Jon Yates’ “What’s Your Problem?” AB

Almost from the moment they moved in January 2011, Chris and Penny Hagan could tell there was something screwy about their ComEd bill.

For several months, they said, they received bills for both their new address in Downers Grove and their old address in Woodridge.

Chris Hagan said he spoke to the utility company several times and was promised things would be straightened out 

On the third call the conversation got a bit testy, he said.

“I think I ticked someone off because it was a simple switch,” he said. “I said, ‘This is the third time talking to you about getting my address straightened out.’”

The customer service agent seemed peeved, he said, but that seemed to do the trick. From that point on, Hagan no longer received bills for his old address, he said.

He had no idea that trouble was still brewing.

In February, Hagan received a call from ComEd saying he was delinquent in paying on a second account set up in his name — a business account in Downers Grove for which he owed $312.87.

A short time later, he received a bill from ComEd for the business account, and then a collection notice.

Confused, Hagan called the electric utility, which told him he had set up the account more than a year earlier, roughly the time he moved to Downers Grove. Hagan insisted he had done no such thing.

In fact, he said, he tried locating the address listed on the second account, 5700 Park Lane in Downers Grove, but could find no evidence it existed.

After going around and around with ComEd, Penny Hagan emailedWhat’s Your Problem?in mid-April.

“I’m actually emailing while I’ve been on hold for the last hour waiting again to speak to yet another supervisor,” she wrote.

Chris Hagan said he was considering taking ComEd to small claims court if it did not erase the $312.87 in charges.

“They told me (the account) was created online,” he said. “I never went online. I know that.”

The Problem Solver called ComEd spokeswoman Arlana Johnson and forwarded her details of the Hagans’ complaint.

A short time later, ComEd called the couple and agreed to erase the charges. It also promised to remove Chris Hagan from collections.

Just what happened remains unclear.

“I’m at a zero balance and I will receive a statement with a zero balance,” Penny Hagan said. “As far as how it happened and why there’s an address (on the bill) that doesn’t exist, I wasn’t told.”

Late Monday night, ComEd issued this response: “We thank Ms. Hagan for bringing this issue to our attention and we apologize for any inconvenience this matter has caused. We began looking into this matter after receiving a call from Ms. Hagan. Our records show that Mr. Hagan originally signed up for service online at an address other than his own. It appears that Mr. Hagan likely typed in an incorrect address of a homeowners association which created the problem. We have informed Ms. Hagan that the charges to their account would be canceled — their account was credited today.”

Chris Hagan insists he did not transfer service online.

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What your work …

What your work emails may say about the state of your company (Yeabsira Petros)

Since its collapse a decade ago, Enron has been a case study for business schools, ethicists and even psychologists. Now, a Chicago startup is using the fallen energy trader to test software that tracks human emotions in the workplace.

RelMap Software has developed mapping software that sifts through corporate communications and claims to be able to do everything from revealing workplace bullies to assessing the level of employee engagement. It’s designed to identify potential problems in the workplace before they escalate, a process founder Steve Pieczko calls “predictive analysis.”

(newsart.com)

Pieczko has been developing the software for about two years, and he needed a testbed. Someone told him thatmore than a half million emails from Enron employees were available on the internet.

By searching for certain words that represent strong emotions in employee emails, RelMap’s program flags possible issues and ma ps behavior patterns. It creates eight emotional rankings, ranging from “affection friendliness” and “enjoyment elation” to “anger loathing” and “humiliation shame.”

For example, RelMap found the emotional score for most Enron employees declined during 2001, as the company careened toward bankruptcy. The one exception: Ken Lay. His emotion state remained stable even as the company collapsed, Pieczko said.

By analyzing pronoun usage, RelMap offered some insights into the truthfulness of various employees. Based on the analysis, for example, Jeff Skilling was the least truthful, and Sherron Watkins was the most among the employees sampled.

Some of the broader patterns that emerged: company executives may become emotionally disconnected from a company as it fails, and they may display a false sense of security that the company is doing no wrong.

Pieczko is developing new algorithms to identify more patterns. He sees benefits for companies such as Goldman Sachs, which recently analyzed internal emails after it came to light that some employees referred to customers as “muppets.”

“I can tell you not only which employees are using the term `muppet,’ but which employees really hate their customers,” Pieczko told me.

It’s a little like the “pre-cogs” in the science fiction film “Minority Report” that predicted crimes before they were committed.

Workers, of course, don’t control their company email accounts, their employers do. Even so, Pieczko admits that employees at many companies might find the idea of software sifting through their messages to be “pretty creepy stuff.” He points out, though, that social media sites such as Facebook, Google and LinkedIn already do that and their millions of users think nothing of it.

RelMap, he said, isn’t Big Brother. It’s using metadata culled from emails to understand employees’ emotions and help them avoid workplace problems without exposing what they actually said in the messages.

“These are behavior patters that you could use to look at down the road,” Pieczko said. “I hope that someday this could be something very useful for companies.”

In other words, he’s hoping that buried in employees’ emails may be the information that prevents the next Enron.


 
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Virgin HealthMi…

Virgin HealthMiles Unveils Updated Wellness Tracking Dashboard (Yeabsira P)

  Virgin HealthMiles has launched the Spring ’12 version of its dashboard platform, which allows employees to report biometric health data so that employers can improve their wellness programs.

A holding company with more than 400 subsidiaries, Virgin Group is involved in air travel, telecommunications, vacations, publishing and even vodka distillation. Virgin can track your health, too.

Virgin HealthMiles, a company that offers wellness programs focused on employee engagement, has introduced the “Spring ’12 release” of its real-time health data dashboard platform. The Web-based tool allows employers to analyze employees’ health data so that they can boost employee motivation and productivity.

The company is part of Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Group, which also includes Virgin Atlantic Airways and the wireless carrier Virgin Mobile.

First launched in 2009, the platform allows employers to collect health data inreal time to influence employee behavior. The Spring ’12 release brings additional data-collection methods for employers and allows them to spot health patterns based on segments, including specific health risks, physical activity levels and corporate departments.

Launched on April 24, the new version incorporates expanded biometric screenings and the Virgin HealthMiles Health Assessment. Employees are also able to challenge each other to meet certain health goals through gaming.

Through the added real-time reporting, companies can monitor the population health of their employees as employees update their biometric readings online.

Workers can enter and view their health information in a central Web account called LifeZone. In this portal, employees can record data such as weight, blood pressure and calories burned. The company’s GoZone pedometer connects to the portal and allows users to record the distance they run.

In addition, the HealthMiles Dash mobile app works on Apple iOS devices. The iPhone’s built-in accelerometer can connect to LifeZone to allow users to track their activity. VirginHealthMiles introduced the mobile app on Feb. 8.

The Virgin HealthMiles allows human resource executives at companies to track employee health trends and help prevent lifestyle-related conditions such asdiabetes, obesity and heart disease. The service encourages employees to report on their diet choices and other lifestyle behaviors.

Employers can use the data to understand patterns in employees’ health, according to Tom Abshire, senior vice president of products, marketing and member engagement for Virgin HealthMiles.

“We want to provide a health and productivity engagement platform for employers to create a unified cross-platform experience to help employees build an awareness and a stronger culture,” Abshire told eWEEK.

Although employers monitor workers’ employee data to improve their wellness programs and reduce health care costs, the information is “de-identified,” Abshire noted.

“We have a strong privacy policy that clearly outlines the employees control of the data,” said Abshire. “Employers can only see de-identified, aggregated data to help them understand the impact of their programs and the overall health of the population.”

Companies use the data to determine whether changes in biometric readings like blood pressure and weight mean a firm’s smoking cessation may be successful or not, Abshire noted. Or an employee may have just swapped one chronic condition for another, he added.

Tracking trends in a population’s health is also called predictive modeling. Analyzing health data, or clinical informatics, is an important part of managing patient care, according to a March 2 report called “Needles in a Haystack: Seeking Knowledge With Clinical Informatics” by PwC.

UnitedHealthGroup has a platform called OptumInsight that allows hospitals to track population health, and Caradigm, the new joint venture between GE andMicrosoft, plans to focus its product development on population health patterns. 

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Starbucks to stop using dye made from crushed insects (Tiffany)

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Starbucks will cease using cochineal extract –a dye derived from crushed insects — to color select beverages and baked goods, according to a company blog post Thursday.

The company came under fire late last month when news that it was using the surprising ingredient lit up the Internet.

“As our customers you expect and deserve better — and we promise to do better,” Starbucks U.S. President Cliff Burrows wrote in the post. “After a thorough, yet fastidious, evaluation, I am pleased to report that we are reformulating the affected products to assure the highest quality possible.”

Lycopene will serve as the chain’s new red dye, and Burrows said he expects the changes to be in place nationwide by the end of June.

The Seattle-based coffee giant which is the nation’s third-largest restaurant chain, was using the bug to color its Strawberries & Creme Frappuccino, the strawberry banana smoothie, raspberry swirl cake, birthday cake pop, red velvet whoopie pie, and mini donut with pink icing.

http://www.chicagotribune.com/business/breaking/chi-starbucks-to-stop-using-dye-made-from-crushed-insects-20120419,0,2292759.story

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Aviva mistakenly sacks 1,300 employees by email (Mike Majer)

Aviva mistakenly sacks 1,300 employees by email

By | April 23, 2012, 5:05am PDT

Summary: UK insurance giant Aviva mistakenly sacks 1,300 of its employees in a rogue email. The email was only meant to go to one employee. Wait, people are still being sacked by email?

“Most insurance companies see policies. At Aviva, we see people.” One of the world’s largest insurers clearly doesn’t “see people” if it’s going to fire a massive chunk of its business by email.

Aviva accidentally sent an email to 1,300 global employees in its investment unit, telling them they were out on the street. Aviva only meant for one of those emails to go through.

Nothing changed, however, as they all kept their jobs. Sandra in accounting only got a minor bump on the head when she hit the corner of the desk whilst fainting, but James in recruitment might need to work harder to keep his job after he left a certain surprise something on his boss’ desk.

ZDNet’s David Gewirtz, part mad scientist, part celebrity author, and part shadowy government advisor, describes it as a “jerk move” for sacking someone over email.

I agree.

In an age of lacking inter-personal relations and working from home, it should come as no surprise to learn that many employees do still get the boot by email.

But there is no excuse for Aviva in this case, however, as despite its decentralised nature, someone surely could have approached the soon-to-be former employee. Under European employment and labour laws, one can’t just sack someone for the living hell of it. There are processes, procedures — and ultimately tribunals — for when it goes does go wrong.

Still, a jerk move is a jerk move. Aviva, with all its wealth, importance, and ‘modern attitude’ to its workforce, should never have sacked someone by email.

But I think it shows that most news agencies that have reported the email screw-up are more focused on the poor former employee getting canned by email, than the 1,299 other employees who had a moment of panic but within minutes were subdued by a reneging email.

Aviva, amongst many, are not the only jerks in the industry for doing this. If an employee worked on the other side of the United States, or even across the Atlantic, the very least a manager can do is pick up the phone. It’s picking up a phone, for goodness sakes. It’s more personal, cheaper, and no matter how angry one is at another person, they could still end up one day being your boss years down the line.

Still, at the least the employee wasn’t taken round the back of the sheds and shot like an injured farm animal. “Mr. Brightside” they call me.

http://www.zdnet.com/blog/diy-it/five-ways-companies-use-social-media-and-look-like-jerks/512?pg=2

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Walmart covers bribary scheme (Kayla T)

NEW YORK — Wal-Mart Stores Inc. hushed up a vast bribery campaign that top executives of its Mexican subsidiary carried out to build stores across that country, according to a published report.

The New York Times reported Saturday that Wal-Mart failed to notify law enforcement officials even after its own investigators found evidence of millions of dollars in bribes. The newspaper said the company shut down its internal probe despite a report by its lead investigator that Mexican and U.S. laws likely were violated.

The bribery campaign was reported to have first come to the attention of senior executives at Wal-Mart in 2005, when a former executive of its largest foreign subsidiary, Wal-Mart de Mexico, provided extensive details of a bribery campaign it had orchestrated to win market dominance.

The Mexican executive, previously the lawyer in charge of obtaining construction permits, said in emails and follow-up conversations that Wal-Mart de Mexico paid bribes to obtain permits throughout the country in its rush to build stores nationwide, the Times reported.

Wal-Mart’s growth in Mexico has been so rapid that one of every five Wal-Mart stores now is in that country. It is Mexico’s largest private employer, with 209,000 employees there.

The newspaper said that only after learning of its investigation did Wal-Mart inform the U.S. Justice Department in December 2011 that it had begun an internal investigation into possible violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. Under that law, it is illegal for U.S. corporations and their subsidiaries to bribe foreign officials.

Wal-Mart, which is based in Bentonville, Ark., said Saturday that it takes compliance with that law very seriously. It also noted that many of the “alleged activities” in the Times article occurred more than six years ago.

“If these allegations are true, it is not a reflection of who we are or what we stand for,” spokesman David Tovar said. “We are deeply concerned by these allegations and are working aggressively to determine what happened.”

Wal-Mart said its latest, ongoing investigation is being handled by outside lawyers and accountants who are experts with the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. The company also said it has tightened procedures and expanded training in Mexico to ensure compliance with the law.

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The Times said its investigation uncovered a lengthy struggle at the highest levels of Wal-Mart, pitting the company’s commitment to high moral and ethical standards against its relentless pursuit of growth.

Wal-Mart had sent investigators to Mexico City, where the newspaper report said they quickly discovered evidence that included a paper trail of hundreds of suspect payments totaling more than $24 million.

But according to the Times, top Wal-Mart executives kept quiet about the campaign and were more focused on damage control than on exposing the corruption. Then-CEO H. Lee Scott Jr. reportedly rebuked internal investigators at one meeting for being overly aggressive. Shortly thereafter, the newspaper said, the investigation was turned over to the general counsel for Wal-Mart de Mexico, who himself was alleged to have authorized bribes. He swiftly exonerated his fellow executives.

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Target makes its space in old Carson’s; hiring 300 workers (Tavi S.)

BY SANDRA GUY Business Reporter sguy@suntimes. April 19, 2012

What does a Target in the city look like?

Shoppers at the new CityTarget — the name for the store inside the old Carson Pirie Scott store at 1 S. State St. — will see a vivid mixture of historic imagery with high-tech functionality when the store opens on July 25. The company will hold a “grand opening” ceremony on July 29.

Target’s bull’s-eye logo will be displayed from the widely recognized Louis Sullivan-designed rotunda window over the main entrance. Rust-colored, perforated metal banners that subtly integrate the logo will extend the two-story store’s exterior.

Inside, 10 percent of the store’s 89,000 square feet of selling space will feature fresh foods — meat, dairy, fruits, vegetables — in open-air and refrigerated cases and displays. (A full-sized Target store averages 125,000 square feet.) The so-called “P-fresh” mini-market, which sells barcoded fruit and vegetables and pre-bagged bananas, herbs and other goods to eliminate the need for scales and weight-based pricing, is set off on the second floor by historically significant columns, an entire wall’s length of set-back windows and, just outside, the elevated train and tracks. The expanded food section houses 56 freezers and refrigerators and 200 linear feet of open meat and dairy cases.

The Minneapolis-based retailer, which had coveted the downtown site for years, has spent a significant sum ensuring that the store’s unique columns and their fancy tops, called capitals, have been repaired and freshly painted to reveal their original charm under years of layers of paint, said spokeswoman Amy Reilly, who declined to disclose exact spending numbers as she and other Target spokespeople led a tour this week. Fewer than half of the two-story store’s 100 columns with ornate tops required restoration, Reilly said.

An estimated 100 to 150 construction workers have been on-site since January.

The city invested $24.4 million in tax increment financing to help restore the building, and developer Joseph Freed & Associates put the total project cost at $190 million over the past 10 years.

Store manager Michael Quinn, 36, a Park Forest native who most recently managed the South Loop Target store, said the former Carson’s site will cater to college students, office workers, downtown residents and the grab-and-go crowd with a pharmacy, sleek “Destination Beauty” cosmetics department, limited-time-only designer collections, healthy food chain Pret A Manger, convenience-sized product sizes (no 24-pack paper-towel monolith to take onto the L for the commute home) and patio furniture suited for balconies rather than lawn-sized gazebos.

Quinn, who started his career at Target 17 years ago pushing shopping carts, admits to having cultivated a fan base as he regularly walks around the future Target store wearing his signature red shirt and name tag.

“I feel like a celebrity,” he said, noting that people stop him regularly to ask the store-opening date. “There is definitely a pride factor for Target, given the building’s significance and the ability to fill a real retail and grocery gap.”

There will be no dedicated parking or discounted parking nearby, but the store will have a loading dock on Madison Street so drivers may pull up.

Target officials expect more than 1,800 applicants to vie for the CityTarget store’s 300 jobs. Job seekers are urged to apply now at Target.com/careers. The company plans an in-person job fair at the Palmer House Hilton May 31-June 2, but will first consider online applicants.

After budget shoestore DSW opens its store next door in May; CityTarget opens in July, and Walgreen Co. doubles its e-commerce office space this fall, the former Carson Pirie Scott and Sullivan Center space will be 85 percent occupied, a developer spokeswoman said. Other tenants include Flat Top Grill restaurant, the School of the Art Institute, Gensler architects and the Illinois Office of Employment Security.

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