G Suite Enterprise Apps: Empower Your Team to Work Together

Contrary to what we once believed, remote work doesn’t have to result in the loss of productivity. G Suite apps such as Drive, Meet and Docs allow you to work together, even when you’re not in the same room. At Agosto, a Pythian Company we know simple collaboration can make or break our daily work. That’s why we use G Suite to empower our team to work together.

Improve Team Collaboration Using Drive & Docs

Our team does a ton of our daily work inside Google Drive. Why? It’s the easiest tool for streamlining team collaboration from anywhere. In our time using Drive, we’ve found a few tips and tricks that help us get things done even faster.

Assigning Comments

Inside Drive, it’s easy to assign comments and tasks to other team members inside documents, spreadsheets and more. We use this function to help alert team members when something requires their attention. When you assign a comment to someone else, they’ll instantly receive an email so they can review and take the action required.

Live Chat

When working inside a file in Drive, you can also chat with others using the file. This makes collaboration on one document extremely simple. You’ll find the chat function in the top right corner of your Google document. Via chat, you can ask questions, get clarification, share an encouraging emoji and more.

Follow-Up Search

Drive’s filtering features make it simple to find any document or file regardless of its location. Your team can also locate tasks assigned to them by selecting the “Follow-Up” filter in the search box inside Drive. This is helpful when working with a vast number of documents or files that require attention.

These tips are only scratching the surface of G Suite’s capabilities. G Suite includes many additional cloud-based tools such as Gmail, Slides, Forms, Jamboard and more, complete with the security you can trust.

Start Working Smarter, Faster & Together With G Suite Apps

Your team can work smarter, faster and together using G Suite. Agosto, a Pythian Company can help you get started. To learn more about G Suite or to learn how you can get G Suite Essentials for free, give us a call at 612-430-6316 or send us a message.

Using Google BigQuery for Your Machine Learning Efforts

Google BigQuery is a serverless, highly scalable and cost-effective cloud data warehouse designed for business agility. Handling both real-time and batched data, many companies are using BigQuery for their machine learning efforts.Read More

Automate and Scale With the Cloud & IaC

Is your business diving into the Cloud after being on-prem? Cloud capabilities and platform services have the scale and functionality you need. At first glance, it may seem like a straightforward migration.

The same patterns that served the on-prem world seem to hold true within the Cloud. The virtualization of on-prem servers seems to mean that VM’s and Kubernetes clusters should be provisioned and maintained through some simple scripting and point-and-click management consoles.

This assumption is dangerous, however. If there is a demand for scale that your current on-prem can’t deliver. Cloud is the way to go.

Pets vs. Cattle: Achieving a Different Management Modality

A core component of cloud computing is the API structures built to allow management of Cloud resources with code, also known as infrastructure as code or IaC. With API-driven resource provisioning, IaC changes the game and allows for both cost controls and scale through the use of automation to provision and manage your cloud infrastructure.

Traditional On-Prem: Pet Mentality

Traditionally, on-prem data centers relied on a “pet” mentality (like baby Yoda there) for resource management. Upgrades, patches, and configs were applied in place to resources such as virtual machines or bare metal. Each resource is persistent, tended over time to continue functioning and evolving, resulting in the moniker of “pet”.

The Cloud: Cattle Mentality

In the Cloud, IaC allows for a new paradigm known as the “cattle” mentality. Each resource is replaceable, not something to be kept and tended forever, allowing for a different management modality.

Stop Tending Existing Resources. Stand Up New Ones Instead.

Cloud infrastructure can be stood up with code, allowing resources to be ephemeral or temporary. Instead of tending existing resources, replace them by standing up newer versions.

Example of ephemeral replacement of compute within the Cloud using immutable images and automation

You’re no longer tied to legacy actions that provisioned resources as pets a long time ago. In some cases, pets have zero documentation describing those who initially provisioned them. With a cattle mentality, we understand what was done, by whom and when. The process is implemented by automation tied to a code repository where all IaC change requests come from.

Immutable and ephemeral models allow you to take one or more copies of the proposed new image and test it without deployment. You can know that what you’re testing is immutable. There are zero unknowns or configuration drifts between what’s tested and what’s deployed.

Gain Critical Organizational Feedback With Complex Deployment

Using IaC, complex deployment models such as canary deployment can test changes with fractional traffic. As a result, developers can push new features out into production, have real users test them and receive feedback about the changes.

This feedback is critical for deciding if the new features should be permanent or if further work is required. Any unknown bugs or user errors will surface, allowing you to mitigate without risking your entire user or code base.

Example: Canary Deployment Model

Canary deployments begin the process of integrating the organization into the DevOps mindset. Customer support relays feedback to the developers who create and deploy new features. As a result, a feedback loop works to improve the product iteratively. The canary model enables you to give users what they want, quickly, since deployments increase in frequency.

Example of a canary deployment model

The Differences Between Traditional DevOps & Organizational DevOps

Traditional DevOps and organizational DevOps are self-reinforcing cycles. They use the outputs of the preceding department as input. Merging the business processes with IT DevOps processes improves software development.

devops organization chart by Agostodevops automation lifecycle chart by Agosto

IT versus Organizational-level DevOps

Example: Disaster Recovery

By managing your infrastructure with code, tasks such as disaster recovery (DR) become easier to complete. DR strategies vary between cold, warm and hot, depending on specific goals wrapped around recovery time objectives (RTO) and recovery point objectives (RPO).

Even with a cold DR plan, IaC allows you to reconstruct environments in another region to restore normal operations through automation, backups and platform services. Reduced recovery time is the final result. The more complex the infrastructure and application, the more IaC increases in value during a DR scenario.

High-level Cloud-based DR process

IaC allows you to test your disaster recovery plan by deploying your infrastructure and applications to see if automation succeeds or fails. You may not route production traffic to the test site, but you’ll see if your recovery is successful.

IaC’s Many Capabilities Are Critical to Supporting Scale

Infrastructure as Code (IaC) is powerful. It enables multiple capabilities critical to supporting scale, including:

  • A team-based approach: All code is stored in a common repository with proper access levels and auditability. Automation via pipelines allows for less manual work, so teams can eliminate the time it takes to care for “pets”.
  • Auditability: See what’s done, when it was completed and who did it. No one is manually provisioning resources. Instead, every request is logged allowing for granular auditability.
  • Automation: Automation is the key to reducing manual overhead and approaching the Cloud strategically. When set up, consumers can utilize built automation in a self-service model, including Secpol which increases the security of every request via PaC (policy as code). Each request for resources is automatically tied to the proper cost centers for visibility and budgeting, keeping resource usage under control.
  • Consistency: Automation ensures consistency through repeatability.
  • Policy enforcement: Secpol enforcement begins before changes are made by integrating PaC. Through this method, you can determine if requests for resources follow compliance and security standards.
  • Automated testing: Testing within automation is critical to reducing deployment issues, vulnerabilities and dependencies. It also adds another layer of quality assurance without manual processes.
  • Sophisticated deployment: Enabled by IaC and automation, periodic deployment allows you to continuously lower risk per deployment as changes are incremental.
  • Organizational DevOps: It’s easy to bring production user feedback into your development cycle by using sophisticated deployment processes such as canary. Plus, you can integrate DevOps into your organization beyond IT.
  • Cost control: When resources are provisioned in the right place, costs stay at the proper level. Resources previously requested are auditable, allowing a clear tie back to the individual requesting the resource.

Get Started Today With an Agosto Project Factory

Discover the capabilities of IaC with an Agosto Project Factory, the tooling needed to begin managing your core infrastructure. To learn more about our Project Factory or to get started today, give us a call at 612-430-6316 or send us a message.

Best Kept Secrets of Change Management: Investing in Training

Training, as you probably know already, is a big deal! So big, in fact, we’ve split it into two separate blog posts, catch our last post on “sticky” learning plans here.

Today we want to focus on why you should invest in training, while inspiring your team to actually take the training. Because as the old saying goes, before you can teach a person to fish, they need to know the importance of eating!

Even Olympians Have Coaches

We often find that users are enthusiastic and excited to sign up for training and attend, as long as they are given the opportunity to do so. Unfortunately, if users aren’t given the opportunity to sign up for training, we often see less enthusiasm around training.

All joking aside, the resistance to training in many organizations is not due to the attitudes or behaviors of end users. The big hurdle to offering training is usually getting the right project leaders and convincing those with the keys to the budget that training is worth the up-front investment and ought to be offered in the first place.

Many decision-makers employ the logic that because you have hired a strong team, they should be able to figure it out on their own. Indeed, some users probably would be just fine with this unguided approach.

However, we’d like you to consider the fact that even Olympians have coaches. Similarly, even the best and brightest on your team can and will perform at a higher level if given the appropriate support and motivation to keep growing.

With tight budgets, it’s not uncommon for the decision makers in your organization to have to stretch your dollars – we get it. Since so many of the new tech tools are designed to be intuitive (it’s one of our favorite selling points of G Suite) it can be easy to think that a simple way to hit that budget is to skimp on training.

But by omitting training, many of the most efficient features of new technologies will go unnoticed and underutilized because users aren’t provided with early support.

Chances are that at least once in your professional life you have had to learn a new technology, only to find out weeks or months later about key features that would have been great to know about back at the start! It’s such a bummer to think about the minutes (or hours) you could have saved if only there would have been the right learning opportunities for you at the right time!

Getting Buy-in

So, how do you get training for the team to be seen as a necessary part of your tech launch? It all comes back to winning over your stakeholders.

If they are metrics-minded, consider sharing stats about the value of offering training as part of your change management approach, leveraging articles like this piece from Raconteur (page 6). If the decision maker is swayed more on emotion, try sharing one of your own stories of success relating to training that links closely to the technology you are intending to launch. You may need to go the distance and approach getting buy-in from a variety of angles; just keep reminding yourself that the energy you invest now to get training in place will pay huge dividends!

The other part of getting buy-in is making sure end users take advantage of the training that you have worked so hard to provide! We could write pages on this topic alone, but a couple of our favorite hints are:

  • Tell the team WHY the change is happening in a way that focuses on what’s in it for them
  • Don’t just say it once
  • Don’t just say it one way  

The more you can appeal to the various personalities on the team and focus on the value of leveraging the learning opportunities, the higher your attendance and adoption rates will be.

Will mastering this new technology help the team provide faster service to your clients? Tell them about it!

Will leveraging a certain feature set of the new tool save them headaches in their day-to-day work life? Don’t keep it a secret!

Speaking of secrets, we’d love to hear from you! Got a best practice or hint on how you’ve succeeded in getting your organization’s “Olympians” the right coaching? Comment below!

Most Common Chromebook Myths Debunked | Virus Protection

Egan Company, a manufacturing, and construction company in Minnesota “couldn’t be happier” with their 140 Chromebook rollout. They needed a solution that was easy to roll out, durable, secure, and cost-effective. Chrome was the perfect fit.

We firmly believe that Chromebooks make a great use case for a wide range of our customers, just like Egan. But often when we talk about Chrome to the uninitiated, we spend a lot of time clearing up confusion before we even get to the use case. Are we just talking about a web browser? Would Chrome even work for my business with its lack of [security, management, fill in the blank]?

There’s a lot of misinformation swirling around what Chrome even is and what it’s capable of. We’re here to clear a few things up for you. Here are the five most common Chromebook myths we come across, debunked!

Myth #1 – “Chromebooks are only a fancy Chrome browser”

Raise your hand if you thought Chrome was synonymous with just a browser…

Although the Chrome browser is an awesome tool utilized on the Chromebooks, Chrome is so much more than that. Chrome OS is a lightweight Cloud-based operating system built around four pillars: speed, security, simplicity, and shareability.

So while Chromebooks use the Chrome browser to run your favorite webapps, they can still run applications locally on your device by using Chrome optimized Android applications for Office 365, Linux, Adobe, and more.

Myth #2 – “Chromebook virus protection: Chromebooks are not secure”

Widely considered to be the most secure operating system, Google Chrome has security built-in at every level to provide end-to-end protection. From automatic updates and sandboxing, to verified boot, data encryption, and recovery mode, Chrome OS can securely support employees across the enterprise.

In fact, Chrome users don’t need to maintain those costly virus protection and other endpoint security software subscriptions, because Chrome OS protects, contains, and repairs security threats all on its own.

Don’t want to take our word for it? Here’s what former FBI most wanted hacker, Kevin Mitnick had to say on the security of Chrome OS:

“I don’t know of any secure OS. In the past eight years, I’ve had 100% success at penetration testing on all of them. Wait, ChromeOS, ChromeOS is the most secure because of its very limited attack vector–there’s just nothing to exploit.”

Myth #3 – “Chromebooks only work when they’re online”

Like other laptops, you can use your Chromebooks to update certain applications without Internet access.

Chromebooks offer offline access to Gmail, Calendar, Drive, Docs, Sheets, and a number of offline enabled Chrome and Android applications.

Plus, because it’s a cloud-based OS, any changes you make in these applications will sync automatically the next time you connect to the internet, so you don’t have to worry about version control, ever.

Myth #4 – “Chromebooks cannot run legacy applications”

Have you started your journey to the cloud but are still running a few internal legacy applications? You don’t have to wait for these applications to be moved to the cloud to start utilizing the speed, simplicity, security, and shareability of Chrome OS.

Many organizations utilize virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) solutions to give end users access to legacy applications. In fact, VDI solutions often run much quicker on a Chromebook due to the lightweight operating system and increased security.

Myth #5 – “Chromebooks cannot be managed”

So all this sounds great, but say you need to manage each device on an enterprise level to ensure all the proper software is installed and prevent users from installing harmful software or accessing things they shouldn’t have access to.

Enterprise customers can manage their entire fleet of Chromebooks from a single cloud management console can use Chrome Enterprise Management. The console includes 200+ management policies, including policies that follow specific users across devices and policies that are specific to a device(s).

Charles Schwab (a Chrome Enterprise customer) rolled out more than 1,000 Chromebooks in less than 2 months using Chrome Enterprise Management. Everything worked right out of the box without the need to bring in IT to install any software or manually customize settings on each device. Instead, Charles Schwab used Chrome device management to automatically push software to each device and lock it down with their specific set of policies.

Have another Chrome myth you want to throw at us? Interested in learning more? Give us a shout to learn more about how your company can take advantage of the speed, security, simplicity, and shareability of Chrome OS.

Best Kept Secrets of Change Management: Designing “Sticky” Learning Plans

You’ve got a new technology that you know will be fantastic for your organization. Now the hard work begins. You have to get your users to actually adopt the new tool(s) and integrate a new way of working into their current, comfortable day-to-day routine.

To get your users to take the leap, you’ll want to invest some time and energy into creating a thoughtful learning plan. Keep reading for a few of our hints on how to take the stress out of putting your learning plan into motion!

A Change Workout Plan – Beginning with the End

Our last post on change management focused on User Groups and the idea that a “one size fits all” approach can be risky. When it comes to deploying training, the message really is no different.

As you think of the user groups who will engage with the new technology, imagine what success with their new workflow should look like a few months post-deployment.  With the end goal in mind, take a moment now to rewind in your mind to how these users are working today.

Are we talking a subtle and easy-to-digest change or are we talking a mammoth marathon-type endeavor? Who are the users who will have the biggest disruption and what resistance might be in place? With answers to these questions, you will be better able to prescribe the right types of exercises to get your users fit for the task of changing!

Walk in the Park or Marathon Training?

Just like your fitness goals, when it comes to considering learning plans, you want to design a workout that will get you across the finish line as sensibly as possible. Generally, there isn’t just one type of exercise or learning event that will be the ticket; we usually need to offer a blend of possibilities for users to get in shape for the transition.

Consider your unique users as you determine the right mix of in-person versus virtual learning events. While many users prefer an in-person approach, a quality virtual learning session will generally give the learner the same core takeaways (while keeping your budget in check).

Another consideration is to look at the technology in terms of digestibility. Will bite-sized feature overviews be more palatable or would giving users a longer dose of holistic learning create a more pleasant experience?

Finally, do be sure to consider whether the users will be most motivated to “show up” for mandated training sessions or “choose their own adventure” with self-paced and/or self-selected options.

Ready, Set, Go

To get users ready for a change, be sure to provide them with the more in-depth and comprehensive learning events prior to the launch of the new technology. Change comes with a dose of anxiety for many, and one of the best ways to boost the confidence of the team is to equip them with tools to succeed up front!

Once users know the basics from your initial training, you can shift your approach a bit and get creative after the “go live” of the new tech. How about offering a “question and answer call line” or a peer panel to show off a department’s success with the change? Could you generate interest in some peer-to-peer shadowing and best practice idea swaps?

They key is to realize that while we often will continue to offer some traditional learning opportunities, there is some wiggle room for you to find other fun ways to get your users to dig a bit deeper!

You’ll really get the change to be “sticky” with your users when you continue to feed them with learning opportunities in the weeks and months that follow the change.  Not everyone may have been ready to really embrace the new tools during their first encounter with training, but in the weeks following a “go live” you’ll have some users who will finally realize that the new technology is here to stay. They’ll realize it’s time to get on board and will now be looking for learning opportunities to help them get started.

You’ll likely have another subset of users who have been sticking to the plan all along (ROCK STARS) who are now itching to take their learning to “pro” status. Let’s not miss the chance to feed into the appetite of those hungry learners. Rock stars deserve your attention too!

Celebrate Success

We’d love to hear about some of your successful learning plans! Let us know your winning moments in the comments section below.

Work Hard, Bike Harder

You know what they say: work hard, bike harder! At Skykit (and our parent company – Agosto) we wear our Minneapolis-pride on our sleeves (and our cycling kits) with our unabashed love of cycling.

Minneapolis, our founding headquarters, holds the place as one of the best biking cities in the United States. In fact, as of 2016, Minneapolis had more than 226 miles of bike lanes, leading the nation in density of bike lanes per square mile, not to brag or anything.

Many of our cycling employees take advantage of the Agosto and Skykit Bike to Work Program. Employees who ride their bikes to work for 40 days or 200 miles receive a free “Golden Wrench TuneUp” from the company. We also host yearly cycling outings, where we bike to and picnic together in a local park.

But why stop there? We have a history of pushing ourselves just a little bit further to see what’s possible. So last year, we started our own Skykit racing team, where a few coworkers started riding together in challenging races with technically demanding trails and lots and lots of climbing. Below are just a few of our favorites.

The Leadville 100 in Leadville, Colorado

A one hundred mile race across the high-altitude Colorado Rockies, starting at 10,152 feet and climbing to 12,424 feet.

The Lutsen 99er in Lutsen, Minnesota

A 99 mile race on both forest trails and pavement with 7,000 feet of climbing.

The Horrible Hilly Hundreds in Blue Mounds, Wisconsin

A 150K route through a lot of hills and more than 9,300 feet of elevation gain.

All told, the Skykit team rode more than 10,000 miles combined last year, and we plan to ramp up this year to add more members and even more miles. At least a dozen events are scheduled.

Are you interested in being a part of it? Contact us!

And let us know if you’re interested in cheering us on or even riding along with us, we’d love to see you rocking your Skykit gear at an upcoming race!

Best Kept Secrets of Change Management: Internal Project Marketing

What comes to mind when you think of internal marketing for a change project?

It may be a simple answer for you, or something that doesn’t change much from customer to customer or project to project. But should it? What is stopping you from adapting your marketing strategies to each individual project and different groups of users?

These aren’t the memes you’re looking for…

It can be easy to market to groups you know. Let’s say you work in IT. Working on creating a marketing plan for your colleagues seems easy: just hang a poster with a meme above the coffee maker referencing the upcoming change and you’re done!

While that might be effective for some projects, and it even might be enough to market a change to the IT team, we can all agree it probably will not be effective for all of your projects and definitely won’t work for all end users.

Oftentimes you’ll be in charge of marketing a change to your entire company. Your “customers” in this case are not just the IT team, and one-size won’t fit all when it comes to marketing.

You might be throwing your hands up in frustration at this point. Your day is already filled with creating communications and trainings. And now adding marketing to that is going to be difficult as well? Before you give up and hang that meme throughout your entire office, reach back into your memory and recall some of our previous blog topics. You probably have already identified User Groups. And you’ve spent time building your “Circle of Trust”. Let’s leverage both here to get a leg up on our marketing strategy.

User Groups

User groups might seem like an odd place to start your marketing strategy, but bear with me. Your user groups can often give you a lens on what might be the most effective marketing tool in your tool bag.

  • Do you have a large sales group who only access their email on their mobile devices? Make sure any posters you hang highlight mobile-friendly features!
  • Do you have a large subset of manufacturing users who rarely (if ever) check emails? Find a way to integrate marketing into digital displays in their break rooms (see more here).
  • What about hourly customer service workers who work irregular shifts? Make sure their desks have proper desk-drops that highlight when the change is happening and what they need to do to prepare.

All of this sounds much easier once you have those user groups identified, right?

Circles of Trust

If you haven’t read our post on Circles of Trust, start working now to cultivate those relationships. If you’ve already read it, now may be the time to engage their assistance!

Maybe you’ve spent the past 6 months attending Toastmasters with the marketing team, and you even brought donuts for the bi-weekly meetings. Now is the time to ask for their help to create posters!

You joined the sales bowling league even though you don’t think bowling shoes look good on you? Ask those sales reps for their help in talking about the change in their regional team meetings!

You’ve been eating lunch with the HR team even though none of them are interested in your Bitcoin portfolio? That’s okay, because they are going to help you make sure you are following the guidelines for hanging posters across the entire campus.

Without those relationships, you may not have known where to start.

Wrapping up

Every project will look different, and every company will have different marketing “toolkits” at the ready. Whether it’s instant message blasts to all employees, posters in the bathrooms, a CEO vlog series, or anything else, the key for you is to find the most effective way to reach the biggest audience before the change occurs.

Feel free to let us know in the comments below what has worked in the past, or even what you’ll try in the future!

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