ZAG Technical Services, Inc.—a leading IT consulting and services company—joined the Western Growers (WG) family a few years ago as a Partner Sponsor for its Center for Innovation & Technology (WGCIT) in Salinas, CA. In addition to assisting agtech start-up companies in bringing their inventions from development to market, ZAG is dedicated to helping its larger grower clients and WG members succeed by reducing systemic risk, increasing productivity and ensuring security.
“It has 100 percent been a time well spent as a sponsor of WGCIT,” said Greg Gatzke, president and co-founder of ZAG. “We’ve gotten to know more leaders throughout the ag industry.” He believes their sponsorship has made them more knowledgeable and gives them the opportunity to pass that knowledge on to their clients.
ZAG, a term signifying “going in the right direction” according to Gatzke, works with a number of residents in the Center to better understand the services and products they offer. ZAG uses the information coming from the WGCIT to better understand what is coming in the industry and how IT must be ready to support the future advancements.
While many of the start-up companies working out of the WGCIT focus on groundbreaking technology such as sensors, mapping/visualization and Internet of Things (IoT) devices, ZAG concentrates on the network necessary for the technology to work properly.
“With the proliferation of technology everywhere, every company becomes an IT company, so we help to ensure that businesses can compete,” mentioned Gatzke. “Companies have quickly become dependent on technology, and technology is heavily dependent upon the strength of the network.”
Take, for example, supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) systems, which is a network of software and hardware elements that allows organizations to:
• control processes locally or at remote locations
• monitor, gather and process data in real-time
• directly interact with devices such as sensors, valves, pumps and motors
SCADA systems serve as data-collection instruments that send information internally in order to prevent problems. Temperature sensors are a perfect example; if a temperature sensor in a cooler notices the temperature is getting too warm, it adds in extra cooling or notifies someone that the cooling is not working. The same goes for water moisture sensors in the soil and other things in the field. SCADA systems are put in place to inform growers of the issues sooner rather than later. That being said, without secure SCADA systems in place, organizations will open themselves up to greater cyber security risks.
For instance, Gatzke recalled a time when a client reached out to ZAG after being breached, requesting their help on recovering data and rebuilding systems. ZAG helped the client get their business back online, but the incident resulted in a loss of millions of dollars due to the fact that their client was out of commission for many days while the breach was being repaired.
Every cyber security breach presented to ZAG has been preventable, according to Gatzke, but organizations tend to be reactive rather than proactive.
“Companies initially have a hard time seeing the need to invest in secure networking,” said Gatzke. “However, following the breach, they immediately realize that it would’ve been worth spending the time and money on security.”
As president, Gatzke’s responsibilities include leading the company and helping to define its future. With offices in Salinas, San Ramon and San Jose, he spends countless hours meeting with various agricultural organizations throughout Salinas and all of Northern California, constantly seeking out new technology and trends within the industry. Although ZAG mostly works with ag-related companies, its network expands to Silicon Valley.
“I’d put the speed of ag manufacturing against Silicon Valley any day of the week,” Gatzke exclaims, noting the speed and evolution of the ag industry. “People outside of ag manufacturing think they run 24 hours a day and seven days a week, but ag manufacturing really is 24/7. You have to always have your systems up and trucks have to be ready to ship. If trucks don’t ship, product doesn’t keep. There are so many moving parts, constantly surrounded by high speed and high pressure.”
When asked if it has been difficult keeping up with the ag industry, Gatzke responded that “the industry has never been slow but it’s never been as fast as it currently is. It is not necessarily difficult to keep up, but it requires more focus. A wide vision is crucial in this industry. You can’t afford to focus on what happened yesterday because what you did yesterday isn’t going to get you where you need to be tomorrow.”
He also added continuous learning is key in this industry and as president, he is obligated to learn every day and if he’s not, he is “falling behind.”
Gatzke comes from an ag background, having been born into a family of vegetable farmers. It was natural for him to couple his background with his passion for computers to create ZAG Technical Services. He said it was also natural to support and sponsor the WGCIT.
“We see Western Growers enabling the advancement of the industry as a whole, and the technology focus that Western Growers is bringing to the world of ag is not just the future, it is the present,” said Gatzke. “To be a part of something like this is an honor.”
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