Author Archives: Jim Linn

Jim Linn Protecting Your Personal Items from Cyber Attacks

AGA wraps up National Cyber Security Awareness Month with a guest blog post by Jim Linn, Managing Director, Information Technology

I have been fortunate to work in the information technology field since the early 1980s. Back then, the world was a much different place with far less emphasis placed on cybersecurity. Frankly, not all computer systems, databases and networks required user IDs and passwords. Not every employee had access to a work computer and few people had computers at home. Not only was there no such thing as a smart phone, but we didn’t have cell phones. Today, most people run a home network of devices connected to the internet, including computers, TVs, gaming devices, tablets and smart phones, which provide endless entry points for cyberhackers to compromise system integrity and ultimately, your personal data.

The landscape of cybersecurity continues to change, so it is important to recognize that you won’t be able to block every intrusion out there. But you can help to minimize these harmful opportunities with multiple tips and resources. Here are some of my recommendations for protecting and securing your personal technology to get you started:

Home Internet Access

Make sure your home wireless router is password protected. Another solid recommendation is to hide your wireless network or Service Set Identifier (SSID) which makes it far more difficult for cyberhackers to find. The longer it takes to find, the longer it takes to compromise.

Anti-Virus Software

Install the latest anti-virus software on all home computers. If cost is a concern, there are quality anti-virus programs available at no cost. It is important to prevent viruses and any sort of malware, which can do anything from export all of your personal data to erase your entire hard drive, from being installed on your computer.

Back It Up

External USB-attached hard drives are great backup devices and the cost for these has dropped significantly. In addition, there are some services that provide online-based computer backup. If you have data on your computer that you can’t afford to lose, such as important work, music, digital photographs, etc. you need to back it up.

Email

One of the most widely used email scams in recent times is spear-phishing. Perpetrators use email addresses that look like the address of a person or an organization you know. All they need is for you to open the attachment or click the link and your computer may become compromised and/or infected. Take care to look closely at the email addresses of incoming mail and at the message itself. Be wary of communication that asks for immediate action, offers prizes or asks for personal information. Take the time to investigate anything that does not look correct before opening the attachment or clicking the link.

Cell Phones and Smart Phones

Phones continue to house more and more personal information. Setup a strong passcode to lock your phone or handheld device so that if it is lost or stolen it cannot be accessed.

These are just some of the many ways you can help to reduce the risk of a personal cybersecurity attack. For additional tips and resources on how to protect yourself, your family and your devices online, visit staysafonline.org – powered by the National Cyber Security Alliance.

Although National Cyber Security Awareness Month has come to a close, cybersecurity remains a top priority at AGA year round. Stay connected with AGA for continuous coverage of cybersecurity topics and content on AGA’s website and blog, and through our Facebook and Twitter accounts.

Posted in cybersecurity, people, safety, technology | 3 Comments

Jim Linn Connecting Customer Service and Low-Income Best Practices

This year’s AGA/EEI Customer Service Conference and Exposition was the first time we connected the conference with the Low-Income/At-Risk Customers Best Practices Workshop.  With the recent reduction in LIHEAP funding, care for low-income customers is a front-of-mind issue and the topic was woven through much of the conference content.

AGA Chairman and President and CEO of AGL Resources, John Somerhalder and President and CEO of Ameren Missouri, Warner Baxter addressed conference attendees giving a CEO perspective of customer service in the utility industry.

In addition to low-income, other topics explored in the general session context were energy efficiency, customer satisfaction, smart grid, energy theft and social media.  Each of these are of significant concern to today’s utility customer service leaders.  Many of these topics were explored in greater detail in the breakout sessions. Breakout tracks included: Call Centers, Credit and Collections, Billing and Payment Processing, Commercial and Industrial Account Management, Meter Reading, Field Service, Revenue Protection and Low-Income/At-Risk Customers.

Industry partners filled nearly 60 booths in the exhibit hall and shared products and services complementing utility customer service with attendees.  Networking sessions provided opportunities for attendees to connect with both colleagues in other companies and industry partners.  Many existing friendships were strengthened and many new networking connections were developed.  At the Tuesday Evening Social at Raglan Road Irish Pub our own Angelo Shaw from Laclede Gas Company played his sax with the band on several numbers and brought the house down! You can see pictures from the conference below. We posted even more to our Flickr stream.

We are looking forward to continuing the success with this year’s conference next year at the 2012 AGA/EEI Customer Service Conference and Exposition and Low-Income/At-Risk Customers Best Practices Workshop at the Omni Fort Worth in Fort Worth Texas April 30, 2012 through May 3, 2012.  Keep an eye on the AGA website for more information.

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Jim Linn Recipe for Utility Customer Service Success

Ingredients:

  • 75 Speakers
  • 65 Exhibitors
  • 20 Sponsors
  • 425 Attendees

Instructions:

  • Mix well at Midwest Airlines Center in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

Yield:

  • 425 energized utility customer service leaders prepared to take on the challenges of our day, equipped and enthusiastic!

Thanks to the generous hospitality of our host utility, We Energies, we started this year’s conference with a cookie and cookie book.  For many years, We Energies has cared for and endeared itself to its customers through the provision of this holiday cookie book. So this warm, heartfelt gesture was the perfect way to begin three days of customer service education and networking.

Our first series of general sessions focused on the outcome of the federal stimulus package.  We heard updates from the federal, state, and local levels.  We also had updates on natural gas vehicles, plug-in hybrid vehicles and the smart grid.  The next day focused on how utilities and other service industries are successfully using social media to interact with and serve their customers.  Finally, we wrapped up with sessions on employee engagement, operational excellence and customer loyalty.  Throughout the conference there were topical sessions on a variety of issued related to utility customer service.

In addition to the educational programming we had times for attendees to meet with industry partners and learn of new products and services to enhance the delivery of utility customer service.  The exhibit hall included 65 partners offering such solutions.  Plus we enjoyed a wonderful evening at the Milwaukee Ale House at the end of the conference to allow attendees and partners to share a meal and further develop industry connections in a less formal environment.

I’ve included some photos from the conference here. You can view more over at our flickr channel.

We’re planning to serve this recipe next year in Kansas City in April with many of the same ingredients plus a few new ones to spice things up a bit.  One of the missing ingredients is you.  We hope you’ll put this on your calendar and plan to join us.

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Jim Linn Thank Goodness for Natural Gas

A snow storm of historic proportions was forecast to begin Friday, February 5, 2010 in the Washington, D.C. Metropolitan area. As predicted, the snow began just before noon and continued through the day and evening. At some point in the middle of the night, the electric power to our neighborhood went out. We woke to a house that was 64 degrees and dropping. My first thought was how to keep my family warm. Fortunately our home has a natural gas fireplace.

Typically we start our fireplace with a remote control. With the power out, the remote control and the wall switch, which both run on electricity, were both inoperable. After a quick review of the manual, I opened the access panel and manually started the fireplace. Within minutes, the temperature of our family room rose to 65 degrees and by late morning it even reached 70 degrees which was very comfortable. This temperature was maintained for the rest of the day. Our home has an open first floor design which meant that the heat from the fireplace also kept our kitchen warm. In order to contain the heat we hung a sheet over the opening to our dining room and hall. During this time the temperature kept dropping in the second floor and reached as low as 50 degrees late in the afternoon.

Not only did natural gas keep us warm but we also enjoyed hot food. We manually lit the burners on our gas stove and cooked pancakes for breakfast. We grilled sandwiches for lunch, and we cooked green beans, pierogies and steak for dinner. And, we had plenty of hot water for washing dishes in the sink and hot showers all thanks to our natural gas hot water heater.

During this power outage many friends and neighbors headed to local hotels for safety. Unfortunately our neighborhood had not been plowed and getting out would have been difficult if not impossible. Without our natural gas service and appliances we would have had a quite cold and challenging experience. Instead, we enjoyed the warmth of our home and family while enjoying the comfort of cooked food and hot water.

Posted in Natural Gas | 5 Comments