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Highlights—January 18, 2014

  • EE Times: IBM Founds Watson Group. By R. Colin Johnson. Excerpts: BM ponied up $1 billion to start a new business unit to develop and champion its Watson cognitive computing technology. Called the IBM Watson Group, the new effort will develop and deliver cloud-based cognitive computing software, services, and apps derived from its Watson artificial intelligence. About $100 million of its billion dollar budget will be available as venture capital to support developers of Watson-based cognitive apps that leverage its Watson Developer Cloud.

    Watson was originally developed to prove that cognitive computing could rival human experts by winning at the TV game show Jeopardy. Since then Watson's technology has been applied to medical diagnoses and financial services delivery. The new IBM Watson Group, housed in New York City's “Silicon Alley” district, will direct the efforts of about 2,000 professionals toward expanding Watson's applications into new markets in retail, travel, telecommunications, and beyond.

  • Bloomberg Businessweek: IBM's Artificial Intelligence Problem, or Why Watson Can't Get a Job. By Drake Bennett. Excerpts: What if we built a super-smart artificial brain and no one cared? IBM is facing that possibility. According to the Wall Street Journal, the company is having a hard time making money off of its Jeopardy-winning supercomputer, Watson. The company has always claimed that Watson was more than a publicity stunt, that it had revolutionary real-world applications in health care, investing, and other realms. IBM Chief Executive Officer Virginia Rometty has promised that Watson will generate $10 billion in annual revenue within 10 years, but according to the Journal, as of last October Watson was far behind projections, only bringing in $100 million. ...

    Klaus-Peter Adlassnig is a computer scientist at the Medical University of Vienna and the editor-in-chief of the journal Artificial Intelligence in Medicine. The problem with Watson, as he sees it, is that it’s essentially a really good search engine that can answer questions posed in natural language. Over time, Watson does learn from its mistakes, but Adlassnig suspects that the sort of knowledge Watson acquires from medical texts and case studies is “very flat and very broad.” In a clinical setting, the computer would make for a very thorough but cripplingly literal-minded doctor—not necessarily the most valuable addition to a medical staff. There may well come a day when computers can spit out diagnoses and treatment regimens, leaving doctors little to do but enter data and hone their bedside manner, but that day has not yet come.

  • The Register: IBM's Watson-as-a-cloud: Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it's another mainframe. Forget point'n'click computing, think long-term data crunching and training. By Jack Clark. Excerpts: IBM's attempt to spin its supercomputer-cum-TV star Watson into a $1bn business unit may eventually boost Big Blue's bottom line – but going from beating Jeopardy! to defeating cancer is going to be harder than expected.

    The system's decision engine and advanced natural-language processing technology was launched as a new moneymaking machine at a glossy event in New York on Thursday. So far, it seems, the clever mainframe has proved less a panacea and more a pain in the neck for IBM. ...

    One thing is for sure – in its current state, Watson-powered projects require heavy development by both IBM and the prospective customer, and though IBM is forming a lab to help work with Silicon Valley firms to create Watson apps, it looks to be a hard road.

    A selected reader comments follow:

    • IBM is going nowhere with Watson. Three interrelated reasons:
      • Resources: the pool of domain experts at IBM is shrinking or no longer there at all. After many years of layoff after layoff they don't have any resident domain experts able to establish a sensible conversation with its potential customers. And throwing hundreds of off-shore resources, however cheap they are, at a knowledge based project simply does not work.
      • Risk: IBM has become so risk averse that nowadays does not want to invest in anything. When they approach customers with new ideas they always start talking about "sharing the risk" with their customers. Translation: you'll pay tons of money to IBM for doing this and that money will be used by IBM to build knowledge that can be reused to repeat the project, possibly with your own competitors. IBM will not risk a cent should the project fail, they have fantastic teams of lawyers (which together with finance are their core competence now) that will make sure this happens.
      • Technology: IBM is playing catch up in all fronts. It has not developed by itself any new software or hardware technology in the last what, ten years? They act like CA or Oracle, gobbling up new technologies and "integrating" them into more expensive deals and milk from existing customers their expensive support fees, but not gaining any significant new business from technology. They may have a huge patent portfolio providing revenue, but 1- as these patents expire there are no new ones replacing them and 2- the cost of developing such a portfolio cannot be recovered by patent fees alone, they'll have to deploy the new technology, but for the first two reasons (resources and risks) that will not happen. Unless the company changes dramatically, of course.

      I believe IBM will be in the future a case study on how short term profit goals can destroy an unprecedented amount of brand image and trust in a short record time.

  • Seeking Alpha: IBM's Hopes Rest With Watson. Excerpts: CEO Ginni Rometty has set a very ambitious target for Watson to contribute $10 billion in yearly revenue by 2023. However, applying the system to distinctive applications has not been as easy though, which is why Watson has yet to generate any meaningful revenue to IBM. IBM is particularly looking at developing Watson for applications in healthcare and financial services. IBM recently won a $12 million contract with DBS, a Singapore bank, to help financial planners to identify the most relevant products for its wealth-management clients. ...

    Over the past year, IBM's shares have lagged behind the S&P 500, and the technology sector, as investors have become increasingly concerned with the company's failure to reduce its reliance from its legacy systems and services business, and its slow shift to cloud computing. Currently, IBM is trading at just 11.0 times expected 2013 earnings, despite the company returning most of its free cash flow to shareholders through dividends and huge stock buybacks. However, there are growing concerns that the company's EPS growth is increasingly dependent on buyback, whilst the underlying businesses are seeing revenues decline, and margin expansion cannot keep profitability growing forever.

  • Financial Times: IBM plans rapid cloud expansion. By Richard Waters. Excerpts: IBM has laid out plans for a rapid expansion of its data centres around the world as it races to make up for lost time and prevent internet companies such as Amazon from cornering the fast-growing cloud computing market.

    The US technology group said late on Thursday that it would spend $1.2bn in 2014 to add 13 new data centres, taking the total to 40. The move follows its $2bn purchase last year of SoftLayer, whose software is a building block for running cloud services, and signals the latest step in Big Blue’s rethink of its position in cloud computing. ...

    The change of heart in cloud computing comes as IBM’s flagging growth has led Ginni Rometty, chief executive, to step up spending on new markets with the most promise. This month she announced a big push to turn Watson, the company’s most advanced computing project, into a significant business by helping companies make better use of vast bodies of data.

  • Washington Post: IBM commits another $1.2 B to cloud computing. By Mohana Ravindranath. Excerpts: The Armonk, Ny.-based company plans to launch several new cloud data centers in 13 countries — physical locations from which IBM employees can demonstrate and set up cloud offerings. This year IBM plans to open 15 new centers in Washington, Hong Kong, London, Toronto, Dallas, and a few cities in Japan, India, China and Mexico, among others.

    Since 2007, IBM has invested more than $7.5 billion in 15 cloud-related acquisitions, including SoftLayer, a Dallas-based cloud computing infrastructure company IBM acquired for $2 billion in July. The newest commitment is designed to help the company reach its goal of $7 billion in annual cloud revenue by 2015.

  • InformationWeek: IBM Bets Big On Global Datacenter Network. IBM will spend $1.2 billion and build out 40 SoftLayer-based datacenters to deliver enterprise cloud services. Locales range from China to Mexico. By Charles Babcock. Excerpts: IBM cited the expansion Friday as it announced it was committing $1.2 billion to expand its global cloud service footprint. Some of the datacenters will be SoftLayer's existing 13 centers in the US, Europe, and Asia. IBM is also likely to convert some (or all) of its 10 SmartCloud cloud datacenters into SoftLayer-governed service provisioning centers. That leaves another 17 added or scheduled to be added to a network of datacenters by year's end.

    In addition to North America, Europe, and Asia, the datacenters will be located in South America and Australia. Some of the newly launched datacenters are in the US (Dallas and Washington, D.C.), Hong Kong, England, Canada, Japan, India, China, and Mexico. IBM has set a goal to have four or more datacenters in each major geographic area around the world. It will reserve expansion into the Middle East and Africa until 2015. ...

    About 100 countries now have laws that set regulations on how businesses must handle citizens' personal data, noted Erich Clementi, senior VP of IBM Global Technology Services, in the announcement. In a thinly veiled swipe at Amazon Web Services, he said: "IBM recognizes the universal need to deliver mission-critical workloads in a cloud environment that are secure, reliable, and built on open standards, as contrasted with the commoditized cloud model that emphasizes low costs, instead of business growth and innovation."

  • Glassdoor IBM reviews. Selected reviews follow:
    • Collection of acquired companies” Lead Technical Writer (Current Employee), Dublin, OH. I have been working at IBM full-time for more than 3 years. Pros: Name recognition, international company, decent pay. Cons: Too many acquired companies make up a disjointed corporation with no consistency. Advice to Senior Management: Don't tell employees they have a career when all they really have is a job. No, I would not recommend this company to a friend. I'm optimistic about the outlook for this company.
    • Disappointing” Anonymous Employee (Current Employee). Pros: Brand name, recognized world wide. Cons: Huge, disorganized, horrible culture, lack of interest for employees welfare. No, I would not recommend this company to a friend.
    • Multicultural company with many job opportunities” Network Specialist (Current Employee), Brno (Czech Republic). I have been working at IBM full-time for more than a year. Pros: Career development, Home Office, Flexible working hours, 25 days of vacation (5 days may be paid next year in addition to salary or transferred), Life insurance, referral programmes, relocation bonus. Stable job offer, support for bikers (bike cages inside buildings, showers). Cons: High workload, highly controlled environment, less benefits in terms of money, no meal vouchers, expensive canteen, sometimes there is no budget for education. Salary is not counted per hour basis (you are still getting the same salary every month). Advice to Senior Management: Cash compensation should be better or bring more benefits. Yes, I would recommend this company to a friend.
    • 32 years of people, project, and program management. Dramatic changes to the Company beliefs, and methods of operation” Senior Program Manager (Former Employee) , Poughkeepsie, NY. I worked at IBM full-time for more than 10 years. Pros: Huge company with global opportunities. A recognized industry thought leader. If you are well liked by senior executives, you will move up quickly; likely to above your level of competence. Cons: Huge company with a lack of respect for individuals. There is a persistent declining emphasis on United States based jobs. If you are seeking a career overseas, in a growth market, this is the place to be. Advice to Senior Management: Cut the bureaucracy. WAY too many executives with no clear mission or responsibility. No, I would not recommend this company to a friend. I'm not optimistic about the outlook for this company.
    • Good starting job.” Systems Compliance Services (Current Employee), Dubuque, IA. I have been working at IBM full-time for more than 3 years. Pros: - Good entry-level opportunity; - Infinite wealth of knowledge available to absorb; - Very flexible hours.

      Cons:

      • Hostile review process promotes cut-throat environment with peers (If everyone in your team cures a different type of cancer individually, one of you will still get fired for under-performing in comparison with your peers)
      • TOO MANY PROCESSES (sometimes you need to create a process to follow a process that has been created to conform to a different process)
      • Too many levels of management. Upper level management never knows what's going on.
      • Some divisions of IBM are so badly managed that the turnover rate is over 60% (GTS for example)
      • NEVER WORK AT A GDF

      Advice to Senior Management: Cut layers of management by half and invest more in employee satisfaction There's no reason we need 15 levels of management. No, I would not recommend this company to a friend. I'm not optimistic about the outlook for this company.

    • It depends what you want” Anonymous Employee (Current Employee). I have been working at IBM full-time for more than a year. Pros: A large variety of technologies and training available. A good place to start a career. Cons: Once on a project you are stuck with little chance of further experience. There is very little advancement in terms of salary or position. Advice to Senior Management: Salary needs to at least be marketable if you want to keep the best employees. No, I would not recommend this company to a friend. I'm not optimistic about the outlook for this company.
    • So many opportunities” Anonymous Employee (Former Employee) I worked at IBM full-time for less than a year. Pros: So many areas you can work in and it is not just limited to IT or sales. Benefits are decent but not as good as they used to be. Cons: IT is not the place for people who do not want to travel or who wish to have a steady life-long job with one company. IBM hires and lays off people without much long term thought. Many IBMers have been laid off and rehired 2 or 3 times. Many have left IBM for business partners only to have IBM buy the partner. Advice to Senior Management: Stop the revolving employment door. One bad quarter does not mean you need to lay off the 5000 people you just hired 3 months earlier. Secondly, have it be a true lay off, not firing. Rather than hire new people, call the laid off people back to work. Yes, I would recommend this company to a friend.
    • High stress work environment” ASIC Hardware Engineer (Former Employee), Rochester, MN, I worked at IBM full-time for more than 10 years. Pros: Get to work on some interesting ASIC hardware design projects. Cons: High stress, 7-day work weeks expected, high overtime expected, expected to work while on vacation. Advice to Senior Management: Have a plan for ASIC hardware. You are losing good people for lack of a plan/future, poor pay, high stress environment and you no longer promote innovation which is how IBM became a leader in the first place. Now, there is only management to the stock holders and leadership is only to your 2015 roadmap, i.e., lack of a real growth plan. No, I would not recommend this company to a friend.
    • Interesting work can be offset by frustration with needless processes, tools, approvals and levels of mgt” Marketing (Current Employee), Tristates, NY. I have been working at IBM full-time for more than 10 years.

      Pros:

      • Constant learning and ample work on interesting projects
      • Ability to work across business units and geographies
      • Ability to span different areas in your function or general area of expertise
      • In general, some smart and nice people at most levels - Flexibility in work arrangements

      Cons:

      • Frustrating to navigate many needlessly complicated processes and tools, as well as multiple levels of managers to get what you need to do your job. This just eats into productive time to do real work and add the value I was hired for
      • Eroding workforce in most mature markets, which shifts more work for same or less pay (with longer hours) to those remaining
      • Pay packets are deliberately less competitive in most local market conditions, because "they can be"
      • Other declines in benefits (e.g., healthcare, retirement)

      Advice to Senior Management: Chairman is on the right track but hindered by declining revenues and relentless focus on cutting costs. We need to reinvest in the IBMer and make us feel reengaged in the company's vision. Empower us to make sound decisions close to the ground. Remove useless layers of managers and approvals (and in doing so, save even more money and time). If you do those things, we will more than give the company and shareholders "ROI" -- we also will create a climate where people feel good about working here again and can truly do their best work, and that will feed into other great outcomes.

    • Times are bad, company is slowly disintegrating and from within.” Advisory Software Engineer (Former Employee), Littleton, MA. I worked at IBM full-time for more than 5 years.

      Pros: People were always great and some truly creative and wonderful intellects work there. We were able to work at home when necessary with no trouble. Good contribution to 401K (but that has since been modified—it's no longer by pay period but once per year, and only if one is working on Dec 15—hence layoffs prior to Dec 15.)

      Cons: Too big, which clogs productivity even when intentions are good. Obsession with stock returns instead of doing things well. Speaking from experience as an acquisition (i.e. member of acquired company), their aim is to squeeze out whatever they can with minimal investment—worked people to death, laid off good people, neglected basic maintenance of software in favor of flashy non-enhancements. Within our acquisition, approach was to pile on more and more work while laying people off—in the process the application was run into the ground.

      The system of performance reviews based on "stack ranking" (that is, a quota of bad ratings—someone must get a bad rating, regardless of actual performance) is horrendously toxic. Everyone hated working there, whether they were being laid off or not, even people in Watson, supposedly the hottest area.

      Advice to Senior Management: Lose the obsession with stock return and the self-destructive "roadmap" (which is their plan to increase the return per share to an arbitrary target to the exclusion of all else, resulting in massive layoffs and buybacks). Get the executive level back in touch with the field. Go back to creating actual things (in which I include software) that work; go back to servicing them well.

      [But everyone should note that the current situation is certainly *not* Ginny Romety's fault—she inherited it. She may or may not have a plan to fix things, but she didn't cause them. Their business model is to offset declining sales by cutting costs (layoffs and benefit reductions), buybacks, and accounting tricks, to which Wall St is now catching on. It may have made sense when it was started, but not for a long time. They're in a suicidal death spiral, the main problem being that the existence of Cloud negates the need for their core business. No doubt they will succeed in re-inventing themselves yet again, but it hasn't started yet, and will be very painful and messy.]

      No, I would not recommend this company to a friend. I'm not optimistic about the outlook for this company.

    • Great place for new hires, or those in Sales or Development” Product Marketing Manager (Current Employee). I have been working at IBM full-time for more than 10 years. Pros: As a big company, there are frameworks in place (which are missing from a smaller company) to provide context for creating and sharing information. There's also a diversity of areas to move on to when you're looking for your next position within the company, provided you're not looking to move up. Cons: Marketing is an undervalued and under-funded area, which is constantly cut whenever the company goes through a downsizing, to the point where it's effectiveness is compromised. There's a move underfoot throughout all disciplines to outsource as many jobs overseas as possible, for cost cutting. Raises and bonuses are a joke during good times and bad. No, I would not recommend this company to a friend.
    • Very challenging, very rewarding, very draining.” Anonymous Employee (Former Employee). I worked at IBM as a contractor for more than a year.

      Pros: You get to work with some truly gifted people on projects that will see market release. It's multidisciplinary and, no matter your position, you will interact with people from departments outside your own and you'll learn a lot about the product and the development process. It's very rewarding to work with your team to complete a project. In some cases you will own a particular aspect of it and that success will always stay with you as a valued memory. There are teams and offices all over the world, so there is ample opportunity for travel and relocation.

      Cons: There is no such thing as work-life balance. The culture is to live for the work. I worked long hours daily and brought work home for the weekends each and every one. There was no way to avoid it—the pressure and schedule required it. It was even worse if quality work was important to you. The benefits and pay, while good, in no way matched the hours. There was a lot of pressure to meet quarterly sales for stock reports. Project quality and release schedules were reflective of this. There was absolutely no room to miss a deadline or suggest any improvements to a product that would risk a delay. There was a lot of politics. Let's just say the environment was development driven. If your role was not in development, you had to fight every day against the will of developers just to do your job. It was very difficult sometimes to get the information you needed to do your job if the answers were outside of your team.

      Advice to Senior Management: I understand the need for deadline-driven project scheduling and the meeting of quarterly sales goals, but the quality of work and the general well-being of employees suffer at some point. There's a need for more realistic scheduling and better project planning, involving more teams than just the developers right at the start of the project so as to help get everyone on the same page early. No, I would not recommend this company to a friend.

    • Job security (and employee morale) no longer exists” Anonymous Employee (Former Employee). Pros: There are lots of different types of jobs available within the company so one should be able to find a job of interest. Cons: Off shoring of work is leading to US employee population diminishing. There is no more security and employee morale is going downhill. Advice to Senior Management: Show appreciation to employees and stop the off shoring of I/T jobs. No, I would not recommend this company to a friend. I'm not optimistic about the outlook for this company.
    • One word: Dysfunctional” Security Compliance Services (Former Employee). I worked at IBM full-time for more than 3 years. Pros: Great benefits; - medical, dental, 401k. Cons: A lot of intradepartmental affairs, which had a major impact on morale and the effectiveness of the department. Advice to Senior Management: Pay attention to what people report to you. Try to reduce the 30% annual attrition rate you currently experience in Dubuque. No, I would not recommend this company to a friend. I'm not optimistic about the outlook for this company.
    • Great people, great opportunity, concerned about the future” Senior Project Manager (Former Employee). I worked at IBM full-time for more than 10 years. Pros: Incredibly smart, hard working employees, willing to share their expertise and support in achieving customer goals. Cons: Focus on cutting expenses (aka people) is destroying morale and the core strength of the company. Advice to Senior Management: As the current CEO has noted, what makes a company great is employees who are committed to the success of their customers. The focus on cutting people rather than on creating value for customers is seriously undermining what makes IBM great in the minds of its customers, its people. Yes, I would recommend this company to a friend.
    • great place” Consultant (Current Employee), Washington, DC. I have been working at IBM full-time for more than a year. Pros: the pay is fantastic and the people are great and smart and funny. Cons: they work you really really hard but it's not all that bad. Advice to Senior Management: pay your people even more.
    • Institutional” Manager (Current Employee). I have been working at IBM full-time for more than 10 years. Pros: Great development opportunity as it teaches you more than some MBA programs. The development is not only structural but also leadership and other attribute skills. Cons: IBM is so focused on quarterly earnings that it is making what appears to be very short term decisions vs longer term strategic decisions. Additionally we are heading for a skill drain as the baby boomers retire in the mature markets and there doesn't appear to be a focus on skill transfer. Such a shame. Advice to Senior Management: There are some fabulous experts closer to the customer—listen to them. No, I would not recommend this company to a friend.
    • Stable, out-dated, limited room for growth” Senior Consultant (Current Employee). I have been working at IBM full-time for more than 3 years. Pros: Stable company. Good medical benefits. Depending on projects—excellent work-life balance. Work from home. Nice coworkers. Cons: Not so exciting projects 80% of the time. Some people can just coast by without putting in any effort and goes unnoticed. Non-existent raises (if you're a high performer you can get 1%, that's lower than inflation adjustment; if you're a mediocre performer you get nada). Limited room to learn and grow skill set. Out-dated software—some people still use windows XP and MS Office 2002, really!? You get good amount of vacation days but you can never use them because taking one week off will take 2% off your total utilization. Advice to Senior Management: For a technology company, you guys should focus more on getting employees the software/tools they need to get the job done. No, I would not recommend this company to a friend.
    • Superior Incompetency” Project Manager (Current Employee). I have been working at IBM as a contractor for less than a year. Pros: You're kidding—outsource—outsource—outsource. Cons: Too many to state—nuff said. No, I would not recommend this company to a friend.
    • BAU and nothing spectacular” Anonymous Employee (Current Employee). I have been working at IBM as a contractor for more than 3 years. Pros: They pay on time, and colleagues are great. They are also as flexible as they can in your approach to work/life. Cons: Internal processes are far too complex and lead to a great deal of wastage with no obvious benefit to the customer. Projects are badly resources, and innovation is rare. Advice to Senior Management: Severely cut administrative processes, be aggressive in giving the correct resources to projects, and actually encourage innovation otherwise staff will leave to employers applying cutting edge technology. No, I would not recommend this company to a friend. I'm optimistic about the outlook for this company.
    • IBM's Agenda 2015 kills the company” Anonymous Employee (Current Employee). Pros: financially solid; still, this may change. Cons: profit focus, bureaucracy, micro management, neglected/missed technology markets. Advice to Senior Management: screw Agenda 2015. No, I would not recommend this company to a friend. I'm not optimistic about the outlook for this company.
    • Avoid; they don't even pretend that you are not just a number.” Anonymous Employee (Current Employee), Toronto, ON (Canada). I have been working at IBM full-time for more than a year. Pros: Of the 400k plus employees, there are bound to be many smart people that you can draw on for help. Cons: Miles of hindering bureaucracy. No say in where you go or what you do. You are not valuable and you are replaceable. Advice to Senior Management: At least pretend to care? No, I would not recommend this company to a friend. I'm not optimistic about the outlook for this company.
    • Wish I could give IBM a 0 star” Advisory Software Engineer (Former Employee), Research Triangle Park, NC. I worked at IBM full-time for more than 10 years. Pros: A lot of good people. Execs have squeezed the pooch. Cons: Morale stinks. Losing revenues. 6 quarters of failure as of 3rd 2013. Profit is powerful but IBM is not spending except to buy back shares or to buy companies to ravish. Advice to Senior Management: Share with employees a pence or two. No, I would not recommend this company to a friend> I'm not optimistic about the outlook for this company.
    • Good place to start, but for 2 years max” Project Manager (Former Employee), Wrocław (Poland). I worked at IBM full-time for more than a year. Pros: extensive work at home options; good social benefits (sport card, insurance, small extra bonuses to buy books/games/whatever); you can see how corporations work and learn what's the worst type of bureaucracy; travel opportunities if you enjoy spending half of your life in plane/hotel somewhere abroad.

      Cons: - very low salary compared to market; - only few decent first line managers, rest is either using the employees for their own benefits or just lying to them; - most of the projects should really be even called "projects" - not feeling that "we all work in the same team".

      Advice to Senior Management: Go for real innovation; Watson must be turning over in his grave when he looks at IBM today. First-line managers must be working with people, not following Excel spreadsheets. No, I would not recommend this company to a friend. I'm not optimistic about the outlook for this company.

    • Businesses this large have pros and cons” Account Executive (Former Employee), San Francisco, CA. I worked at IBM full-time for more than a year. Pros: A wealth of resources at your fingertips. Lots of opportunity to grow within the company and get experience in multiple industries. Cons: The systems and processes that have been prescribed for all 450,000 employees aren't always a good fit. Also, Lotus Notes. Advice to Senior Management: Give more autonomy to individual business units; don't force everyone to use the same computers, software, or expense system. The "JAM" sessions seemed pretty worthless, or maybe we were not trained well enough to make use of them to where they are worthwhile to us on an individual level. Yes, I would recommend this company to a friend. I'm optimistic about the outlook for this company.
    • Big, slow, top heavy with management.” Software Engineer (Former Employee). I worked at IBM full-time for more than 10 years. Pros: A degree of flexibility as to working location and hours. Some truly incredible and talented people. Cons: Too much process, managers that are scared to make a decision, execs that only care about the bottom line and their bonuses, slow as molasses. Big words, big visions but not backed up by any real execution. Advice to Senior Management: No advice, you wouldn't listen when I was there, you won't now. No, I would not recommend this company to a friend. I'm not optimistic about the outlook for this company
  • Glassdoor IBM Canada reviews
  • Wall Street Journal: Having Good Reason to Do an IRA Rollover. By Mathias Reiker. Excerpts: With the brokerage industry's two regulators increasing their scrutiny over 401(k) rollovers to individual retirement accounts, some compliance officers are making sure their advisers have a good reason when recommending investors make the switch.

    Chapin Davis Investments, for instance, is adding new disclosures requirements for its rollover clients. "Our guys are going to have to do a financial analysis to prove to me that it is the best interest of the client to actually make this move," said Stephanie Elliott, the Baltimore wealth-management firm's chief compliance officer.

    "I want to see that [the clients] sign off on it" with the full understanding that the IRA might cost more in fees, she said. ...

    Advisers and their firms benefit from rolling funds over into IRAs because they get access to managing those investments, which generates fees for holding the account and commissions for trading securities and funds. Some firms charge a fee for the rollover itself. ...

    Still, many advisers believe keeping funds in an existing 401(k) should be the default option, though that is the less favorable option for the advisory firm because it doesn't add revenue. Investors have to weigh the fees they pay for their 401(k)s, particularly if employers pass them on to the plan participants, but generally brokerage fees are higher, advisers say. ...

    "I would imagine, the vast majority of times, if not all the time, it's going to be less expensive in a 401(k) than an IRA," Mr. Hanson of Hanson McClain says. Advisers recommending rollovers have to make sure the fees "are justifiable," either by lowering risk or increasing returns, he said.

  • In These Times: A Farewell to Retirement Security. What the loss of pensions at Boeing means for U.S. workers. By Stephen Franklin. Excerpts: By 1980, pension plans covered nearly 36 million private-sector workers. Not all of these were union members. Once unions had pioneered pensions, non-union employers began offering these retirement plans as well.

    For years, many pensions were of the “defined-benefit” variety, where employers set aside funds that were to be paid out to workers upon retirement. Workers put their faith and futures into these pensions, which were seen as an unbreakable promise that a lifetime’s work in even the dirtiest job would guarantee them senior years in comfort.

    That began to change in the 1980s, as the collapse of unions, financial crises, business failures and new accounting rules slashed away at these pensions. “Defined-contribution” pensions like 401(k)s were introduced, which shifted the financial burden and investment decisions to workers. They also lost the certainty that once came with traditional pensions. The transition has not gone well for some workers financially and emotionally.

    By 2011, 31 percent of private-sector workers at in the U.S. had this new type of pension, while only 3 percent of workers were covered by defined-benefit plans, down from 28 percent in 1979, according to the most recent figures collected by the Employee Benefit Research Institute, a Washington, D.C.-based group.

  • CNET: Google still best company to work for, says Fortune. The search giant retains its top perch in the latest rankings. So what makes Google special? By Lance Whitney. Excerpt: Google is once again the best company to work for in the United States, at least according to Fortune. The magazine's 2014 list of its 100 favorite employers placed Google on top for the third year in a row after leaping ahead of software developer SAS in 2012. The companies are ranked based on how they treat their employees. Fortune revealed a few reasons why Google continues to be No. 1...

  • US News and World Report: Would You Give Up Cable TV to Retire Early? By Robert Berger. Excerpts: Retirement saving has an image problem. Actually, it has two image problems.

    The first is with “the number.” The thought of saving $1 million or more for retirement is overwhelming. For those just trying to make ends meet, amassing more money than they can imagine seems as likely as the Washington Redskins winning the Super Bowl. As a result, many people don’t even try.

    The second image problem is much smaller, but equally paralyzing. The thought of saving $100 a month in a retirement account seems pointless. How can such meager savings turn into an amount that would allow a typical family to retire?

    Add to these two image problems the fact that retirement is decades away for many people, and the result is a retirement readiness epidemic. These problems hit home to me when, as part of a 31-day money challenge, an executive in the pension industry commented that just the cost of cable TV and cell phones could fund a retirement.

    I decided to test his idea.

    Cable TV or retirement – you decide. How much does a lifetime of cable cost? While the cost of monthly cable packages varies significantly, the average is about $80 a month. Multiply that cost by 50 years and it totals a whopping $48,000. If you think that number is alarming, wait until you see the next one.

  • Alliance for Retired Americans Friday Alert. This week's topics include:
    • No Consensus So Far on Extension of Unemployment Benefits
    • Spending Bill: Limited Relief for Some Military Retirees, but Tax Loopholes Remain
    • GAO Reports on Drug Companies That Listed the Wrong Prices Online
    • Koch Brothers Invade Pennsylvania
    • At NAFTA’s 20-Year Anniversary, an Assessment
New on the Alliance@IBM Site

Job Cut Reports

  • Comment 01/11/14: How does IBM reconcile that people employed for years with 1 and 2+ appraisals have suddenly dropped to 2 and 3? Come up with another way to lay us off. It's unfair and misleading to drop appraisals. -Anonymous- Alliance Reply: IBM doesn't reconcile anything when it comes to the workers, no matter where they are located. You'll never get IBM to treat you "fair" unless you have a union contract signed by your union and IBM Management. IBM's motive is to fire as many IBMers as it takes to meet the 2015 Roadmap. Fight back. Join Alliance@IBM and get co-workers to do the same. Then take some collective actions to organize enough IBMers to get a union election. It may be hard and it may take time; but if you do nothing, then you should expect to be treated "unfairly".
  • Comment 01/12/14: Heard thru the grapevine, an account in the Midwest stood up and refused to put in the extra hours demanded for January. Can anyone verify? Might join in if true. -None-
  • Comment 01/12/14: Today I'm saying goodbye to IBM after 8 years of service. Ever since IBM announced the furlough, I have been actively seeking another job. It took me 6 months to land a new job. One of the biggest challenges I faced was employers kept saying "we don't want to hire IBMers". Sad as this may seem, this is one of the toughest challenges IBMers will face. IBM is big, bloated, and very bureaucratic. Employers know this, and they don't want that (especially small business). I have always supported the union, and I wish all who remain the best of luck. I'm looking forward to not wondering if I will have a job next week or not, no more PBC's, and a bigger paycheck with a smaller company. -GoneFromSTG-
  • Comment 01/13/14: Well just had my review. The annual PBC. Manager forced to reduce most if not all people in unit. I was reduced. Can't fight it as it is so subjective and constant clamor about we must do more every year and raise the bar. We are already down 35% soon to be 40% of the people in the unit with the same work needing to be done. Command from above as IBM sales lacking and stock price falling. I'm not is sales, but suffer the consequences. So tired of this process. -anonymous-
  • Comment 01/13/14: To further expound on my comments on the upcoming RAs - my source said that the high level execs are complaining about the results and that management just wants to cut headcount. Also that the upper execs 'don't give a sh **' about their people' (exact quote). -Anon again-
  • Comment 01/14/14: Five days before Xmas my manager told me for the first time in my 23 years at IBM my PBC rating would be a "3". I was told at mid year I was a "2", and was never told anything different at the monthly one-on-one meetings. He said it wasn't that I didn't complete my assigned duties it was just that I didn't contribute as much as my peers beyond my assigned duties. He said I was just low on the ranking list and I fell just below the line for "3"s. With IBM having layoffs every year, I plan on escalating, what have I got to lose. Does anyone have any advice on how to approach the escalation? What are the points I should be refuting? Are there any laws IBM is breaking with this PBC vs ranking/rating? I feel the job you are given determines how much you can shine. That if you aren't given high profile work you can't contribute more. As proof I offer my past assignments were I have been rated a "1" and"2+". But since my old job was eliminated and I joined a new group I get crappy jobs. -Seymour-

    Alliance Reply: IBM is not "breaking" any laws. It's business as usual for IBM. Escalate all you want. It won't help. More than likely, upper management are the ones that gave your manager the direction to make you a "3", in the first place. This is why we have been telling IBMers since 1999, that IBM sees you as an "At Will Employee". You have no protection from any union contract and very little from the Labor board of your State. Want some advice? Start looking for a new job now. IBM has made it clear that your days are numbered at IBM. Sorry for your situation and your impending job loss. Better luck to you in the future.

  • Comment 01/14/14: ISSW in the US is also planning to do some RAs I have heard and I will try to confirm these rumors shortly. The VP of ISSW services and support is moving to a new position and a new VP is taking over. The rumor is the new guy is going to do some clean up to start on better ground. Results in ISSW in the past few years have been mixed. -Anonymous-
  • Comment 01/14/14: I also feel that I will receive a 3 this year. For 25 years, I was a 1 or 2+. The last 2 years, I have dropped to a 2. It was alarming as I had contributed just as much as prior years. I suspect that this year, I will drop to a 3 as IBM tries to encourage more of us to leave. My manager has already hinted that appraisals will be dropping across the board, and he has indicated there is frustration with this at lower management levels as all non-performers are gone. So, people who are performing are now going to be labeled non-performers as IBM looks for ways to encourage attrition and make the next RA selection list easier to build. -Anonymous-
  • Comment 01/14/14: -Seymour-, Escalating and trying to appeal your PBC decision will not help. The second line manager is probably the one that asked to give you a lower PBC rating. It happened to me. PBC has become so corrupt that it useless. I had a 2 and I got let go because of my age. A PBC 3 employee got to stay. If you had 23 years you must be at least 40 and most like has been targeted for your age and your pay. Once you have been targeted you are like an impala in the sight of a cheetah on the African plain. Barring an act of God.. you are done. -Foo-
  • Comment 01/14/14: To: -Seymour- when your manager told you that you did not contribute as much as your peers, he/she probably meant only one thing - that your utilization was not as high as the others'... even if you met the target. Ute is almost the only thing that counts. It's not about high profile work. -canuck-ibmer-
  • Comment 01/14/14: For -seymour- escalation won't work. Instead use the time to prep your resume, build your network and prepare for the inevitable. -waste of time-
  • Comment 01/15/14: A former co-worker of mine confirmed the item below about the midwest account that refused to put in the extra hours for Jan. They formulated an email response and all sent the same to managers. They agreed that 45 hours was fair, but giving up weekends has become way too common when they are already on call 24/7 and often work weekends due to projects and problems. I guess mgmt also tried to tell them that they would have to make up any days they took off at the first of the year - most of which was deferred vacation from 2013 they they had to give up for the 3rd additional ask in December. They said the continual ask for additional hours was not a long term solution to meeting unrealistic utilization targets. Who can blame them... When will it stop? -Deb- Alliance reply: It will stop when this action by the mid-west account is replicated across the company. It is time everyone did what they did. Send a message to the executives: no more abuse!
  • Comment 01/15/14: -Seymour-: If you are going to escalate your review (it certainly can't hurt), the best chance at success is to ask for a peer review instead of going through your management chain who already approved this rating. A friend of mine did that (granted a few years ago) and had a 3 overturned back to a 2. Even if it doesn't do any good it will make your management have to do some work. Good luck. -East Fishkill Member-
  • Comment 01/15/14: AIX organization took a 20% hit from the RAs. Since then about another 20% have left the company or transferred to Linux. The org is crippled and cannot produce the products in plan. -foobar-
  • Comment 01/15/14: -Seymour-: If you do get a peer review and get your PBC 3 to a 2 you will probably be RAed in the next round anyhow. Maybe you stay and work in IBM uncomfortably for another year... I was always a PBC 2+ and got RAed. Your PBC rating means nothing (oh well a PBC 2 and above get some little $ with that GDP thing..) If you had a union contract this would not happen!!! The Alliance has been saying this since 1999 but IBMers don't THINK about it, let alone THINK TWICE! -IBMUnionYES-
  • Comment 01/15/14: A manager who posted here said that we should all challenge the "3", especially if it is a drop from a history of better appraisals. Flood the review process with challenges to make a statement. They have done this deliberately to squeeze variable pay, as if we didn't all see that coming with the establishment of variable pay years ago - just another tool set up to screw the workers. -Anonymous-
  • Comment 01/15/14: @foobar - AIX is dead anyway. IBM invested a Billion dollar 10 years ago to support Linux thinking it would kill Windows. Windows is still going strong in the Enterprise, Linux took off of course but at the expense of AIX. Now IBM is investing another Billion to support Linux on Power to try to save the hardware, but the OS, AIX, is dead for sure. -Anonymous-
  • Comment 01/15/14: 2014 is here and the countdown for Roadmap 2015's goal of $20 earnings per share has begun. CEO Rometty and other executives are determined to reach that goal even if it destroys employees lives, short-changes customers and damages the business.

    It is not just the Alliance saying this, it is said throughout the company by workers who feel they will be discarded to reach that goal.

    The goal of $20 EPS has been meeting resistance in the marketplace already. Missed targets and a series of poor quarters do not bode well for meeting the goal.

    So what does the IBM executive team do? Keep the pressure on by more cost cutting and more firings? Or come to their senses and realize they are pushing a bad business model.

    Unfortunately it will probably be business as usual and the employees will pay the price. PBC evaluations are taking place and reports once again show that large amounts of workers are unfairly seeing their number drop. That puts you at risk for being targeted for a "resource action".

    But the company is also paying a price. Not only are good and talented employees being "RA'd", many are leaving the company because the workplace has become toxic. Those that remain report long and abusive hours, units cut of staff so deeply that the customer suffers, and work piles up on those left to take up the slack.

    It really is time to put the IBM house back in order but it won't be the executives that do it. We all must do it.

    First of all we must organize, build the Alliance everywhere, and bring IBM executives to the negotiating table. They can not be in charge of our future because frankly they consider employees liabilities to the goal of $20 EPS

    We must say NO to the executives blind, greed driven goal of $20 EPS. It is time to rebuild and save the business, utilizing the talents of IBM workers, not the bean-counters.

    We are at a critical point. Do we continue to allow corporate management to push a path that does not reward employees but does reward large investors and executives?

    Or do we push for a better future for employees, the business and our customers?

    Let's organize, speak up and rebuild. Lets bring back respect and dignity to the IBM workforce.

    Start today by joining the Alliance, the only advocate for workers. afl.salsalabs.com/o/4004/donate_page/alliance-join

    Important links:

  • Comment 01/15/14: Yes you can go before a panel review to protest your PBC rating. There is information out there on how to accomplish it. HR will assign a person to assist you. I have never known any one to present their case and be turned down. A few have kept their job afterwards and even managed to get a job in other area. It is worth trying to keep the job an additional year in hopes the job market will improve. Each year you write your PBCs that is a contract for a year's work. It was by prep work for PBC review panel that HR educated me on the PBC process. I recommend that you go for it! Going to upper mgt to discuss it is useless. -RA'd Austin/2010-
  • Comment 01/16/14: @-Seymour-: First, my condolences on receiving a "3" rating. I'm sure that was devastating and not at all reflective of your hard work. However, please understand how the PBC system truly works: all employees in a department are ranked, a skew from HR is applied, and that is how your rating is determined. The "commitments" and "results" parts are nothing but a bunch of baloney to give an illusion of fairness. It is a purely subjective assessment by Management, and ends up being just a "popularity contest". At this point, you should definitely talk to your 2nd Line Manager, and then appeal to a review board. In this environment, there is very little downside. However, you should also prepare for what is probably coming next. Start looking for a job outside IBM immediately, and take a look at the Alliance@IBM Job Cut Survival Kit which has a lot of good ideas. If you believe you have been a victim of age discrimination, you may also wish to consult with an experienced labor law attorney. -Voting Alliance Member-
  • Comment 01/16/14: Anon, you were a PBC 2 until maybe just before your PBC was finalized (maybe your FLM fought for you to stay a 2 but your second line or director just ordered you to be a 3 due to an HR quota/skew) or you were way off the deep end of your pay midpoint earlier this year (barely 'competitive' pay) or you were in a skill set that would qualify for an MBA. Generally, only PBC 1's and 2+'s can or usually get raises; only a few, select PBC 2's get a small, minuscule raise if they can even garner one. Being a PBC 1, 2+, or 3 or even getting a recent raise does not guarantee immunity from an RA: I was a PBC 2+ and got snipered out in the 2009 'big RA' and got a nice 0% raise.. I know it makes no sense how you can get a raise and now be a PBC 3 and maybe RA eligible, but IBM MAKES NO SENSE. The idiotic and cruel IBM upper management is ruining and running the asylum in a quest to fulfill Roadmap 2015. Unfortunately, they made you a 'contributor' to obtaining their greedy and lofty goals. -trexibmer-
  • Comment 01/16/14: IBM is demeaning good employees by giving them a 3 for its own selfish reasons greed and survival. It sucks. All pbc 3 should file suit for the mental agony loss of self confidence and brutality being inflicted by managers to keep the flag flying. Or better still just quit....ibm is going to sink sooner rather than later anyway. -pee bee see-
  • Comment 01/16/14: Left the business in dec. Had to do pbc. Cut and paste 2012. Made a 2+ again. Expected that would be 3 since left on own. At least some management has class -gg-
  • Comment 01/16/14: To anon, you don't have to sign your PBC, but your manager will probably still have it entered in the system. The only thing by you signing it, says that your manager reviewed it with you, and they have checked off on it, their manager checked it and so on. If you don't sign it, it is still in the system and they will say they reviewed it with you. When it comes to PBC distributions, organizations already know what their skews will be. My suggestion is to keep your skills marketable. Sent home in 2009, and moved my pension plan, and 401K from IBM. Since I am not there, not leaving my money. Left corporate America all together, and don't miss. Somethings to remember in life. I had a life before IBM, during IBM, and life continues after IBM if you so choose. -Gone09-
  • Comment 01/16/14: To anon, regarding not signing the PBC in protest of the 3 rating. Nothing happens except it gets some attention usually. In fact, it's probably already expected by your Mgr and his Mgr. They know at this point they are forcing people into aligning them into a probable RA that is already in the works. So, at this point I would not only not sign it but i would comment why you disagree so you can grease the skids for any escalation which HR is already prepared for anyway. Sorry, I know it's not too encouraging but at this stage you have been picked as number to fill a quota although they will always say not so and always say it's based on performance. Not true! Unfortunately I had to play under those rules and hated every moment knowing i wasn't really being honest with employees. I had a boss that wouldn't stand up and back up his Mgrs. for what was right. Glad to be gone. Best of luck! sincerely -g.r-
  • Comment 01/16/14: IBM doesn't have to use PBC to thin the ranks. It adds a veil of legitimacy to a process of reducing headcount. I see how people react when they get a three... What should I do? Should I challenge or not. Will it prevent me from losing my job? Should I sign or not? You could be a 1 and if that job can be done overseas or cheaper they will do it. Only a contract will give you protections. -samtheman-
  • Comment 01/16/14: CNN Published 100 Best Companies to work for. IBM did not even make the list. http://money.cnn.com/magazines/fortune/best-companies/2014/snapshots/84.html?iid=BC14_fl_list Shame on you IBM.... Rather than people centric, IBM is driven to meet $20 EPS by 2015. A number that was decided many years ago and out dated. Who's paying the price? Employees who were RA'd and those to be RA'd. I am so glad I am out and working for company who cares. -Shame on you IBM-
  • Comment 01/16/14: IBM is not on the Fortune 2014 Best Companies to Work for list. The Cheesecake factory however is. Maybe Penny (Big Bang Theory) would make a better CEO than Ginni? http://money.cnn.com/magazines/fortune/best-companies/2014/list/ -Anonymous-
  • Comment 01/16/14: The issue is that more people are receiving "3"s this year than previous years. IBM is likely doing this to reduce variable pay, encourage people to leave to avoid severance, and to make the RA list easier to build and justify. The problem is that nobody left is a 3 performer. For many, the "3" appraisal is unfair and undeserved. -Anonymous-
  • Comment 01/16/14: For all these not signing their PBC, it does not matter one bit, been there bought the tee shirt. No bars on the windows. If you don't like it get out. Make it your choice to leave -Blue disharmony-
  • Comment 01/16/14: Back in 2002/2003 IBM pulled the same thing with PBC ratings. This is done to save millions by not awarding employees the March bonus. I got a 3 rating that year as well. I didn't sign my PBC that year. However I did add a comment requesting management to let me know why I was never notified that my performance had dropped during the year and why I wasn't put on notice so that I could improve my performance. My manager signed the PBC and it went to the 2nd line to sign. The 2nd line never signed it.....Around the March time frame, my manager came back to me and asked why I never signed my PBC. I mentioned that I was waiting for someone to contact me to discuss my comments. Her reply "What comments?" Apparently, someone went in and DELETED everything I had written. I had saved a hard copy submitted PBC so I KNOW the comments were submitted. Watch OUT! -miss_understanding-
  • Comment 01/16/14: Ginni is a failure and is bringing down IBM. Managers giving PBC 3's are also to blame because without a quality staff IBM is nothing. Managers don't do the real work. Corp IBM cannot see the forest for the trees, even when its a plain as day. IBM will be the next AOL, Blockbuster Video, Blackberry. Just NO strategy except to cut wages on the low earners. That will not get the stock to where they want it to go. Moving most centers to India is the next move and we all know its coming sooner than later. The writing is on the wall. -johnny2times-
  • Comment 01/17/14: I am not sure if IBM is really giving more "3"s to reduce variable pay. Reason: IBM has a "numeric factor" anyway in order to determine the size of the overall bucket for money to spend. In last years the numeric factor decreased and decreased ... means that i.e. a 1 or 2+ is getting fewer money every year. I think IBM realized that this nonsense has reached a level where many many IBM colleagues think"Mh, it is not worth to try to get a 1 / 2+. Lets just do business as usual and enjoy some more spare time.". I think that's a valid attitude and honestly: I don't care which grade I get if this is not associated with money. Would you? -oliverro-
  • Comment 01/17/14: Was rated a 2 again. After years of 1s and 2+s. With no explanation why. My manager even said I went above and beyond. But like many here, I don't care any more. I told him I think the PBC process is a joke. To take the many efforts and accomplishments of employees over a year and then force them to justify those efforts for an arbitrary number is insulting. And now there isn't even monetary gain associated. So I no longer give a you know what. Resume is updated. Looking for someone who appreciates my efforts. I wish I would have found this site years ago. I would have joined. But now I have nothing but loathing for IBM and am rooting for it's demise. -Fed Up-
  • Comment 01/17/14: To all IBMers who are worried about PBC ratings. It does not matter. IBM is an { at will employer } and they can make you part of the resource action with no reason given any time management needs to lower headcount. Join the union and get a contract. -ANA-
  • Comment 01/17/14: IBM is in the crapper. ITS is having a problem using its workforce. no jobs. Why? Customers are running...the company is crippled and not able to respond to customer demand. The funny part. A director signature is now required for even customer paid travel. So.. guess I can't show up at their site. Too bad. -Stillin-
  • Comment 01/17/14: I personally no longer care about PBC anymore. Whether I get a 1 or a 3, the money is crap. Instead I focused on doing the least amount of work, just enough to make my service utilization which is already low anyway. The rest of the time I do stuff that benefits me only not the IBM company. -Anonymous-
  • Comment 01/18/14: I worked as a long term supplemental starting in 2012. Most of my group was laid off in Q3 2013. A word of caution: IBM went after me 2 months after termination, claiming that I was overpaid, threatening collections. I tried to appeal but got a call center with at 45 min wait time and person who spoke very poor English. I am warning RA'd supplementals that IBM can and will go after you post termination, there is little you can do to fight it. I decided to pay up to avoid collections and protect my credit score. YMMV. -laid-off-2013-
  • Comment 01/19/14: IBMers expect that if they perform to the same level this year as they did last year, they'll get the same PBC rating. But that's not the case. IBM cooks the HR books with their "high performance culture" theories which say that employees are expected to grow within their position year to year. They are expected to be more productive, have more leadership than last year, etc. So long as employees stay on this growth curve, they'll get the same rating as last year. But as soon as their growth slows down, they have less value to the company, and their ratings start to decline. Even though they're performing at the same level as before. Of course, it's not possible to keep growing in your position. So the longer you're in grade, the more stale you become, and the more likely it is to have your ratings decline. And eventually, you get axed. This is how IBM gets rid of older employees. The HR system is designed to ensure that ratings do decline over time. It's "move up or move out." -Ben Cooked-
  • Comment 01/19/14: Anyone missing funds from their 401(k) employee match in 2013? Every employee receives a different match percentage of pay, depending on the savings plan they are a part of. This figure also depends on how much they contribute to their 401(k). A few of us have noticed that IBM did not match bonuses as they have in years past. When excluding bonuses, it appears the employee match, compared with the total pay from the last paycheck, minus bonuses, comes out to be an even figure. In other words, shorted 401k matching funds for bonus money. -Anonymous-
  • Comment 01/19/14: I was a 3 again this year. That makes two years in row, and I'm certain to be let go. Since I won't be departing as part of an RA does anyone know if I will qualify for NY state unemployment insurance payments? -Soon to depart-
News and Opinion Concerning Health Savings Accounts, Medical Costs and Health Care Reform
Minimize
  • Washington Post opinion: Medicaid expansion is right for Virginia. Excerpts: Virginia is one of the richest states in the nation but one of the stingiest in providing health coverage for the poor. Owing to its restrictive eligibility standards, it ranks 48th among states in per capita spending for Medicaid, the federally subsidized health program for the poor and disabled, according to the Virginia Health Care Foundation. About a million people — almost one in eight adult Virginians — lack health insurance.

    Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) won election in November on a promise to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, which would extend coverage to as many as 400,000 uninsured Virginians. The state’s Chamber of Commerce supports the expansion, which it sees as providing a major economic lift; hospitals, hurting from the loss of federal funds for treating the uninsured, are desperate for it. Elsewhere around the country, about half the states, including eight with Republican governors, have opted to accept Medicaid expansion, whose cost would be borne entirely by the federal government for the first three years. States then would assume a small share of the cost, gradually rising to a maximum of 10 percent in 2021.

    Republicans who control the House of Delegates in Richmond are opposed, but they are not offering a viable alternative. ...

    In addition to better health care for the uninsured, those benefits include $14.6 billion in federal Medicaid funds between now and 2022. That money would go to hospitals and others in the health-care industry, an infusion of cash that could generate an estimated 30,000 jobs. Since Virginians will be paying into the system that supports Medicaid expansion, they should reap the benefits. By blocking the expansion, Republicans would be shortchanging their constituents.

  • New York Times: Patients’ Costs Skyrocket; Specialists’ Incomes Soar. By Elisabeth Rosenthal. Excerpts: Kim Little had not thought much about the tiny white spot on the side of her cheek until a physician’s assistant at her dermatologist’s office warned that it might be cancerous. He took a biopsy, returning 15 minutes later to confirm the diagnosis and schedule her for an outpatient procedure at the Arkansas Skin Cancer Center in Little Rock, 30 miles away.

    That was the prelude to a day-long medical odyssey several weeks later, through different private offices on the manicured campus at the Baptist Health Medical Center that involved a dermatologist, an anesthesiologist and an ophthalmologist who practices plastic surgery. It generated bills of more than $25,000.

    “I felt like I was a hostage,” said Ms. Little, a professor of history at the University of Central Arkansas, who had been told beforehand that she would need just a couple of stitches. “I didn’t have any clue how much they were going to bill. I had no idea it would be so much.”

    Ms. Little’s seemingly minor medical problem — she had the least dangerous form of skin cancer — racked up big bills because it involved three doctors from specialties that are among the highest compensated in medicine, and it was done on the grounds of a hospital. Many specialists have become particularly adept at the business of medicine by becoming more entrepreneurial, protecting their turf through aggressive lobbying by their medical societies, and most of all, increasing revenues by offering new procedures — or doing more of lucrative ones. ,,,

    That math explains why the incomes of dermatologists, gastroenterologists and oncologists rose 50 percent or more between 1995 and 2012, even when adjusted for inflation, while those for primary care physicians rose only 10 percent and lag far behind, since insurers pay far less for traditional doctoring tasks like listening for a heart murmur or prescribing the right antibiotic.

    ...

    By 2012, dermatologists — whose incomes were more or less on par with internists in 1985 — had become the fourth-highest earners in American medicine in some surveys, bringing in an average of $471,555, according to the Medical Group Management Association, which tracks doctors’ income, though their workload is one of the lightest. ...

    Specialists earn an average of two and often four times as much as primary care physicians in the United States, a differential that far surpasses that in all other developed countries, according to Miriam Laugesen, a professor at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health. That earnings gap has deleterious effects: Only an estimated 25 percent of new physicians end up in primary care, at the very time that health policy experts say front-line doctors are badly needed, according to Dr. Christine Sinsky, an Iowa internist who studies physician satisfaction. In fact, many pediatricians and general doctors in private practice say they are struggling to survive. ...

    More than 750 lobbyists represent groups of health professionals in Washington, pushing back on any effort to limit their incomes. The biggest spenders on lobbying — $80 million annually by health professionals — closely align with the highest-paid specialties.

  • The Commonwealth Fund: Improvements in Health Status After Massachusetts Health Care Reform. By Philip J. Van der Wees, Alan M. Zaslavsky, and John Z. Ayanian. The Issue: In 2006, Massachusetts enacted health care reforms to expand insurance coverage and improve access to care. Since then, some 400,000 residents have gained coverage, and 98 percent of the state’s population is now insured. In Milbank Quarterly, former Commonwealth Fund Harkness Fellow Philip J. Van der Wees and coauthors examine whether these reforms also resulted in better health status and increased access to preventive health services for Massachusetts residents.

    What the Study Found: The researchers used data from a state-based survey to look at self-reported health status and use of preventive services for 345,211 adults from 2001 to 2011. Relative to other New England states, Massachusetts residents reported gains in general health (1.7%), physical health (1.3%), and mental health (1.5%). Massachusetts residents were also more likely to access key preventive services such as Pap screening, colonoscopy, and cholesterol testing. Lower- and middle-income residents appeared to benefit most from reform: adults in households that earned up to 300 percent of the federal poverty level (approximately $70,000 for a family of four) were 6.1 percent more likely to be insured than those in neighboring states and reported greater gains in health status.

    Conclusions: While acknowledging that additional studies are needed to determine if these trends are consistent in the long term, the authors note that similar benefits might be associated with implementation of the Affordable Care Act.

  • Washington Post: Don’t believe the hype: Health insurers think Obamacare is going to be fine. By Sarah Kliff. Obamacare's troubled rollout hasn't scared insurers out of the marketplace. Instead, speaking to thousands of health-care investors gathered in San Francisco, plan executives describe the Affordable Care Act as, at worst, a fixable mess and, at best, a major growth opportunity.

    The executives' commentary was a reminder that the health-care industry doesn't set its watch by the election cycles which dominate Washington. They expected Obamacare to be a bit of a mess in 2014 -- but they're in it for the long haul.

    "We believe that over time, a lot of these bumps will work themselves out," Joe Swedish, president of Wellpoint, the country’s second-largest health plan, said in an interview with The Washington Post."We have always expected it to have a sort of lumpiness to it, the rollout. It's certainly become more lumpy than one would have predicted [but] over time, this will work out." ...

    And even as the health exchanges grow, they will likely still remain a smaller part of a health plan’s business. The Congressional Budget Office projects that, when fully implemented, the marketplaces will cover 7 percent of the population, or 30 million people.

  • Wall Street Journal, courtesy of Physicians for a National Health Program: Bare-bones plans still with us. Bare-Bones Health Plans Survive Through Quirk in Law. By Theo Francis. The Wall Street Journal. Excerpts: The health-care overhaul was supposed to eliminate insurance plans that offer skimpy coverage at cut rates. But a quirk in the law stands to help some companies keep them going for years to come.

    AlliedBarton Security Services, a closely held firm that employs more than 63,000 people nationwide, has offered a modestly updated version of its so-called mini-med plan to employees this year and it intends to do so in 2015 as well, even though the cheap coverage fails to meet requirements of the Affordable Care Act.

    What makes the no-frills plan attractive is that it will save money for AlliedBarton and for its security-guard employees who don't incur substantial medical bills, many of whom want a low-cost option, according to the company.

    What makes it possible under the health law: As long as companies offer at least one plan that complies with the law's requirements, they are free to keep offering ones that don't.

    That has enabled companies to find ways to comply with the law while minimizing increases in their health-care costs. The result has been an increase in lean insurance offerings such as "fixed-indemnity" plans.

    Such plans, which might cost an employee just $80 a month in premiums, generally pay a set amount for specific medical services—$70 for a doctor's visit, for example, or $20 for a prescription—without regard to the underlying cost. They limit the amount of payments or care available in a year, and can exclude entire areas of coverage, such as mental-health care. When catastrophic injury or illness strikes, they often pay little. ...

    Fixed-indemnity coverage "violates the spirit of the law," said Jay Angoff, a Washington lawyer who previously headed the federal insurance-oversight office and served as Missouri's insurance commissioner. "There's a strong argument that it is inherently misleading, and it provides so little coverage that it shouldn't be sold at all." Such plans, he adds, "were never intended to survive past 2014."

    Comment: By Don McCanne, M.D. What kind of rule is this? As long as employers offer to their employees a plan that complies with the requirements of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), but a plan that the employees cannot afford to purchase, then the employers are relieved of their penalties for providing them with almost worthless “fixed indemnity” plans, even though that means that the employees may have to pay a penalty for failing to be insured with a qualified plan. ...

    Right now, several respected journalists are criticizing single payer advocates for being critical of the health care gains under the Affordable Care Act. They have it all wrong. We are not critical of the gains; we are critical of the failure to correct the major deficiencies in our system that cause so much suffering and financial hardship. Instead of tweaking a mediocre system, we should fix it. We could do that with a single payer national health program - an improved Medicare that covers all of us.

  • The Leaf Chronicle: Single-payer health plan is not dead. By Froma Harrop. Excerpts: The prospects for single-payer health care – adored by many liberals, despised by private health insurers and looking better all the time to others – did not die in the Affordable Care Act. It was thrown a lifeline through a little-known provision tucked in the famously long legislation. Single-payer groups in several states are now lining up to make use of Section 1332.

    Vermont is way ahead of the pack, but Hawaii, Oregon, New York, Washington, California, Colorado and Maryland have strong single-payer movements.

    First, some definitions. Single-payer is a system where the government pays all medical bills. Canada has a single-payer system. By the way, Canada’s system is not socialized medicine but socialized insurance (like Medicare). In Canada, the doctors work for themselves.

    Under Section 1332, states may apply for “innovation waivers” starting in 2017. They would let states try paths to health care reform different from those mapped out by the Affordable Care Act – as long as they meet certain of its goals. States must cover as many people and offer coverage as comprehensive and affordable. And they can’t increase the federal deficit. Qualifying states would receive the same federal funding that would have been available under Obamacare.

News and Opinion Concerning the "War on the Middle Class"
Minimize "It is a restatement of laissez-faire-let things take their natural course without government interference. If people manage to become prosperous, good. If they starve, or have no place to live, or no money to pay medical bills, they have only themselves to blame; it is not the responsibility of society. We mustn't make people dependent on government- it is bad for them, the argument goes. Better hunger than dependency, better sickness than dependency."

"But dependency on government has never been bad for the rich. The pretense of the laissez-faire people is that only the poor are dependent on government, while the rich take care of themselves. This argument manages to ignore all of modern history, which shows a consistent record of laissez-faire for the poor, but enormous government intervention for the rich." From Economic Justice: The American Class System, from the book Declarations of Independence by Howard Zinn.

  • The Smirking Chimp: No, Congress, You SHOULDN'T 'Pay For' Extending Unemployment Insurance. By Richard Eskow. Excerpts: Despite record-high levels of unemployment -- especially long-term unemployment -- Republicans are refusing to permit any extension of unemployment insurance benefits unless it's "paid for" with money taken from other government programs. They've never demanded that of Republican administrations. ...

    The simple truth is, Democrats are still being outmaneuvered by Republicans on economic policy. They're letting the GOP call the shots, rhetorically, even though Republicans lost two out of three seats of federal government (the Senate and White House). They even lost the total popular vote for the House of Representatives.

    Here's how Dems fumbled the economic debate. First, they seem to have accepted the Republicans' insistence that there be no tax increases for corporations, which are reaping record profits, and the very wealthy, who are capturing a historically high percentage of our national income. Democrats have treated this as a fait accompli and barely even mention these tax hikes any more, even though they're politically popular and urgently needed.

    Then Democrats accepted the idea that any new initiatives, even those which address our ongoing economic crisis, must be "paid for." Since new taxes on the wealthy are off the table, beleaguered poor and middle-class Americans are the only ones left to pick up the tab -- either through reduced services or indirect tax hikes that leave corporations and rich individuals alone. ...

    Besides, it's not as if Republicans actually mean what they say. Their concerns about deficit spending inevitably disappear when the subject is tax cuts for the wealthy or goodies for defense contractors. They don't really care about "paying for" anything. That's just a rhetorical device, a stalling tactic against a program which (like so many popular and useful programs) they simply hate.

    If Republicans really wanted to "pay as they go" for deficit-increasing measures, they won't keep extending "temporary" tax breaks for favored constituencies. Instead they'd adopt the proposal from Howard Gleckman of Forbes magazine, who suggested that Congress apply similar "pay-for" rules to the dozens of "temporary" tax extensions that it routinely renews every year. As Gleckman points out, the benefit of those deficit-increasing tax breaks go to groups that include "Manhattan real estate developers, auto racetrack owners, movie studios, distillers of Puerto Rican rum, multinational corporations" and other business interests. ...

    As for the federal deficit, it's been falling rapidly -- too rapidly for the current economy, in fact, which urgently needs short-term government investment in economic growth. Why aren't the Democrats talking about that? Why aren't they telling voters that a Democratic Congress would be passing jobs bills, rebuilding our crumbling infrastructure, and getting the economy moving again?

If you hire good people and treat them well, they will try to do a good job. They will stimulate one another by their vigor and example. They will set a fast pace for themselves. Then if they are well led and occasionally inspired, if they understand what the company is trying to do and know they will share in its sucess, they will contribute in a major way. The customer will get the superior service he is looking for. The result is profit to customers, employees, and to stcckholders. —Thomas J. Watson, Jr., from A Business and Its Beliefs: The Ideas That Helped Build IBM.

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