is also chair of the Dutch Institute for Vulnerability Disclosure, said via Twitter that his public scans showed the number of vulnerable Citrix systems on the internet fell to 11,372 Thursday from a high of 128,777 on Dec. 31. Gevers’ research showed that many of the vulnerable systems during that stretch either “powered down” or applied temporary mitigations in lieu of patches.

Ransomware attacks reported

As Citrix rolled out the latest patches, two separate reports of ransomware detections on vulnerable systems emerged. On Thursday, FireEye threat analyst Andrew Thompson noted on Twitter that he observed a threat actor using the Citrix vulnerability to gain initial access to a network and then pivoting to Windows environment to attempt a ransomware infection. “If you haven’t already begun mitigating, you really need to consider the ramifications,” Thompson wrote on Twitter.

On Friday, anonymous security researcher known as “Under the Breach” also reported a potential exploit of CVE-2019-19781 in a Sodinokibi ransomware attack on German carmaker Gedia. Under the Breach said via Twitter that an analysis of data released by the Sodinokibi threat actors, in retaliation for Gedia’s refusal to pay the ransom, showed the carmaker had unpatched versions of Citrix ADC.

While Under the Breach said he believed the CVE-2019-19781 was used in the attack, it’s unclear if the data released by Sodinokibi is authentic, or if Citrix vulnerability was used to infect Gedia with ransomware.

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Microsoft announces it will be carbon negative by 2030 – Stories

REDMOND, Wash. — Jan. 16, 2020 — Microsoft Corp. on Thursday announced an ambitious goal and a new plan to reduce and ultimately remove its carbon footprint. By 2030 Microsoft will be carbon negative, and by 2050 Microsoft will remove from the environment all the carbon the company has emitted either directly or by electrical consumption since it was founded in 1975.

At an event at its Redmond campus, Microsoft Chief Executive Officer Satya Nadella, President Brad Smith, Chief Financial Officer Amy Hood, and Chief Environmental Officer Lucas Joppa announced the company’s new goals and a detailed plan to become carbon negative.

“While the world will need to reach net zero, those of us who can afford to move faster and go further should do so. That’s why today we are announcing an ambitious goal and a new plan to reduce and ultimately remove Microsoft’s carbon footprint,” said Microsoft President Brad Smith. “By 2030 Microsoft will be carbon negative, and by 2050 Microsoft will remove from the environment all the carbon the company has emitted either directly or by electrical consumption since it was founded in 1975.”

The Official Microsoft Blog has more information about the company’s bold goal and detailed plan to remove its carbon footprint: https://blogs.microsoft.com/?p=52558785.

The company announced an aggressive program to cut carbon emissions by more than half by 2030, both for our direct emissions and for our entire supply and value chain. This includes driving down our own direct emissions and emissions related to the energy we use to near zero by the middle of this decade. It also announced a new initiative to use Microsoft technology to help our suppliers and customers around the world reduce their own carbon footprints and a new $1 billion climate innovation fund to accelerate the global development of carbon reduction, capture and removal technologies. Beginning next year, the company will also make carbon reduction an explicit aspect of our procurement processes for our supply chain. A new annual Environmental Sustainability Report will detail Microsoft’s carbon impact and reduction journey. And lastly, the company will use its voice and advocacy to support public policy that will accelerate carbon reduction and removal opportunities.

More information can be found at the Microsoft microsite: https://news.microsoft.com/climate.

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.

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

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 https://news.microsoft.com/microsoft-public-relations-contacts.

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Microsoft extends Office 365 benefit to nonprofit volunteers

Microsoft on Thursday announced a new Office 365 benefit, offering enterprise-sized nonprofit customers free additional Office 365 F1 seats for their volunteers.

The new Office 365 benefit enables nonprofit customers who have Enterprise Agreements with Microsoft to receive 10 free Office 365 F1 seats for their volunteers per licensed Microsoft 365 E3 or E5 seat. Office 365 F1 includes applications for email, calendars, team collaboration, messaging, intranet, file storage and sharing. Nonprofits with 250 or more users in their organization are eligible for the Enterprise Agreement. The offer starts Jan. 1, according to the company.

Microsoft Cloud Solution Providers will be able to offer the Volunteer Use Benefit to customers directly via the Cloud Solution Provider Channel in spring 2020, according to the company.

The news comes after the company’s announcement in September offering nonprofits free Microsoft 365 Business for up to 10 users. Thursday’s announcement extended this Office 365 benefit to nonprofit volunteers.

This is not the first time Microsoft has donated or provided services for free. Some of their collaboration software programs, such as Exchange, OneDrive, SharePoint and Teams, are available to qualified nonprofits. “But it does mark a significant expansion of access for nonprofits who already pay for Office 365. Keep in mind that Microsoft has long had steep discounts for students and educators, as well,” said Nicole France, principal analyst and vice president at Constellation Research.

The recent move is motivated by several factors, she said. “One is certainly ‘keeping up with the Joneses’ or Salesforces, as the case may be, in terms of publicizing and extending support for the nonprofit sector,” France said.

Another factor has to do with the way Microsoft wants to be perceived by current and potential employees, especially millennials, France said. “We know that this demographic group in particular — an increasingly important one, in terms of recruiting and retention — is strongly motivated by an employer’s mission in the world, not just its commercial business. I suspect this is a significant part of the rationale for giving the nonprofit sector some additional love and attention.”

Lastly, she said, the offering addresses the pressing need for nonprofits to provide appropriate tools to their large numbers of volunteers.

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Salesforce email marketing gets Einstein AI infusion

Salesforce unveiled on Thursday Marketing Cloud email features to come, including Einstein AI tools to automate, personalize and analyze outcomes of email campaigns and interactive emails. Salesforce also introduced testing tools to detect potential errors before hitting the send button.

The Salesforce email marketing AI features scheduled for release later this month include Einstein Content Selection, which makes personalized recommendations for images based on customer preferences. Einstein Copy Insights, also slated for later this month, predicts verbiage most likely to drive customer response in email subject lines and body text, as well as for social media and text messages.

Also, part of the upcoming release is a testing and validation tool that examines email addresses for missing elements, text errors and off-topic offers before sending emails to a list. 

Einstein Messaging Insights, scheduled for January release, analyzes email campaigns to figure out why some campaigns underperform against expected results. More importantly, it can help determine why overperforming ones succeed.

“If you’re doing something that’s performing pretty well, it’s going to try to tell you why,” said Bobby Jania, Salesforce product marketing VP. “So, you’re learning from that and can use it in other campaigns.”

Salesforce also plans to pilot an interactive email builder, based on technology from its Rebel acquisition earlier this year. It can embed surveys, polls and image carousels inside emails. That avails content that otherwise might require an email recipient to click on a web link, which reduces customer engagement.

Consumers and B2B buyers prefer email as the channel to receive marketing messages, according to a Salesforce-commissioned survey of 8,000 consumers and B2B buyers conducted last April. Respondents indicated email remains the favorite channel despite the rise of competing social media and text messaging channels, Jania said.

Salesforce email marketing tools screenshot.
Salesforce email marketing tools now can tap AI to match hero images in individual emails to preferences found in customer data.

Email is not going anywhere as the most-used digital marketing channel, said Constellation Research analyst Nicole France. The upcoming Salesforce email marketing tools aren’t particularly groundbreaking, she said, as other vendors offer similar capabilities.

However, France said that Salesforce is doing what it does well: Getting Einstein AI into the hands of its customers by embedding it in tools they can use right away without help from a data scientist. That will make the tools useful.

“No one’s using AI for the sake of using AI,” France said. “This is a practical use of AI in the marketer’s daily work.”

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Magento BI update a benefit to vendor’s e-commerce customers

With the rollout of the Magento Business Intelligence Summer 2019 Release on Thursday, the Magento BI platform will get improved scheduling capabilities along with a host of new dashboard visualizations.

Magento, founded in 2008 and based in Culver City, Calif., is primarily known for its e-commerce platform. In 2018 the vendor was acquired by Adobe for $1.7 billion and is now part of the Adobe Experience Cloud.

With the vendor’s focus on e-commerce, the Magento BI platform isn’t designed to compete as a standalone tool against the likes of Microsoft Power BI, Qlik, Tableau and other leading BI vendors. Instead, it’s designed to slot in with Magento’s e-commerce platform and is intended for existing Magento customers.

“I love the BI angle Magento is taking here,” said Mike Leone, a senior analyst at Enterprise Strategy Group. “I would argue that many folks that utilize their commerce product are by no means experts at analytics. Magento will continue to empower them to gain more data-driven insights in an easy and seamless way. It is enabling businesses to take the next step into data-driven decision making without adding complexity.”

Similarly, Nicole France, principal analyst at Constellation Research, noted the importance of enhancing the BI capabilities of Magento’s commerce customers.

“This kind of reporting on commerce systems is undoubtedly useful,” she said. “The idea here seems to be reaching a wider audience than the folks directly responsible for running commerce. That means putting the right data in the appropriate context.”

The updated Magento BI platform comes with 13 data visualization templates, now including bubble charts, and over 100 reports.

Bubble charts such as this sample showing an organization's customer breakdown by state are now part of Magento's business intelligence platform.
Asample bubble chart from Magento shows an organization’s customer breakdown by state.

In addition, it comes with enhanced sharing capabilities. Via email, users can schedule reports to go out to selected recipients on a one-time basis or any repeating schedule they want. They can also keep track of the relevancy of the data with time logs and take all necessary actions from a status page.

“It finds the insights merchants want,” said Daniel Rios, product manager at Adobe. “It brings BI capabilities to merchants.”

Matthew Wasley, product marketing manager at Adobe, added: “Now there’s a better way to share insights that goes right to the inbox of a colleague and is part of their daily workflow.

“They can see the things they need to see — it bridges the gap,” Wasley said. “It’s an email you actually want to open.”

According Wasley, the Magento BI platform provides a full end-to-end data stack that services customers from the data pipeline through the data warehouse and ultimately to the dashboard visualization layer.

While some BI vendors offer products with similar end-to-end capabilities, others offer only one layer and need to be paired with other products to help a business client take data from its raw form and develop it into a digestible form.

“We’re ahead of the curve with Magento,” Wasley said.

He added that the end-to-end capability of the Magento BI tool is something other vendors are trying to put together through acquisitions. Though he didn’t name any companies specifically, Google with its purchase of Looker and Salesforce with its acquisition of Tableau are two that fit the mold.

We see our BI as a differentiator for our commerce platform. Standalone BI is evolving in itself. It’s tailored, and differentiates our commerce product.
Matthew WasleyProduct marketing manager, Adobe

Still, the Magento BI tool isn’t designed to compete on the open market against vendors who specialize in analytics platforms.

“We see our BI as a differentiator for our commerce platform,” said Wasley. “Standalone BI is evolving in itself. It’s tailored, and differentiates our commerce product.”

Moving forward, like the BI tools offered by other vendors, the Magento BI platform will become infused with more augmented intelligence and machine learning capabilities with innovation enhanced by Magento’s envelopment into the Adobe universe.

“We’re seeing how important data is across Adobe,” said Wasley. “All together, it’s meant to … make better use of data. Because of the importance of data across Adobe, we’re able to innovate a lot faster over the next 6 – 12 months.”

And presumably, that means further enhancement the Magento BI platform for the benefit of the vendor’s e-commerce customers.

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MyPayrollHR collapse stirs allegations, questions, anger

For Tanya Willis, executive director at Agape Animal Rescue, last Thursday began like any other day — until an employee called. The employee’s deposited pay had been withdrawn from her account. The same was true for all seven of the organization’s employees. Willis called her payroll provider, MyPayrollHR.

A MyPayrollHR employee said there was a “glitch in the system,” to keep track of the missing money, and that there were “no worries,” according to Willis. But it wasn’t just a glitch in the system and the worries were only beginning.

Money continued to drain out of the animal rescue employees’ personal accounts. It didn’t stop with one paycheck reversal. “Most of our employees are still sitting with negative overdrafts in their accounts,” Willis said. One employee was told by a bank that it would be 45 to 60 days before she was made whole, she said. 

Some of the bank reversals sought arbitrary amounts, Willis said. The personal account of one employee of this Nashville-based organization showed “a negative $999,000.” She provided a screenshot of the employee’s account to SearchHRSoftware.

Employee checking account after MyPayrollHR collapse
The collapse of MyPayrollHR set into motion unusual activity in employee accounts. Many were subject to reversals in pay. But one Agape Animal Rescue employee saw reversals nearing $1 million.

Agape Animal Rescue wasn’t alone in its experience. Not long after Willis spoke with MyPayrollHR, the Clifton Park NY-based firm said it was closing “due to unforeseen circumstances.” The firm had some 4,000 customers, mostly SMB-sized businesses. The total payroll involved was about $26 million. That money is gone and there is no explanation for it. It’s unclear how many workers saw reversals in their personal bank accounts.

With MyPayrollHR’s announcement, the company also shut its doors to answers, including press queries. New York State Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced an investigation late last week. “We will not allow these bad actors to take money away from the hard-working people in this state,” he said.

The questions pile up

The MyPayrollHR story has left people shocked. Employees, including low wage workers, discovered money removed from their accounts. Employers are scrambling to cover the amounts. Questions have multiplied.

A key player in this is MyPayrollHR’s automated clearing house (ACH) network vendor Cachet Financial Services. An ACH facilitates electronic payments. Cachet, which is based in Pasadena, Calif., said it is a fraud victim. It is pointing the finger at MyPayrollHR and its parent company, Valuewise Corp.

One of the services that Cachet offers is direct deposit for payroll processing firms. It was providing these services for MyPayrollHR for about 12 years.

There are two parts to an ACH transaction: First, the payroll processing firm directs the ACH to take money out of an employer’s account; the money is moved into a settlement or holding account, which is under the control of the ACH. Second, money is moved from the settlement account into various employee accounts. The process is standard in the industry, according to Wendy Slavkin, Cachet general counsel.

MyPayrollHR uploaded a file instructing Cachet to take money out of employer accounts for payment to employees. Once Cachet did that, the money should have been put into a Cachet settlement account. But that didn’t happen here.

Account numbers were manipulated

“MyPayrollHR manipulated the account numbers in that electronic file so that the money was taken out of the employer’s account and put into an account controlled by MyPayrollHR, not a Cachet settlement account, as it should’ve been,” Slavkin said.

That problem did not stop the ACH transaction process.

The ACH system then automatically tried to access MyPayrollHR accounts, which came back as frozen. To fulfill the transaction, money was taken out of Cachet’s holding account and placed into employee accounts. “Now all of a sudden Cachet is out $26 million because it’s effectively made the payroll for all these companies,” Slavkin said.

Slavkin said Cachet then initiated reversals to get its money back from employee accounts. She said that is a standard process. But some accounts were dinged twice for reversals because the first reversal was not coded in accordance to National Automated Clearinghouse Association (NACHA) standards. 

Slavkin said initial reversals “should have been by law and by NACHA standards rejected by the receiving bank,” so it initiated a second reversal to reclaim the money. They said banks, for the most part, rejected the first and second reversals. But many were still affected, including some of MyPayrollHR’s largest payroll processing customers.

But Cachet, apparently, had a change of heart about its direction. It then began a process to alert the hundred-plus banks involved in the employer wage payments and advised them to reject both sets of reversals so the employees could have their money, according to Slavkin.

The employees will be made whole

Cachet has been in touch with the FBI, Slavkin said. It said it is out about $26 million as a consequence of the MyPayrollHR incident.

“The employees will have their pay back, but in a sense, they’ve been paid by Cachet, and not their employer,” Slavkin said.

The total losses from MyPayrollHR may be as high as $35 million, if it includes an additional $9 million in unpaid tax withholding managed by a second ACH provider, according to Cachet.

“We just have to see how this plays out and how effective the FBI can be in helping us recoup our money,” Slavkin said.

Cachet said there were no more than two reversals, but some of the employers say there have been three.

What is clear is that this problem unfolded suddenly, and employers had very little time to react. 

Among those with questions is Jeff Salter, founder and CEO at Caring Senior Service in San Antonio, which has 1,500 employees in 23 states. As many as 1,200 of the elder care provider’s employees were affected by the problem. It was a customer of MyPayrollHR for more than three years and it was happy with the service — until last week. 

A scramble to fix the problem

At about 7 a.m. on Thursday, Salter discovered his own paycheck had a pending reversal. He started investigating and discovered a larger problem.

Cachet had initiated the reversals to Caring Senior Service’s accounts, Salter said. “I know [Cachet] may claim that one of the transactions was to reverse a non-funded transaction to them, but they have done the withdrawal twice and in some cases three times,” Salter said.

Salter questions how banks can approve two reversals.

“It is clearly evident that there is something nefarious occurring, yet they are allowing reversals to occur even when their account holders are being hurt by their decisions,” Salter said. “We’ve been focused on supporting our employees first; 90% of our employees are caregivers and none of our employees deserve this treatment.”

MyPayrollHR’s abrupt shutdown is forcing some affected businesses to use reserves to cover employees. Meanwhile, employees are in various stages of getting the banks to cover the payroll amounts.

Brad Mete is the managing partner of two recruiting and staffing firms, Affinity Resource, an employment agency, and IntellaPro LLC, a professional staffing firm. The Fort Lauderdale-based firms employ about 800. About 600 of their employees were impacted. Mete learned about the problem from an employee Thursday. 

In the absence of clear answers from MyPayrollHR, Mete and his partners suspected a big problem. “We knew the writing was on the wall, that there was probably something going down there,” he said.

It was chaos times two

Mete and his team stayed late Thursday in the office and paid people directly out of its financial cushion. People had to be paid Friday. They issued direct deposits on cash pay cards, which are similar to debit cards.

In the meantime, Mete has questions. They weren’t pulling the money out of the employees’ accounts, but who was, and why? What was happening to it? They had no way of getting answers to these questions, but they had to solve the problem.

At 5:45 a.m. on Friday, Mete’s phone started ringing.

“I didn’t have time to breathe — it was chaos times two,” Mete said.

Mete had to talk to employees, clients and banks to work through the problem. Explaining the problem to employees and the plan to pay them wasn’t easy. Some of the employees work in warehouses, “and they’re not going to give you a hug when you take two weeks of pay out of their pocket,” Mete said. 

Mete worried clients might blame him. He had to tell them: “We’re not the ones that pulled the plug here. We are the victims. We are stepping up. I need you to stand by me. We’re going to do the right thing here,” he said.

Explanations leave questions

Cachet’s explanation is unlikely to satisfy the questions. Money is still missing from employee accounts. Employees are still struggling with banks to fix the problems, and there are transactions that make no sense.

Agape Animal Rescue’s Willis said Thursday there was one withdrawal from employee accounts. On Friday there was another withdrawal or reversal to employee accounts.

Agape’s bank established an advocate to help employees work with their various banks to get the money returned. Some banks have been cooperative; in other cases, employees are still fighting for their money, she said.

Some of the second withdrawals on Friday were for the amount of an employee’s pay, and others were for arbitrary amounts, Willis said.

One Agape employee’s account was pinged again and again “by whatever company was trying to get the money,” Willis said. “It just continuously did it and it finally stopped at almost a million dollars.” The employee only had a relatively small amount of money in the account.

The reversals, or attempts to pull money out of employee accounts, haven’t ended, Willis said.  On Monday, there was another attempt at a reversal.

Willis has been reading the victim accounts on a new Facebook group. “You’re just inundated with horrible stories of people that were affected in different ways.”

The stories from victims “just continue and continue,” Willis said, and there are still people whose bank accounts are getting pinged for money.

What would the people responsible say?

Willis said the shelter has suffered, so far, about $10,000 in losses. Employee taxes were taken out of employee checks, but the payments weren’t made to tax authorities. “We still owe taxes in the next few weeks,” she said.

They are now appealing for financial help.

The organization rescues as many as 200 dogs a year, and it’s an expensive process that includes medical support such as spaying or neutering, helping owners who can no longer take care of their pets, taking in dogs from animal control and dealing with abuse cases. The shelter’s work can include behavioral help for dogs, as well as grooming to get them ready for their “forever families.”

Willis was asked what she would say to MyPayrollHR if the people responsible were in front of her.

“I would have to ask, what made you feel like you have the right to disrupt so many lives?” Willis said. “People don’t do this to people.”

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National FFA Organization and Microsoft announce initiative to bring transformational innovation to over 650,000 students nationwide – Stories

FARGO, N.D., and REDMOND, Wash. — July 26, 2018 — The National FFA Organization and Microsoft Corp., on Thursday announced their collaboration to bring innovative technology, science, research and entrepreneurship to the classrooms of the more than 650,000 FFA student members nationwide through an initiative known as Blue 365.

FFA logoFFA members are the future of the food industry, which is relying on this generation to meet unparalleled challenges to feed a growing world population. In a modern world where the food and agriculture industries are reliant on precision agriculture, big data, cloud technology, robotic systems, advanced communications and other sophisticated technologies, Blue 365 will serve as a catalyst for evolving sustainability, innovative efficiency and preparing the future leaders who will solve the world’s critical agricultural challenges. At an event in Fargo today, National FFA CEO Mark Poeschl and Microsoft’s Brad Smith and Mary Snapp were joined by North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum, USDA State Director Clare Carlson, and North Dakota State FFA President Brianna Maddock.

“Today’s FFA members are our future industry leaders,” Poeschl said. “The future relies on connecting diversity of innovational approach, solutions-orientation and cutting-edge technology. We are excited that Microsoft shares our vision of Blue 365. Through agricultural education and FFA, our members are evolving their skill sets for the 21st century demands; they will be the change in our industry. Blue 365 can be the spark needed to create the next big idea in agriculture.”

Blue 365 will be unveiled in Indianapolis, Indiana, this October at the 91st National FFA Convention & Expo, the nation’s largest student convention. With the vision and commitment of title sponsors Microsoft and AgriNovus Indiana, The Blue Room, a 17,000-square-foot interactive space, will showcase the cutting-edge technology, research and innovation happening across the spectrum. Through experiential learning and specific focus on the most critical challenges facing our communities — from respecting the planet to the urgent matter of feeding the world — The Blue Room experience serves to inspire and equip students to activate their potential.

“While digital technology is transforming every part of the American economy, not everyone is acquiring the skills to thrive,” said Brad Smith, president, Microsoft. “As a company, we’re focused on ensuring everyone, regardless of their geography or circumstance, has access to the digital skills they need to compete and prosper. And our partnership with the National FFA will expand this work, helping students across the country prepare for digital jobs and the farms of the future.”

Microsoft’s participation in Blue 365 is part of its commitment to helping people who may be impacted by technological advances and builds on its TechSpark initiative launched last year. TechSpark is a civic program fostering greater opportunity and job creation in smaller metropolitan areas. The initiative is in six regions, including in North Dakota, and focuses on five program areas: digital transformation, digital skills and computer science education, career pathways, rural broadband connectivity, and support for nonprofits.

“Technology is changing every job, every industry and every organization, and agriculture is no exception,” Burgum said. “Today’s announcement from Microsoft and FFA will provide a valuable tool for our educators as they work to equip students with the skills necessary to succeed in a 21st century economy. Given FFA’s long and storied history in North Dakota and Microsoft’s commitment to investing in the future of our young people, Blue 365’s potential to support student learning is undeniable.”

“FFA students across America will lead the food and agriculture industry into the future. They must have opportunities to integrate digital skills into both their classroom studies and project-based learning,” said Mary Snapp, corporate vice president and lead for Microsoft Philanthropies. “Our partnership will help ensure that curriculum is up to date so that these young leaders can use technology to drive innovation in farms of the future, sustain and renew our planet, and enrich their communities.

The National FFA Organization provides leadership, personal growth and career success training through agricultural education to 653,359 student members who belong to one of 8,568 local FFA chapters throughout the U.S., Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

About National FFA Organization

The National FFA Organization is a national youth organization of 653,359 student members as part of 8,568 local FFA chapters in all 50 states, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. The FFA mission is to make a positive difference in the lives of students by developing their potential for premier leadership, personal growth and career success through agricultural education. The National FFA Organization operates under a federal charter granted by the 81st United States Congress and it is an integral part of public instruction in agriculture. The U.S. Department of Education provides leadership and helps set direction for FFA as a service to state and local agricultural education programs. For more, visit the National FFA Organization online at FFA.org and on Facebook, Twitter and the official National FFA Organization blog.

About National FFA Foundation

The National FFA Foundation builds partnerships with industry, education, government, other foundations and individuals to secure financial resources that recognize FFA member achievements, develop student leaders and support the future of agricultural education. Governed by a 19-member board of trustees composed of educators, business leaders, individual donors and FFA Alumni, the foundation is a separately registered nonprofit organization. About 82 percent of every dollar received by the foundation supports FFA members and agricultural education opportunities. For more, visit FFA.org/Give.

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]

Kristy Meyer, National FFA Organization, (800) 293-2387, [email protected]

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.

Satya Nadella email to employees: Embracing our future: Intelligent Cloud and Intelligent Edge

From: Satya Nadella
Sent: Thursday, March 29, 2018 7:29 AM
To: Microsoft – All Employees; All MS Store Employees FTE
Subject: Embracing our future: Intelligent Cloud and Intelligent Edge

Team,

Today, I’m announcing the formation of two new engineering teams to accelerate our innovation and better serve the needs of our customers and partners long into the future.

Over the past year, we have shared our vision for how the intelligent cloud and intelligent edge will shape the next phase of innovation. First, computing is more powerful and ubiquitous from the cloud to the edge. Second, AI capabilities are rapidly advancing across perception and cognition fueled by data and knowledge of the world. Third, physical and virtual worlds are coming together to create richer experiences that understand the context surrounding people, the things they use, the places they go, and their activities and relationships.

These technological changes represent a tremendous opportunity for our customers, our partners — everyone. With all this new technology and opportunity comes a responsibility to ensure technology’s benefits reach people more broadly across society. It also requires that the technologies we create are trusted by the individuals and organizations that use them.

Today’s announcement enables us to step up to this opportunity and responsibility across all our Solution Areas.

With change comes transition, and one transition we have been planning for is for Terry Myerson to pursue his next chapter outside Microsoft. Terry has been instrumental in helping me arrive at this new organizational structure, and I deeply appreciate his leadership and insight as we’ve worked through the opportunity that lies ahead. Over the past several years, Terry and the WDG team transformed Windows to create a secure, always up-to-date, modern OS. His strong contributions to Microsoft over 21 years from leading Exchange to leading Windows 10 leave a real legacy. I want to thank Terry for his leadership on my team and across Microsoft. He will work with me on the transition over the coming months.

Moving forward, Rajesh Jha will expand his existing responsibilities to lead a new team focused on Experiences & Devices. The purpose of this team is to instill a unifying product ethos across our end-user experiences and devices. Computing experiences are evolving to include multiple senses and are no longer bound to one device at a time but increasingly spanning many as we move from home to work and on the go. These modern needs, habits and expectations of our customers are motivating us to bring Windows, Office, and third-party applications and devices into a more cohesive Microsoft 365 experience. To further this vision, we are making the following leadership changes:

  • Devices: Panos Panay will now serve as our Chief Product Officer and will lead our devices vision and further our product ethos across hardware and software boundaries for our first-party devices, while creating new categories and opportunities for the entire ecosystem. He will be the key leader ensuring end-to-end devices business execution excellence.
  • Windows: Joe Belfiore will continue leading our Windows experiences and will drive Windows innovation in partnership with the PC and device ecosystem. The future of Windows is bright as we continue to innovate across new scenarios and device form factors, and more deeply connect to our Microsoft 365 offerings. Joe will share more about the Windows roadmap at Build.
  • New Experiences and Technology: Kudo Tsunoda will continue to lead this team to define how we engage users with high-value experiences to help them achieve more.
  • Enterprise Mobility and Management: Brad Anderson will continue to lead our Windows Enterprise deployment and management efforts with even tighter alignment across Microsoft 365 and will partner closely with the EMS teams within Cloud + AI Platform.

Second, Scott Guthrie will expand his existing responsibilities to lead a new team focused on Cloud + AI Platform. The purpose of this team is to drive platform coherence and compelling value across all layers of the tech stack starting with the distributed computing fabric (cloud and edge) to AI (infrastructure, runtimes, frameworks, tools and higher-level services around perception, knowledge and cognition). To facilitate these new capabilities, we are making the following leadership changes:

Azure: Jason Zander is being promoted to executive vice president, Azure, and will lead this team. The Windows platform team led by Harv Bhela, Henry Sanders and Michael Fortin will join Jason’s team. Windows platform is already a core part of Azure across both the cloud and edge, and this shift will enable us to accelerate our efforts to build a unified distributed computing infrastructure and application model. Roanne Sones will continue to lead our technical engagement with OEMs, ODMs and silicon vendors, and her team will also join Jason’s team.

  • Business AI: The Customer Service, Marketing and Sales Insights teams, previously led by Gurdeep Singh Pall, will join James Phillips’ Business Applications Group. I am thankful for Gurdeep’s leadership in building these new AI solutions that are going to help differentiate Microsoft in this area. This is a notable example of taking research breakthroughs to start new product efforts grounded in customer needs and then mainstreaming them.
  • Universal Store and Commerce Platform: Eric Lockard and his team will also join the Cloud + AI Platform team to both help with our own digital transformation and add new capabilities to our business application efforts.
  • AI Perception & Mixed Reality (MR): Alex Kipman will lead this new team, which brings together all our speech, vision, MR and additional perception capabilities into one team. This team will continue to build first-party products and the core building block cloud services for third parties on Azure. XD Huang, Yu-Ting Kuo and their teams will join this group, as well as Gurdeep’s Ambient Intelligence team. Alex and team will take guidance on all AI-related areas from Harry Shum and work very closely with AI + Research (AI+R).
  • AI Cognitive Services & Platform: Eric Boyd will lead this new team and drive our AI Platform, AI Fundamentals, Azure ML, AI Tools and Cognitive Services. Joseph Sirosh and team will join this new group. Eric and team will take guidance on all AI-related areas from Harry Shum and work very closely with AI+R.

Harry Shum will continue to lead our third engineering team, AI + Research, which is instrumental in the key technology advances required across all our product teams. When we established AI+R nearly two years ago, our primary goal was to accelerate the adoption of AI innovations from research into product, and the changes we are making today reflect our strong progress. In fact, just yesterday I spent time at TechFest and came away inspired by all the innovations and most importantly how quickly they were making their way into our products. We will continue to drive investments in AI+R across research and AI breakthroughs that are key to our long-term success.

As we make technological progress we need to ensure that we are doing so responsibly. To this end, Harry and Brad Smith have established Microsoft’s AI and Ethics in Engineering and Research (AETHER) Committee, bringing together senior leaders from across the company to focus on proactive formulation of internal policies and how to respond to specific issues in a responsible way. AETHER will ensure our AI platform and experience efforts are deeply grounded within Microsoft’s core values and principles and benefit the broader society. Among other steps, we are investing in strategies and tools for detecting and addressing bias in AI systems and implementing new requirements established by the GDPR. While there is great opportunity, ensuring we always act responsibly for our customers and partners will continue to be a hallmark of our work.

To truly get the best impact from our efforts, we will have to push ourselves to transcend Conway’s law. Having a deep sense of customers’ unmet and unarticulated needs must drive our innovation. We can’t let any organizational boundaries get in the way of innovation for our customers. This is why a growth mindset culture matters. Each one of us needs to push on what technology can do for people and for our world. It will take courage to keep learning and growing together — encouraging one another’s individual strengths, building more diversity and inclusion across our teams, and collaborating as One Microsoft. It’s amazing what we have been able to accomplish together, and yet I still believe we are in the very early days of what is possible.

We’ll talk more about these changes at the Q&A next week and the important work ahead.

Satya

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Chief People Officer Kathleen Hogan email to employees: Making sure every voice is heard

From: Kathleen Hogan
Sent: Thursday, March 15, 2018 5:10 PM
To: Microsoft – All Employees
Subject: Making sure every voice is heard

Since Satya and I sent mail in December, a discussion has continued in the U.S. and around the world about the experiences of women in the workplace, and issues of both gender discrimination and sexual harassment.  This discussion is not limited to any one employer, industry or country and includes Microsoft as well. This is an important discussion to have, and while it can be painful, it is only through dialogue and action that we will make progress.

One consistent topic has been how employers handle complaints, what action they take when they identify concerns, and whether employees are free to speak out on these issues.

The most important thing to me, and to our entire leadership team, is that our employees trust and have confidence in how we address these issues and specifically how we handle complaints that are raised.

In December we took a step to ensure that anyone alleging sexual harassment will have the chance to raise their concerns in a court of law.  We became the first Fortune 100 company to endorse legislation that would ensure that every person facing sexual harassment in the workplace can make their case in a public court, rather than behind closed doors in private arbitration. We also announced we were waiving the contractual requirement for arbitration of sexual harassment claims in our own arbitration agreements for the limited number of employees who have this requirement even before any legislation passes.  This was just one step, and one we hope others will follow.

In recent weeks there has been some attention in the media on how Microsoft investigates complaints of gender discrimination or sexual harassment in the workplace, alleging that we don’t take these issues seriously and don’t investigate complaints thoroughly.  Some of what has been reported contains inaccurate and misleading data.  Today, I discussed my thoughts on this topic with our executive staff (which includes the top leadership from across the company). I thought it was important to share my thoughts with you and provide additional transparency and new information that hasn’t been part of the public discussion. While the media discussion and specific data is focused on the U.S., I want to share the information with all Microsoft employees.

We strive to create an environment where everyone is respected, safe and able to do their best work.  We aspire to ensure all voices are heard, that we listen deeply and that we are fair. We want people to be able to raise their concerns.  We take these concerns seriously and we investigate them thoroughly. And where we find issues, we take appropriate action.

I want to share the most recent data with you. For context, we have over 65,000 employees in the U.S. Last fiscal year, we had 83 sexual harassment complaints. Sexual harassment covers a broad range of issues including amongst other things, inappropriate gender-based jokes and unwanted physical contact.  Out of those 83 harassment complaints, nearly 50% were found to be supported in part or in full following the investigation, and more than half of these resulted in termination of an employee who engaged in unacceptable behavior. Depending on the severity of the case there are a range of other disciplinary actions we take.

In the same year we had 84 complaints of gender discrimination.  Around 10% of those were found to be supported in part or in full, and we took appropriate action in these cases too. Gender discrimination can cover a range of issues, including whether work assignments are equitable, concerns about being excluded from meetings or training opportunities, as well as concerns about compensation, rewards or promotions based on gender.

The numbers for last year paint a broadly representative picture of prior years too, especially when you adjust for things like the increase in the number of employees at the company. Reports that we rarely reach a conclusion in favor of the complainant are based on a faulty reading of a partial data set.

As we shared previously, we have multiple ways in which you can raise a concern. However, some of you have asked “if I raise a concern, what happens next?” I want to ensure that everyone has additional transparency on the investigations process, how it works and what you can expect. You can find more information here, but at a high level, the process is:

  • HR or CELA (the Employee Relations Investigations Team/ERIT) will reach out to discuss your concern.
  • Based on the nature of the concern HR or ERIT will follow up to share suggested next steps and an expected timeline.
  • Depending on the issue, there will be a process to investigate the complaint as well as a plan to discuss the results.
  • Employees who raise concerns are not precluded from discussing their experiences or the investigation. There is no “gag order” once a complaint is registered.
  • During the course of investigations, we strive to keep employees updated on the status of the investigation, so the process doesn’t feel opaque.
  • At the conclusion of the investigation there will be a final communication from HR or ERIT.

What this does not address is feedback I have heard that people feel the process can often feel formal and that it can lack empathy. Please know that Brad and I hear that, and we are committed to learning and improving.

I know this topic is incredibly difficult, emotional and stressful for everyone involved. I hope this email provides more context and transparency on what Microsoft is doing and our commitment to continuously improve as we work to build the most inclusive culture where everyone can do their best work.  As always, feel free to reach out to me, HR, CELA or your leadership team with questions or suggestions.

Kathleen

 

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