For 22 years, ZAG Technical Services, based in San Jose, CA, has been offering managed information technology (IT) services to the fresh produce industry throughout the Central Coast.
With several offices in California, ZAG often acts as the IT department for many of its agricultural clients. It also interfaces with many in-house IT departments. For the past several years, ZAG has been a sponsor of the Western Growers Center for Innovation & Technology as it puts a lot of stock in the concept that technology can make companies much more efficient and cost effective, and that innovative technology is a major key in the ag industry’s future.
Recently several members of the ZAG team participated in a coronavirus-induced ZOOM meeting with Western Grower & Shipper to discuss the state of IT in the fresh produce industry and the services the company offers. Included in the meeting were Marketing Director Rob Collings, as well as Patrick Day and Nick Galiotto, both technical strategy managers for the company. Though ZAG has clients that are both small and very large in terms of employees, the interview revealed that it considers its sweet spots firms operating with 50-500 employees. The trio of ZAG executives also noted that its many clients run the gamut in terms of their IT sophistication.
There are many firms in the specialty crop industry that have up-to-date equipment with competent IT professionals utilizing that equipment to their best advantage. But of course, there are firms that are at the other end of the spectrum. The basic sentiment is that if you haven’t updated your system in the last five to 10 years, it most likely is out of date. That fact moved front and center as COVID-19 spread and companies tried to have their employees work from home. For many companies, the switch worked seamlessly. But the ZAG executives said a good portion of their time in March and April was spent trying to help companies transition to off-site computing to follow the spirit of the social distancing guidelines. Frankly, some firms just didn’t have the software or computer power to make it happen easily. It’s not as simple as taking your home laptop—the one your teenager uses for gaming—and plug it into the company system. It doesn’t quite work that way.
When a company is not up-to-date with its IT software and hardware, ZAG labels it as “technology debt”, and it will cost money to get out of debt. ZAG advocates that its client have a budget each year to upgrade their technology. Such a budgeting regimen keeps the company on the plus side of technology and avoids having a major expenditure in any one year.
Day said that when meeting with clients—either new ones or existing customers—the key is to find out where they are, what they need, where they are going and how does it align with business needs? He emphasized that to do a thorough job, ZAG wants to know the company’s business goals, not just its needs with regard to technology. It is this information that informs the IT services that the agricultural firm needs. ZAG defines a technology strategy review as a long-term roadmap that describes how a business will evolve its technology infrastructure to improve its overall business development.
Galiotto said a company might be working on product traceability, getting a better handle on labor needs or greater security might be the key. In fact, the ZAG executive said increased security is a universal need as companies are prime targets for hackers of all kind. Collings added wire transfer fraud is an increasing problem with hackers infiltrating your system and transferring funds illegally.
Each new device attached to your network represents another attack vector, and it only takes one device to compromise an entire network, disrupt business operations, or have a disastrous impact to the business. These threats are both a technology issue and a business risk. It is a reality, the more people working at home and connecting to the company’s network has increased the risk significantly.
In a nutshell, ZAG Technical Services Inc. endeavors to provide agricultural companies with a dedicated IT team that knows the produce industry, knows the world of IT and knows how to connect one with the other.
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