Thank you to Andcor Companies for underwriting the new Meet a Minnesota CTO series.
Irfan Khan is the CTO of Minneapolis – based Agosto, a company he co founded in 2001 with Rick Erickson.
How long have you been in the technology field and what is your background in?
I’ve been working in the technology field since 1984 when my father bought me an Apple IIe. I really dove into tech in 1999 as a career, when
I joined a local “dot com” called Webhelp.
I then gravitated toward network engineering. Since then, I’ve built software products and solutions, managed technology teams and solved countless client business problems with technology. Today, I am really enjoying the collaborative tools and technology environment of the cloud that encourages team participation from anywhere, at any time.
What are you focused on right now?
As a Google Enterprise Premier partner, Agosto has incredible access to Google’s tools. Right now I’m focused on building a practice around Google’s Cloud Platform within Agosto. Google’s Cloud Platform allows users to build applications and websites, and to store and analyze data on Google’s Infrastructure.
Leveraging the enormous power of Google’s infrastructure is a real game changer for companies and it’s exciting to see how rapidly a change to Google Cloud Platform can positively impact performance. We can now build new products on the platform based on customer needs, or we can move an existing product to the cloud to take advantage of its scale and use-based billing. Often times when moving an existing product we can offer many new capabilities that are simply not feasible on premise based software.
What are the more important technologies deployed in your IT environment?
Our company helps organizations to embrace the cloud as a strategy. Our ERP, CRM, collaboration, project management and HR applications (among others) are all cloud-based. We use Google’s App Engine to tie some of these systems and products together, using each platform’s APIs to do things like reporting and dashboarding. This enables our management teams to make decisions faster, based on information that’s now easily at hand.
What is the size of your department and how is it organized/managed?
As CTO, I mostly manage the growth of our Google Enterprise Team. Our Director of Development leads our Google Cloud Platform development efforts and has nine reports. The head of our Google Apps and Search group has a team of 18 that is broken up into several components: sales engineering, deployment and technical configuration, project management, change management and support. I also advise our managed services division on major technology decisions. The team offers outsourced helpdesk and IT support to our customers.
How does your company approach recruiting and retention for technical positions?
We’ve been fortunate to get a steady stream of candidates through our collective networks and membership in several national and local organizations. We do advertise via our website for open positions but we find that personal referrals account for a greater share of hires than nearly all others combined. As for retention, we just have a really fun place to work with many perks, from complimentary dry cleaning, to snacks in the kitchen, company happy hours and good benefits.
How do you ensure that IT plans, projects and objectives are aligned with business outcomes?
Since our inception we’ve always set up IT steering committees to help align business objectives with IT deliverables. I think it’s important not to do technology for technology’s sake. Recently I’ve been working with a company that allowed IT to make all the decisions on what could and could not be done. It was obvious that the potential of this company was being limited and that its business goals were not effectively communicated through the ranks. We helped hit the reset button for the company and got IT to help support business objectives through the IT steering committee approach.
How do you personally keep up with the ever changing technology landscape?
There are a few ways I keep up with the rapid pace of technology. First of all, I trust my staff. They keep me up informed on changes that might impact our business and customers. I follow various news aggregation sites and blogs to keep up to date as well. I have just returned from a Google partner conference where a great number of product and process changes were announced. Staying closely aligned with our partners makes a big difference. I also often hear from my customers about some new problem or challenge that they are trying to solve. In the process of solving these new problems, I get educated on something new.
What excites you about where technology is headed?
When I started my career, getting a web application off the ground was a lot of work. You would have to set up infrastructure and maintain that infrastructure. Often the budget for a project would be consumed on items that didn’t really deliver value to the user. Infrastructure as a Service or IaaS (think Amazon) is a huge step toward eliminating these problems. Platform as a service is really exciting, too. Using PaaS, one can deploy code without the cost and complexity of buying and managing server instances. We’re building a few applications on Google’s Cloud Platform right now. The speed at which we can build an application is astounding. Google provides us with a plethora of APIs we can leverage to “outsource” components of our applications. This is a really an exciting time to build software.
What concerns you about where technology is heading?
I think I share the concerns today of a lot of parents, that our kids are facing great technology advantages but just as many challenges that aren’t necessarily healthy. The availability of information is just a few clicks away. Will this affect how we think or remember? As for the large number of devices kids have access to, we are on uncharted ground. I think that in general the impact will be negative on our social skills. I grew up with kids playing on the street but today it’s just too easy for kids today to stare at a screen, and it’s too easy for parents or guardians to put kids in front of a screen and expect that to be enough.
What is one thing you’re into outside of technology?
I’m into cycling. I simply just love bikes. I usually spend my summers training for some epic race like the Leadville 100. I like having something to work toward. My ideal vacation is mountain biking with friends in the Rockies.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
I just returned from a Google conference and a visit to many of our partners. There’s a feeling in the technology industry today that will spur the innovations of the future. I feel fortunate to be a part of the industry, a part of these future innovations.
Sometimes we get pressure to move the Agosto headquarters office to the Bay area. A few years back we decided to aggressively grow our Midwest market presence. We’ve recently built a new downtown Minneapolis office in the historic Ford Center that embodies this spirit and already have hosted numerous tech-related events there as well. We’re happy to be a part of the Twin Cities tech community and recently won a Minnesota High Tech Association Tekne Award. I am looking forward to increasing our market leadership here, expanding local and distant partnerships here, at our Toronto office and virtually across North America.