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    Agosto Blog

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    Tuesday
    Jul222014

    The Future of Yesterday’s Past 

    Artificial intelligence breakthroughs are closer than you think. Agosto’s CEO, Irfan Khan, met someone who is not only sure of this, he’s working on the next breakthrough as you read this.

    Khan met one of his heroes, Ray Kurzweil, at Google I/O last month in San Francisco. Inspired by technology pioneers at Google including Kurzweil, Khan shared how exciting it is to be able to work so closely with a company that boasts the greatest innovative minds of our time.

    Kurzweil, a tech pioneer, is an acclaimed inventor, entrepreneur, author, and futurist. He spoke at I/O about his new book, How to Create a Mind - The Secret of Human Thought Revealed. It includes behind the scenes views of Google’s artificial intelligence division, predicted technology breakthroughs, and the future of AI.

    Labeled by Inc. Magazine as the rightful heir to Thomas Edison, Kurzweil has been the principal inventor of things like the first music synthesizer capable of recreating the grand piano and other orchestral instruments; the first text-to-speech synthesizer; and the first print-to-speech reading machine for the blind.

    A few years back, Kurzweil took Moore’s Law (the observation that the number of transistors in a dense integrated circuit doubles approximately every two years) a few steps further. His Law of Accelerating Returns has been the basis for near prophetic claims about when certain technological breakthroughs will occur. Kurzweil’s law states that evolutionary systems tend to increase exponentially. With it, he predicted the demise of the Soviet Union due to cell phones and fax machines being widely released, making it difficult for the government to control information flow.

    In his new book, Kurzweil provides theories based on his and others’ neuroscience research, and the evolutions and inventions in AI. He is reverse-engineering the human brain to understand exactly how it works, and is using his knowledge to create AI even more intelligent than humans, which will allow us to better address our planet’s biggest challenges.

    Khan was honored to have met Kurzweil, and is excited about leading Agosto forward in our partnership with Google and in our own software development evolution. For more information about Ray Kurzweil, or to purchase his book, visit www.howtocreateamind.com.

    Have a thought or a question? That’s what comments are for! What are some technology trends you think will become popularized in the next 5 years?

     

    Wednesday
    Jul162014

    Innovation is Meaningless (and Why Companies Don’t Do It)

    The word “innovation” is as commonly used as “optimization,” “synergy,” and “I’ll be ready in five minutes.”

    Organizations that build a culture of innovation reap benefits in employee satisfaction and ROI. COOs, Directors of Operations, and even Directors of Innovation, oversee the progression of business processes, but the potential risks of innovation can bog down or paralyze a potential success.

    Here is why you shouldn’t innovate: you have to interrupt the proven, optimized, and synergized workflows that already have forecasted ROI.

    If you’re involved in operations on any level, you probably just cringed. You don’t have to be a COO to understand that to get drastic results, change and drastic measures are needed and normal. Everyone understands that, so why isn’t every business innovating?

    Many operations leaders are held back by money, the potential risk, or they think that new products equates to innovation.


    Why companies don’t innovate

    Money

    Consulting group Booz and Company has consistently found in their Global Innovation 1000 study that R&D spend has no correlation to financial performance. They actually found that the top 10 R&D spenders did not have as much revenue growth or market capitalization compared to their industry peers.

    For example, Apple spends less than 2.5% on R&D as opposed to the industry median of 6.5%, and they’ve been named the most innovative company for the past 3 years in a row.

    Risk

    It is a common misconception that innovation is inherently risky.

    As Inc. Magazine’s Adam Bluestein states in his article “Debunking the Myth of Innovation,” on average the most successful companies devote about 70 percent of their innovation assets (time and money) to "safe" core initiatives (optimizing internal workflows); 20 percent to slightly more risky adjacent ones; and just 10 percent to transformational or disruptive ones. Such companies outperformed their peers.

    The lie that a new product = innovation

    According to research done by Doblin Innovation Consultants, organizations that spend the most R&D resources on producing new products don’t get an ROI (only a 4.5% success rate).

    They found that the highest ROI was in optimizing the customer experience, internal processes, and their own business models.

    But, when you do come out with a new product, Uri Neren, an acclaimed pioneer in the industry of innovation said, according to a post on Forbes, “Obsolete yourself. Reward engineers and R&D for building, designing, or concepting the next innovation that will act to obsolete one of your products or processes before the competition does it for you.”

    Apple does this wonderfully. While they do come out with new and unique products that are risky, they obsolete everything they make. Their competition can’t obsolete Apple because Apple has already done it.


    Turn it around

    If your company has lost the drive to innovate, start by optimizing internal processes. They have the lowest risk and the greatest ROI. Stay tuned for next week’s blog post: Why Your Company Isn’t Being Efficient.

    Contact us if you'd like to discuss.

     


    Tuesday
    Jul012014

    Canada Anti-Spam Legislation 

    Many organizations have been scrambling last-minute to come up with new lead generation, sales, and marketing strategies for Canada. If you’re not familiar, Canada has recently enacted nationwide legislation prohibiting any unsolicited contact via electronic communications. It has been in the works since 2011, but came into effect today.

    Although the consequences are controversial (potential fines of up to $10 million per violation in extreme cases), Canada’s parliament backs it along with anti-spam organization fightspam.ga.ca which was created to educate citizens about spam.

    Having an office in Toronto and many clients headquartered across the country, Agosto is deeply connected with Canadian businesses. We are excited to see how this new legislation alters the Canadian sales landscape. In alignment with industry best practices and the new legislation, Canadian organizations have opted-in to continue to receive our newsletters, tech insights, and event invitations.

    If you’re unsure if your organization is in violation of the new law, you can find all the information on the website hosted by the Canadian government.

    Interested in getting our tech insights? Join our growing subscriber base with businesses like Corel, EllisDon, and The Second City.


    Friday
    May302014

    How to Recruit Like A Boss

    The Human Resources quote of the year by Forbes is, “The war for talent is over. Talent won.”

    Truth is, most HR departments should be worried more about employee retention than recruitment - to make the current workforce better, productive-er, and more efficient-er.

    (The ‘er’ wore off fast, but that’s the point of being consistent…-er!)

    As many Boomers retire, Generation X, Millennials (Gen Y) are joining the workforce and taking their places, work environments need to evolve to accommodate the changing workforce and stay relevant.

    Speaking of Millennials: what’s the deal with them? Wanting things like a positive work culture, freedom to work from home, and flexible work hours? What happened to the good, ol’ days when you could stick someone in a dark, cubicle-infested room, and hope they keep up with the ever-expanding universe of client-based software applications?

    Thanks to the evolving workforce, that approach now leads to HR leaders watching the employees they just spent a fortune on recruiting, escape the company to experience freedoms of other, more forward-thinking employers.

    Liz Ryan, a Forbes Contributor says, “Nowadays, employers know that talent walks out the door every night and that talent, just like your customer base, is fickle. When you treat people like children, they tend to do one of three things: behave like children, take off for greener pastures, or keep the job and stop caring.”

    Novel concept: when employees feel valued, they are more likely to stay.

    3 ways HR can improve relevance to evolve with
    the workforce


     

    1. Active social involvement

    An active internal social aspect as well as external social interaction is vital to a healthy work culture. It can even help to improve a corporate website’s SEO standing.

    Another Forbes Contributor Jeanne Meister writes, “For one thing, this year we’ll see more forward-thinking HR leaders making the connection between having a solid social media strategy and finding top talent. After all, 47 percent of Millennials now say a prospective employer’s online reputation matters as much as the job it offers, according to a survey by Spherion Staffing.”

    Both recruiting (using LinkedIn, for instance) and retaining (using Google+, for example) are great ways for HR to connect with potential candidates, and stay connected to new employees, their own team, and the entire company. Simple, social updates and shared news and shout-outs can reward and bolster morale.


     

    2. Embracing the mobile employee

    Most companies identify the push to work from home, and some accommodate it. Fewer, however, host intuitive collaboration technologies that make it easy to work from home, enabling their employees to work efficiently and contribute from anywhere, at any time. An array of enterprise ready applications like Google Apps allow for video conference, sharing of documents, editing in real-time, and chat.


     

    3. Embracing Video

    According to TalentWise, “Software solutions need to be video-friendly. Everything from interviews to employee onboarding needs to be video compatible.”


    Think of it this way:

    1. If you use video conferencing for an initial screening of a candidate in another country, another state, or even across town, you’ll experience how quickly you can pick up on things like attitude, communication skills, ability to think critically and creatively, and more.
    2. If you go on to hire that candidate and provide them with video conferencing as part of their day-to-day toolset, you’ve now got a smart employee who recognizes that the use of video is a staple, and that the company embraces technology.
    3. If you empower that employee to use video conferencing to work (even occasionally) remotely, the employee is more likely to be a loyal proponent of the company’s systems and its flexible work arrangements, and they will work even hard to be productive and worthy of the benefits of such freedom

    Human Resources is evolving, just like the technology it uses and the people it is hiring. HR professionals’ roles are evolving to include more coaching, motivating and influencing, to better facilitate innovation, efficiency, and loyalty across the company. This is helping all departments to, as always, recruit new talent (including those pesky Millennials), and also to retain those who are loyal, productive and working hard in the new workplace.

    Contact us if you'd like to talk through how Agosto and Google can help you bring social, mobile, and video into your recruiting and retention efforts.

     

    Friday
    Mar142014

    Visualizing Success as a Google Enterprise Global Partner of the Year

    Rick Erickson (Agosto EVP), Paul Lundberg (Agosto CTO), Aric Bandy (Agosto President), Amit Singh (VP Google Enterprise), Irfan Khan (Agosto CEO), Alan Wrafter (Google Enterprise Partnerships)

    Sometimes it's all in how you focus. Before last week, Agosto was focused on delivering high levels of service to our Google Apps and Google Enterprise Search clients, and on building products on Google Cloud Platform. Then last week in San Francisco at the 2014 Google Enterprise Global Partner Summit, Agosto was named Google Enterprise Global Partner of the Year for Cloud Platform.

    Taking a look back, Agosto set out at the beginning of 2013 with a singular goal: to become the leader in building products on Google Cloud Platform. We had already grown our organization into a thriving managed IT services provider, and over the past five years into one of the top Google Apps providers in the world. More recently Agosto has been expanding into providing services around implementing Google Enterprise Search with the Google Search Appliance, and on increasing our expertise in building products on Google Cloud Platform. It was the goal, however, to place our product development at the top of the list.

    As a result, during the past year Agosto created a product engineering and lifecycle management framework that enables us to help clients envision their products, move projects to completion in new and efficient, cost effective ways, and bring industry-leading products to market. We helped several clients launch products and working on ways to make the process even more efficient and powerful, leveraging the power of Google's Cloud Platform.

    In visualizing and focusing on our success, we were able to set goals, meet deadlines and achieve this top award from Google Enterprise. We've got a lot of work to do now to keep the momentum going, and are excited for the future.

    Tuesday
    Mar042014

    Engineering Success for Habitat for Humanity and Agosto’s Google Apps Clients

    Today’s guest blogger is Kaj Moenck, Success Engineer for Agosto clients, who just returned from his fourth and latest trip to El Salvador with Habitat for Humanity. He has also built homes in Alaska and Mississippi.

    Habitat trips give me the chance to recharge my batteries. I love to travel, build with my hands, and to meet and lead people. Habitat gives me the opportunity to do all that on one trip, but it also allows me an opportunity to give back. Not everyone has had the same opportunities in life and I feel it's important to give back something to the global community, whether it is local or abroad.

    What we do through Habitat means so much to the people we help. Most of the people we help can't understand why someone would travel so far or do so much just to help them, but honestly it feels really good to do this.

    I was thinking about how this relates to my work with Agosto. In both situations, I help build relationships. In El Salvador, I play games with kids - they’re always curious when they see a tall guy that looks different from them - so I invite them over and talk to them and get to know them. They appreciate that I’m there helping, and I get to know about the families and neighborhoods that we’re helping.

    I do a lot of the same things at Agosto. I spend a lot of time speaking with our clients to find out what they’re interested in, and what they dream of for the future of their companies. I really get to learn their story, where they’re coming from and where they want to go.

    In both my Habitat work and my work with Agosto clients, I hope to empower people to be the next leader of their own communities. I encourage them to work with me, with the tools I can help provide, to get a feeling for what’s possible. Then they can come up with something completely new - in the case of work, with something Google and Agosto can help them to achieve.

    I am fortunate at both Habitat and at Agosto that I know how good it can feel to do the work that I do, purely because I have something to share. And others do as well. Maybe it’s talent for building a house, maybe for teaching kids, maybe it’s helping a Google Apps administrator work through an issue. Helping other people means that I get so much more out of my work than those that I help could ever know.

    In the case of Habitat, and Agosto, the world keeps getting smaller. It’s just not that big a place. The families I help through Habitat have the same hopes and dreams for their kids as I do for my own. And the companies I help at Agosto are seeking the pathways to success that I can help guide them toward. I am lucky that I get to see my small impact on both.

    Saturday
    Feb082014

    Agosto Sponsors, Presents Keynote at Google DevFest

    Today in Minneapolis, Agosto sponsored the Google DevFest, a one day conference with speakers from Google and the developer community. The day is divided into 50 minute sessions led by either a single speaker and topic or with a longer, workshop format. A demo/code-lab/lounge area is also provided. Agosto's CTO Paul Lundberg also delivered the day's opening keynote presentation.

    The two major topic areas for the Twin Cities DevFest conference are Android and Web/JavaScript development. Throughout the day, attendees can follow those tracks, or learn about other Google related and open technologies, like Google Glass. Agosto's sponsorship included giving away a new Acer Chromebook and a new Nexus 7 tablet.

    Lundberg's keynote entitled "Platform Matters" touched on the scalability of Google Cloud Platform and how companies can build products and re-think teams.

    The Twin Cities Google Developer Group or "GDG-TC" is a group that meets throughout the year to explore the development possibilities and applications of Google Cloud Platform development tools.

    Friday
    Feb072014

    Leadership Changes at Agosto to Support Growth 

    As Agosto grows, so do the responsibilities of its leaders. Over the past several years, Agosto has built what was initially an IT consulting company into a true cloud service and product development business. To continue to grow the company into the future, Agosto has split the company's top responsibilities into separate roles by naming a president and a chief executive officer. We have also named a new chief technology officer.

    Aric Bandy is continuing his leadership role as president. Bandy's dedication to guiding the company and our clients to success has helped Agosto to become one of world’s top Google Enterprise Premier partners. Bandy will also guide and lead the company’s sales team, leveraging his unique combination of fiscal, relationship, creative and business acumen.

    Irfan Khan, co-founder of Agosto, has stepped into the role of chief executive officer. Khan's experience in leading several companies, as well as his tenure with Agosto, have well-prepared him to share the top leadership responsibilities. His industry relationships in the Twin Cities, with Google and around the globe will enhance Khan's ability to bring Agosto and its clients forward.

    Because of these changes, and because of the growth of Agosto’s product development division, Agosto has also named Paul Lundberg to the position of chief technology officer. Lundberg has long served Agosto as director of development, and expertly led its development teams. He has built a strong relationships with Google’s Cloud Platform team, bringing Agosto Google’s recognition as leaders in the industry. Lundberg's visionary perspective is helping to open new revenue opportunities for the company.

    Rounding out the leadership team and continuing in their roles are Rick Erickson (co-founder and EVP business development), Caroline Life (director of marketing) and Gabriel Rein (director of managed services).

    Wednesday
    Feb052014

    Premier Utility Services Improves IT Data Delivery with Google Apps

    About Premier Utility Services:

    Premier Utility Services (Premier) is a division of Willbros Group, Inc., (NYSE: WG) a specialty energy infrastructure contractor serving the oil, gas, refinery, petrochemical and power industries.

    Premier provides damage prevention services which include underground utility locating, gas leak surveys, electrical services, contact voltage surveys, pole surveys and inspections, emergency management, storm assessment, sign assessment, along with quality assurance audits and operator qualification training. Real-time updates on its secure, online database allow visibility for all client projects. The Company’s call center is available 24/7 to guarantee project success and client satisfaction.

    Challenge:

    When Premier was acquired by Willbros, the Company’s IT management team was working with Microsoft Exchange. However, the system was not scalable enough to meet the needs of the quickly growing entity. Significant stability and reliability issues started causing business disruptions, so the Company’s technical staff began to investigate alternative platforms that could provide more reliability. Marc Makely, President of Premier, suggested the Company move to Google Apps. Premier was already working with Google Geo (mapping) tools, and Makely believed in the cloud and in Google’s powerful solutions.

    Agosto and Google Solution:

    Premier’s IT team engaged Agosto to help them work through a well-defined project and technical plan. Agosto migrated Premier’s mobile field workforce and corporate users across 22 states from Exchange 2010 to Google Apps. Additionally, Premier now has an email archiving and eDiscovery solution in Google Apps Vault.




    Results:

    Premier is working well together and the team is finding new ways to improve business using Google Apps. Makely and Jason Cradit, Director of Information Solutions at Willbros, and Chris Bartlett, IT Manager at Premier, shared the story.

    “Premier’s former Exchange environment had so many outages, we had to do something,” said Cradit. “We were at risk of losing our ability to provide top-level service to clients. I was actually skeptical but our move to Google Apps went really well with Agosto’s help.”

    Bartlett joined Premier just as the Company was transitioning to Google. “My background was in the legal and financial industries, so I had concerns. The cultural shift of moving users away from Outlook is tough, until you get to know the new functionality, efficiency and speed that you can get from Google Apps. It has also freed IT up, so we’re able to focus on more strategic activities.”

    The Health and Safety team at Premier is excited about the use of Google Docs which allows for a step-change in live collaboration. Additionally, the field teams are working more productively because they can now securely communicate with other colleagues in real-time using any device, from anywhere. Premier also collects a tremendous amount of field data for their utility company clients. Cradit is excited the Company has started to use Google Sites (included with Google Apps) and inexpensive Android devices to almost immediately show clients their information.

    “Our customers are highly regulated and required to take action on situations in the field promptly,” said Cradit. “We can provide them with map visualizations and actionable information so much more quickly than ever before, using equipment that’s not cost-prohibitive and tools that are easy to use. That means Premier is more efficient and our customers are more able to act quickly on their data. We find new uses for the platform all the time”.

    Premier’s return on investment is already paying off.

    “The investment in Google has been extremely positive,” said Makely. “Google is the platform that got us to start making positive changes across the board, and we are working now on migrating more and more of the business to the cloud. We have reduced our capital expenses and management costs and we’ve gained productivity. We’re still early in our deployment and are still discovering new ways to use Google Apps. We are even exploring using Google Glass for field collection. Really, we couldn’t be happier.”




    Tuesday
    Feb042014

    Arrow Transportation Systems Inc. Drives Success with Google Apps

    About Arrow Transportation Systems Inc.:

    Arrow trucks began hauling goods in Vancouver, British Columbia in 1919. Today, Arrow is one of Canada’s largest bulk commodity haulers and reload operators, and has solidified its reputation as a carrier that truly represents quality, value and customer service. With 34 locations in both Canada and United States, and almost 1,000 employees, Arrow is leading the way in developing service-focused transportation solutions.

    Challenge:

    Arrow was reviewing options to move from its legacy Microsoft Exchange email platform, and had started discussing Google Apps with Agosto. The two companies had just begun executing the deployment plan as Arrow’s Exchange server failed.

    Agosto and Google Solution:

    Because of the catastrophic nature of the hardware failure, Arrow needed assistance to migrate extremely rapidly to Google Apps, which Agosto was able to assist and complete within just two weeks.




    Results:

    “Agosto helped Arrow move to Google Apps very quickly, turning an extremely volatile situation into a smooth transition,” said Mitchell Zulinick, Chief Operation Officer for Arrow. “Our move to Google Apps started the entire company on an exciting transformation to new levels of productivity. As a transportation company approaching our 100 year anniversary, it’s great to be able to say that team collaboration is up, IT costs are down and we’re working more efficiently and effectively.”

    Sheets, Google Apps spreadsheets, have made particular impacts. “Sheets allow for real-time collaboration between several of our company’s branches across North America,” said Mitchell. “We securely share the latest safety information, production figures, and more. It’s an incredible time saving tool.”

    Hangouts are now being used extensively at the company, too, without a big push. “We really didn’t know how widely some Google Apps features would be used,” said Mitchell. “We were initially focused on a replacement email and document system. But now, instead of emailing back and forth, or having to schedule a call, our team members just start a Hangout chat or video call, and it’s like being in the same room. It’s saving us a bundle on travel costs, too. We can work from any device, anywhere in the office or on the road, and we get things done faster, save on stress of having to travel for meetings and don’t have the usual wait for replies.”

    Productivity overall has improved at Arrow. Collaboration and creativity at the company are on the rise. “We are able to measure that document collaboration has increased by 26%, due to the reporting by our teams”, said André Larouche, Chief Information Officer. “And overall new document creation has increased by 13%. We are very pleased by the changes.”

    Even IT calls are down, way down. “Our support calls surrounding email issues are down 98%,” said André. “Our IT team has been able to focus on valued added technologies across the board, instead of having to hang on the line all day to fix the same email issues over and over.”

    “With Google Apps, Agosto has helped us elevate the level of service we provide to both employees and clients. We’re saving time and money, and improving the way we work. It’s a winning situation as we grow into the future.”