Google Wins Lifehacker Award for Best Cloud Platform

2014 Lifehacker awards named Google Cloud Platform the readers’ choice award for best cloud computing provider. Leading by “quite a comfortable majority of votes,” Google now has the best Cloud Platform because it has built an infrastructure with efficiency and scale that’s hard to beat.

Lifehacker surmised that Google won by such a margin due to their popular productivity suite coupled with the platform. Since so many people already use and trust their business tools, it’s not much of a transition to a cloud platform.

Agosto was named Google Enterprise Global Partner of the Year for Google Cloud Platform. With over a decade of experience in helping clients solve complex business problems, Agosto helps clients leverage the virtually infinite scale of Google’s platform. We create custom applications for machine to machine (M2M) communications and develop cloud products across the Internet of Things (IoT). We’d love a chance to discuss your future projects, so contact us if you have a big project. 

Google’s infrastructure is highly reliable and secure; it’s the same one that powers Google’s own applications.

You can read the Lifehacker announcement here.

Work Change Management with Google Apps

Work Change management (CM) can ultimately allow teams to collaborate and work more effectively through organizational transitions. It provides context and training to be more effective in everyday work using a new tool. Too often companies skip change management, leaving employees in fear of the very resource provided to help them.

Understanding the tools you’re using

I once saw someone driving an Audi R8 a full 15 mph under the speed limit. I was almost angry as I passed it on the freeway. That car tops out around 195 mph and can reach 60 in under 4 seconds.

You don’t have to be a car lover to appreciate the concept that they were not using the car the way it was designed. If they wanted to drive carefully, remaining under the speed limit, they wasted their money. They bought a car that was designed for pushing the limits.

CM makes sure that once you upgrade to a supercar, you don’t continue driving like you did with your old Buick LeSabre (no offense to any Buick aficionados – I know a heckuva guy who swears by his LeSabre.)

Of course CM is much more than this. Agosto has a specialized CM team based out of our Minneapolis headquarters that offers planning and implementation to companies across Canada and the U.S. We help organizations reduce transitional risks across the enterprise.

“70% of organizational changes fail due to inadequate change support.”

— John Kotter, as featured in the Harvard Business Review

Our CM specialists specifically help companies to understand the benefits of using Google Apps (or Google Drive) for Work. These specialists enable teams and/or designated end users to gain the knowledge and skills to quickly use Google Apps the way it was designed. This also ensures users truly adopt Google Apps as a tool that helps them to do their jobs better.

Ensure organizational readiness

There are two typical paths that employees take after an organizational change that can indicate the future success or failure of the change.

(1) With change management, employees are empowered to go down a path of:

  • Adoption
  • Internalization
  • Ownership
  • Increased skills
  • Expertise

(2) Without change management, employees are more likely to go down a path toward:

  • Confusion
  • Discomfort
  • Fear
  • Reversion to previous habits/tools
  • Self/group sabotage

Further, if employees are not willing or able to use the tool after the implementation, then there is no return on investment. It’s likely too expensive to overlook change management during a transition that affects a large number of (or all) employees.

Ensure your ROI with a cost/benefit analysis

For many companies, it costs more to not use change management.

Using CM

Hard benefits include reduced expenses with licenses, infrastructure, and maintenance.

Soft benefits include year-over-year increased productivity, reduced rework, and less redundancy due to increased collaboration.

Not using CM

Hard costs include licenses, additional deployment teams, and increased internal team hours.

Soft costs include project rework, project delays, lost productivity, and morale dip.

If you need a hand getting started with the organizational change management toward adopting Google Apps for Work or Google Drive for Work, give us a shout.

What’s one time you found yourself using tools more like an aging Buick than a new Audi?

Operational Improvement: 3 Collaboration Problems Every Company Faces

From project conception to completion, collaboration is the key to success for any business. Every company and team face its own challenges to achieve effective collaboration and operational improvement.

Technology has redefined how we collaborate, and the ever-growing marketplace shows countless applications for every use case possible. But the same core problems persist from a 15-person startup to a Fortune 100 company. Here are some of the common challenges faced by all:

1. Difficulty finding the right information

It can be a lot easier to find the hole-in-the-wall Italian bistro you visited 11 months ago than it is to find a spreadsheet from accounting from 11 months ago. People spend a considerable amount of their workday finding information, files, or trying to find the right person to talk to. Having a static intranet or email solution isn’t always the answer.  

An org chart looks good on paper, but in reality, the department head cannot realistically be a CTO and COA (Chief of Answers). Knowledge is as diversified as tasks are. It takes time to find the right person to talk to and to find the data that the person sent you a while ago.

Solution:

Find a solution that allows you to search your file storage and email in the same search bar. Also be sure you’re able to search by person, date, or file type to find what you need fast. Collaborative solutions need to get you to the right person or file as soon as possible.

operational improvement with employees collaborating at a table

2. Siloed information and communication between departments

People tend to communicate with their peers in their own departments. By its natural course, information is siloed by the department and by the team. The expertise that comes from each department can be leveraged by other teams within the company, and each team could be significantly more effective as a result. This type of collaboration can be especially beneficial for a growing and evolving company. 

“If HP only knew what HP knows, we would be three times more profitable.” – Lew Platt, former chief executive of Hewlett-Packard.

Solution:

This issue is a human tendency rather than a technological one. With collaborative systems making it easy to connect with anyone, there’s no excuse for not cross-collaborating. The fix is in creating a collaborative culture to support employees sharing their knowledge and research with other team members.

3. Difficulty adapting to new systems

When people don’t fully know the capabilities of their system it leads to ineffective employees and less productivity. This most frequently happens for new employees as they transition, and even happens company-wide when a company transitions to any new communication tools, processes, or systems. This transition period can be delicate, and if not handled properly could leave employees with a negative attitude toward change in the future. 

Change is difficult when people do not feel comfortable. During the change process, some might not feel like they’re properly equipped, or might just be intimidated by the changes around them. Not having the right systems in place can seriously hurt a companies ability to scale. 

Solution:

Change management is strongly correlated with project success. Fostering an environment where people feel comfortable to learn is key.

  • Many studies show a significantly higher ROI for projects with change management
  • Others show a strong correlation between change management effectiveness and meeting project objectives, staying on schedule and staying on budget.
  • Still, others find that leadership, employee engagement, and communications are prerequisites for successful changes.

Every company faces its own challenges. If any of these 3 common challenges are evident in your company, take action.

What is the biggest communication or collaboration mishap you’ve seen?  

How to Backup and Upgrade GADS

Many IT infrastructures use Active Directory (AD) for centrally provisioning and deprovisioning users and groups. Google has a tool called Google Apps Directory Sync (GADS) to couple AD with Google Apps so that provisioning and deprovisioning tasks can still be performed from the familiar AD interface.

Google recently announced a significant update to GADS. Currently, it stores the login credentials. The new GADS, version 4.0.2, moves authentication from a stored credential to an OAuth token. With the upgrade, it will assign a single use authentication token unique to GADS, which greatly increases security.

Google previously released an updated API, which the new GADS leverages. The legacy API will be deprecated in March 2015.  GADS installations older than 4.0.2 will stop synchronizing to Google after that date.  If you’re currently using GADS, any management tasks performed in AD, such as creating or renaming users, changing email addresses or contact information, and adding aliases will no longer propagate to Google.

Agosto strongly encourages you to upgrade your GADS installation to the latest version now to ensure continued functionality.

1.) Log into your local GADS server as the user that initially installed GADS

If this user is unknown, it can be identified by locating the GADS sync scheduled task and identifying the owner of the task.

2.) Open the Configuration Manager

This is typically found under Start > All Programs > Google Apps Directory Sync > Configuration Manager.

3.) Locate your active configuration file

Open the Task Scheduler on the GADS server, and look for a task referencing GADS. Within this task’s actions will be command to launch “sync-cmd.exe”. Within the arguments of this command will be an XML file. This is your active configuration file.

4.) Backup the existing config file

The upgrade process will write irreversible changes to the current configuration, so you want to have a safe copy around should you need to roll-back for any reason. Locate the config file on the computer, and make a copy of it. Change the “.xml” file extension of the copy to “.backup” and move it to a safe place that you’ll remember. We highly recommend making additional copies of this file and backing them up to other locations such as Google Drive.

5.) Download the update installer

On the GADS Server, open a web browser, and go to https://goo.gl/KqI46G.

On this page, you’ll find download links for the GADS tool. Select the appropriate version for your server type, and begin the download.

While the app is downloading, we suggest logging into the Google Apps Admin panel to check your Admin Audit Logs (Reports > Audit > Admin) to confirm which user GADS has been using to perform its administrative updates. This is usually pretty clear by looking for the log entries for the user who is performing the majority of the “User Creation” actions. You’ll ideally want to continue using that same user account, so you’ll need to be logged in as that user.

If you don’t know the password for that user account, be careful. If you change the password on this user, you may cause other applications to fail. You may have other tools like Google Blackberry Enterprise Sync (GBES) and Google Apps Password Sync (GAPS) associated with the same account, and both may rely on that administrator account to accomplish their tasks. It’s very common that one Google account has been used in the setup of all of these applications, if they’ve been deployed.

6.) Log in to Google using the GADS Account

Once you’ve Identified the user GADS has been using to synchronize, you’ll need to log into your primary web browser on the GADS server using that user’s credentials. This is important, as it will be used in the authentication process.

7.) Run the update installer

Launch the installer application you’ve downloaded in step 5. During installation, make sure it installs over of the existing installation of GADS by pointing the installer at the same directory as your current GADS installation.

8.) Launch the new Configuration Manager

Once the installation is completed, head back to the Start menu, and launch the new “Configuration Manager” application in Start > All Programs > Google Apps Directory Sync.

9.) Load and update the config file

GADS will always launch with a default blank template file, so you’ll need to open your config file manually. Go to File > Open, and open the file we identified in step 3. Upon opening your config, the software will let you know that it’s from an old version, and needs to be updated. This is accomplished by simply saving the active file (File Menu > Save).

10.) Re-authenticate the config file

Next, you’ll need to re-authenticate. On the left column click “Google Apps Configuration”. From here, click “Authorize Now” and follow the process. As you work your way through the authentication, make sure you’re logged in with the GADS account identified in step 6.

Once you login, you’ll need to accept the authorization, and copy the verification code that you’re presented with. Paste the verification code back into the configuration manager, and click validate. If everything went as planned, the window should close, and you’ll now see “Authorized” in green under the “Authorize Now” button.

11.) Save the config file

With the authentication handled, you’ll need to save the file. Simply do another File > Save.

12.) Validate the config

Simply click the “Sync” tab on the left hand column. You’ll now see a “Validation results” section that will list each section of the GADS configuration. In the right column, you should be met with all blue check marks indicating that all sections validate properly. If there are any warnings, you’ll have to rectify them before you can move forward.

13.) Perform a sync simulation

Finally, make sure everything updated correctly, so run a sync simulation to verify the next time GADS runs it won’t suspend users inappropriately. To run the simulation, just click “Simulate Sync”.

The Application will gather information from Google Apps and AD, and provide you a list of changes that it intends to make. As long as the changes are in line with expectations, you’re all set!

Contact Agosto for more information.

How to Win the Operations Game (Pt. 3 of 3)

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.

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, but he’s actually 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?

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 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 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. Learn more about why Agosto was named Google Enterprise Global Partner of the Year here.

We’ve got a lot of work to do now to keep the momentum going, and are excited for the future.

Leadership Changes at Agosto to Support Growth

As the company grows, there has been leadership changes at Agosto.

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).

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 who recently made the move to Google Apps.

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.”

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. Thankfully, Agosto was able to assist and complete this 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.”

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