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    Friday
    Aug012014

    How to Win the Operations Game

    The operations game is surprisingly tricky. Growing up, Operation was the classic board game that was probably stacked under a pile of others like Monopoly and Don’t Break the Ice in your hall closet. Almost everyone has played Operation once. It was thrilling to try to remove the tiny pieces from the electrically charged board.

    With a steady hand, any child could perform open heart surgery on a patient (remember Cavity Sam?) who wasn’t sedated. Poor Sam! Business operations teams can also achieve success when considering difficult systems implementations, but it's a much trickier path.

    Heed the warning signs

    Cavity Sam is rigged to buzz when something’s not right, loud enough to give an unsuspecting child a jolt. His nose even lights up, like Rudolph. It’s impossible to miss if you mess up the surgery.

    For the other kind of operations, for COO’s and their teams, the warning signs usually aren’t as evident. When choosing new systems or processes that could improve innovation for your business, is your choice helping or hurting the company? When a new system hurts a company, the warning signs might not be as obvious as they are in the board game.

    Warning signs might include a steady decline in employee satisfaction, morale, or productivity. If the new system is supposed to improve communications, and employees aren’t used to it, many projects can get slowed down, or worse lost altogether.

    Let’s look at some rules of this kind of operations game.

    Rule 1: Innovation drives operational success

    As described in part one of this series, Innovation is Meaningless (And Why Companies Don’t Do It), if your company has lost the drive to innovate, start by optimizing internal processes. This carries low risk and high ROI.

    Part two of our series, Why Your Company isn’t Being Efficient, covered that companies need to make collaboration a priority. In a culture that thrives on immediacy through social media, news, and microwaveable dinners, organizations need to accept evolution and change with their employees.

    Rule 2: Change management is amazing. Yes, this is a rule.

    Not having change management during a rollout is like not having a surgeon in an operating room. Sure, maybe someone else could do the job, but the potential risks are too high for most patients.

    To plan for a massive rollout like switching systems across an entire company, you need a strategy that provides for professional help during all aspects of the project, which calls for adequate change management and training. This will ease the present and future burden on both IT and operations teams. A planned rollout should also fit naturally into employees’ flow of work, helping to simplify and reduce any cumbersome tasks. A Forbes post reminds us to listen to the voice of the employee, especially when we introduce new systems.

    Rule 3: Don’t fall into common traps

    Falling into the same old operational traps (remember the wrenched ankle on the board?) can frustrate even senior management, who need to be big supporters of large-scale projects. Do your homework; there are lots of resources and VARs who can assist when you’re ready to roll out new systems.

    Keep an eye on finances (remember that pesky bread slice?) System upgrades might require additional spend to start things off right, but there’s a good chance you will actually reduce overall spending by implementing the collaboration-empowering systems that will reduce IT calls and increase employee output. Be sure to ask VARs to help you scope not just the cost but the ROI for big systems projects.

    Maybe it’s time to take the old Operation game out of the hall closet, find a 9volt battery, and have another go at old Sam.

     

    Monday
    Jul282014

    Why Your Company Isn’t Being Efficient


    Organizations get used to working a certain way, using specific applications or systems. And oftentimes, changing and adapting internal workflows can be overlooked because every workflow is so normal and accepted. And to be blunt…

    ...It is slowly killing your company’s efficiency.

    As discussed in the first part of this blog series, Innovation is Meaningless (And Why Companies Don’t Do It), within the context of innovation, optimizing internal processes carries low risk, and yields the highest ROI.

    One of the most effective ways to improve internal efficiency is through collaboration. The main workforce demand is cloud-based, real-time communication, accessible from anywhere.

    Common collaboration use cases include employees who travel, are based internationally, work from home, use a shared work kiosk, or simply need to communicate in real-time with coworkers.

    According to Gartner, internal collaboration tools and software are essential to staying relevant and efficient in an ever-changing, technology-driven workforce. Gartner believes that “one way to spur novel forms of collaboration is to select an activity currently handled through traditional methods, such face-to-face meetings or email, and encourage it to take place in a virtual, likely Web-based, collaboration space instead.”

    In a culture that thrives on immediacy through social media, news, and microwaveable dinners, organizations need to accept evolution and change with its employees.

    “It’s important to remember that collaboration is perpetual,” Jacob Morgan says in an article from Forbes. “It’s a never ending evolution as new tools and strategies for the workplace continue to emerge. This means that it’s important for your organization to be able to adapt and evolve as things change. Keep a pulse on what’s going on in the industry and inside of your organization. This will allow you to innovate and anticipate.”

    As the first blog mentioned, companies that put 70% of their innovation assets (time and money) to "safe" core initiatives (optimizing internal workflows) outperformed their peer companies who put a bigger emphasis on new products and drastic changes.

    Gartner also touted real-time communication because it promotes an open flow of information. This can address the common problem of information being constrained and delayed through formal communication channels that run up and down the organizational hierarchy, or through defined email and need-to-know distribution lists. Real-time communication can break entrenched behaviors of relying on the management hierarchy to distribute information appropriately, and help overcome some of the communication-related problems associated with organizational holdups.

    It can damage your company to overlook collaboration tools. Incorporating them is a first step to creating a more efficient work environment and optimizing your organization.

    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).