Augusto Digital Insights: Founder Series, featuring Jim Becher

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Jim Becher, co-founder of Augusto shares how he accidentally found his way into software, systems architecture and, now, building strategic partnerships.

In this episode of the Augusto Health IT Podcast, Brian Anderson connects with Jim Becher, Director of Strategic Partnerships and co-founder of Augusto. Jim has a 20-year career focused on consulting, computer science, IT management, enterprise-scale systems architecture, and team leadership.

The two travel through their careers, exploring different points when they both worked with each other and reflecting on their early interest in computers. Jim initially intended to be an accountant and, in fact, studied it for over a year in college.

When Jim attended a job fair for summer internships, he noticed how long the lines were for the local accounting firms’ tables. Tired of waiting, he walked toward the table with a really short line, which happened to be Crowe Chizek. Their team was offering a paid IT intern, and Jim took it. He never looked back from computer science.

It was at Crowe that Jim and Brian first met, and quickly became friends as they played competitive soccer together for years.

Somewhere along the way, Jim transitioned out of IT and into software. After a brief stint at an automotive company, Brian recruited Jim back to Crowe to build a data center. Later, Jim worked as an enterprise architect for Meijer, where he learned a ton about software development, security, deployment, and training teams, as well as managing data at scale.

The two then shift into a discussion about Augusto’s growth in cloud services and how Jim led Augusto in earning its AWS Select Partner Certification. By training, certifying, and documenting, Augusto’s team members now speak the same language around AWS — and will build opportunities for their clients.

Jim also has played an influential role in Augusto’s recruiting and onboarding growth. He looks forward to continued opportunities to blend the things he loves — technology, relationships, and partnerships — to make something great.

We thank Jim for his time on the podcast, and for everything he does to help delight our clients.

To listen to the other podcasts in the Founders Series, follow the links below:

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Brian: This is the Augusto Digital Insights podcast and I’m your host, Brian Anderson.Here, we talk to industry leaders about how they’re using digital technology to transform their businesses. There’s a lot to cover here. So let’s get started.

Welcome to the Augusto Digital Insights podcast. This episode is part of a series focused on the people behind Augusto. I want to highlight our shared history, which is the foundation of how Augusto has grown, how it operates, and how these relationships guide our vision and the future of our business. Jim Becher is a co-founder of Augusto. He has a 20-year career focused on consulting, computer science, IT management, team leadership, and enterprise-scale systems architecture.

Jim is currently Augusto’s director of strategic partnerships, and I just wanted to welcome Jim to the show. Welcome, Jim.

Jim: Thanks, Brian. Thanks for having me. This is exciting and it’s going to be fun to hear how we can talk about Augusto.

Brian: It’s kind of a highlight show for you Jim, because you and I have a long shared history, but I want to probe a little bit into the history before I knew you. What are some of those early stories of how you got into IT and software?

Jim: I have this picture of the first time I got to touch a computer that was in our house. In my younger days, it was when you saw a computer at school or you saw one in somebody’s office. But I will never forget, my dad brought home a Heath-Zenith computer because our neighbor worked at Zenith and he had built it. It just looked like a monitor with drives and it lasted all of like a week or two.

And then he got another one because I don’t think he knew how to use it. And it was a Zenith Z-150. It was great. It had a turbo button on it, two floppy drives. And I don’t know why, but everybody had monochrome monitors that were green. Ours was amber, I thought that was the greatest thing in the world, and we could play a game on it and use MS-DOS.

At that point, I was hooked.

Brian: It’s crazy, I remember those days. I had a TI-99/4A. That was like my first computer and it had that dot matrix printer and things that went with it.

Actually we didn’t have a printer, we didn’t get a printer until we got a Mac. We got a Macintosh Plus and then it had the dot matrix printer. It’s like we’re telling those stories and other people tell the stories about the punch cards, right? It’s like this industry is moving so fast.

So from that point, what led you to where we first met at Crowe?

Jim: So I’ll give you the background from how I got to college.

Computers in high school were pretty easy for me. I picked up typing pretty quick and at that time typing was on a typewriter and then you had to go to the word processor.

But we had a high school teacher that… I think we had a computer club, I don’t remember how it worked… but he gave me a Visual Basic book. And I remember, I think my dad and I figured out how to code things with it. That was great, but it’s not what I wanted to do in college.

I had this vision of being an accountant, but I still had this computer love in the background of my mind.

So I left for college with the mindset of becoming an accountant. That was my goal. I took financial classes and I kept taking computer science classes because they were fun and I knew it.

The switch in college happened, I think my sophomore year. I had to go for an internship. Everybody in the accounting group or financials had to go to an internship for the summer.

And I went to a place in Grand Rapids. I still think it was The DeVos Place. And I stood in line, in my suit, my one and only suit, and I was trying to get this low-paying, or no pay, accounting internship. And the lines were huge for Ernst and Young and Essentia.

And I’m in a line, and of course I wasn’t the highest marks in all of this. Nothing was going well, but there was a really short line next to the line I was standing in.

So I walked out of the one I was in and I went into it and it turned out to be Crowe Chizek and it was their team looking for somebody in IT to be an intern for the summer. Better yet, it was pretty well paid. So at that point I joined Crowe, I think on the spot. I said, “Absolutely, I’ll do it.” And it was a chance for me to kind of re-engage with computers.

And at that point I went back to college, and the next fall I pretty much shuffled everything around to stick with a computer science curriculum. And I don’t think I ever turned back. That was just a great turning point. Accounting went to the background and wasn’t even a thought.

Brian: When you got that internship is when I met you. I had gotten recruited out of Western to go up and work at Crowe. And it was such a great spot, a lot of young people, but there was also this blend of people, just because of the way the firm worked. It would be really senior people and then it was a nice kind of pyramid of people to work with. And it’s been a lot of entry-level people, so a lot of friendships grew out of that and a lot of these relationships we still have today and so I remember you being at Crowe.

I remember traveling a lot and I was always working with these early software applications. So I kept breaking my computer all the time and I had to come down to the IT department. You’d always fix it for me. I think those were the beginnings of the relationship.

Jim: I don’t think anything’s ever changed, Brian. We’re still fixing computers for you in our organization. From that day forward, nothing has changed.

Brian: I know, I know. One of the other things that I think is interesting about our relationship is that we played soccer together. We played competitive soccer in different leagues for 15 years of our lives. I feel like in sports and when you play something competitive and stuff, you get to know somebody at a different level.

And I realized then we were such great teammates. You were a natural defender and I was a natural offensive player and we just worked together. What do you remember about some of those games?

Jim:I do, and you’re right. You build relationships and bonds by playing sports. And I think Brian, if I go back, we might’ve started playing basketball or volleyball, the first times we did sports together for the corporate challenges which quickly led us to say, “Oh, I play soccer too. Let’s get this soccer team going.”

And that carried on even up until recently, we still play soccer together. And I think it’s amazing how Crowe gave us that start and we’re still doing it today.

But it’s funny, you mentioned something right there about you being offensive and me being defensive. It kind of fits our personality in our organization. You’re that visionary that likes to go out and champion offense and I have that tendency to be a little bit of the defense side.

Hey, how do we defend and protect our company and organize and build behind you? It’s really interesting when you said that; it lays out a good view into our relationship.

Brian: Yeah, it’s true, man. We’ve depended on each other for a long time and worked together to accomplish things together over the years.

And so that Crowe run was really good, because you actually got to do IT work and server work. But you also were doing a lot of software work at that time. What was that transition and that balance like between IT and software for you?

Jim: It was a good learning curve. IT was repetitive and at some point you can operationalize it where it became the ability to have other people do it and manage it.

The software transition was fantastic. Things were changing so fast back then and it was a great time to learn. I think Crowe brought in Microsoft for me and, in school, I don’t remember learning .NET, or VB. We learned Java and C++. So it was just a great time to learn.

One thing that sticks out to me at that time was a piece of software that was a CRM tool called Onyx. And there was a whole bunch of development that you could do in Onyx. And that was such a great learning curve to realize that and to be in a product.

I remember flying out to Seattle and it was a combination of working with the Microsoft team and the Onyx team on how to build an integration. It was a good time.

Brian: Yeah. I remember that too. I remember going out to Seattle quite a few times, meeting with Onyx, meeting with Microsoft, doing different business development things.

I learned a lot from the partners at Crowe and some of the senior people there. And really a lot of the colleagues too, it was a really top-notch place for me to start.

But then I left, and I went to this .NET focused, Microsoft gold partner, Sagestone. And then that company got bought by NuSoft. A

nd during that, right at that transition point, I think I finally came calling and convinced you to come over and work with me there. Right?

Jim: Those are great times. That was the second time that you had pulled me somewhere else. I had left Crowe, if you don’t remember, to go work at another company in the automotive space. And when you were at Crowe you’re like, “Hey, I need you to come back. We’ve got this idea of creating a data center inside of Crowe Chizek and I want you to run it.”

And I came back to Crowe and we stood up a data center and then you left, which was just great because here I was running this mini division in Crowe to host and build websites, and then you’re right. You called me from Sagestone and said, “Come on over and work here.” And I was at the time where it was a good fit family-wise. We were just having another kid and I joined NuSoft right after it changed from Sagestone and I think I had a kid the first week.

Brian: I remember that. What do you remember about your first project at Sagestone?

Jim: You know what I’m trying to remember.

Brian: Was it Spout?

Jim: I think it was Spout. I think you’re right, I came right in and jumped into Spout.

Brian: What was Spout?

Jim: Spout was a group of people who wanted to be mavens. If you remember that term, film mavens. They wanted to be able to evaluate movies. And at the same time, the part I was brought in to do was sell DVDs. It was a great learning experience. I think you were part of that group as well.

Brian: Yeah. Massive learning experience. A lot of like what not to do. But man, did we ever learn a lot and got to work with some pretty interesting people there in that project.

And then we had like a seven or eight year journey at NuSoft, I did at least. And I think you were there for five or six years. We both ended up leaving after they sold to RCM technologies.

But then you ended up at Meijer, which was like going from mid-tier consulting companies, working with larger companies and then working at say NuSoft was really a small business to one of the largest scale businesses in West Michigan and one of the largest grocery stores in the world.

So what was that like?

Jim: It was a big change. We went from a software development company where everyone was focused on technology, anything that was new, iPhone development at the time, .NET, NVC, all these engineers at NuSoft, it was a great education, just building software. I think whether we called it agile at the time at NuSoft, we were doing these fast iteratives and I think Brian, you even introduced a framework at NuSoft to help us build and deploy software really quickly.

I stepped into Meijer and as a large organization, everything was at scale. My first role there was kind of an enterprise architect around the development teams and my eyes were opened where change management in deployment could take days. Whereas at NuSoft, even with the bigger companies, teams were building these automated tools to deploy in hours, quickly. So that was a huge change, everything was at scale.

One of the things I think back on is I didn’t know what technology debt was. When I got to Meijer, tech debt was something I learned a ton about specifically from the software development perspective. We were introducing the new version of .NET4 and it had security changes, it had features. And as the group we were in, it was great. Let’s introduce it to the teams, let’s train them. And then we had to figure out how to deploy it to thousands of apps. I had never had that challenge before.

Brian: Yeah. Because there was a lot of stuff that was local to the stores, right? I mean all the different stores and the departments and stuff. And if you had to deploy something and put it on a device, that’s a whole different thing than just pushing the button to deploy it to a website, in the cloud.

And the other interesting thing I thought about was not only just the scale of your deployment scenarios, but also the scale of the data.

Maybe you could talk about some of the experiences you got seeing data at scale.

Jim: I know coming from NuSoft, we didn’t see data the size in Meijer. One example was, and it wasn’t me, but one of the developers was trying to test something and he ran a SQL query, select star from database. And you just couldn’t do that at scale like that.

Not only that, you had a great database team that tried to format everything in a way that made it quick and painless, but millions to billions of rows of data and getting to that data was very secure, very separated, and boy was it a learning curve for me. Once you figured it out and the teams could work to get it, then you had to figure out what to do with that data, how to mine it, what information was useful.

And I think any large business just has more data than they know what to do with. And it was always groups of people trying to work through it and optimize it, take that information and learn from it. And that was just a great piece for me to sit back and say, “What can we do with this data? What do we want to do with this data?” And build innovation on top of it, build products on top of it.

Brian: I do see that in the really successful larger companies, they definitely take advantage of their data and they definitely try to figure out how to make decisions based on the data.

They have intuition and then they go looking for more information and they just continue to optimize and optimize. And data is one part of that optimization feedback loop and it’s interesting because you got to see it play out.

I think of Meijer and I think of the optimization of every single process. And so I’m assuming there were a lot of people asking for that data.

Jim: Absolutely. And it was siloed at first. By the time I left, it was getting to the point where it was something where people could get torganizationally. And what I mean by siloed is the merchandising team had their own data, and other ones did.

Some of the greatest tools I saw introduced there were reporting tools and APIs. The ability to use an API and get data across the groups was new, it was innovative at the time, but looking back, it’s kind of that Amazon model: let’s build services where people can get data. It was just great to see it come alive in Meijer.

Brian: Yeah. Definitely.

I think one of the things that’s interesting there is a lot of this stuff was prior to where we’re at with the cloud these days, right? And there’s these big investments in these mainframes and huge database servers and things like that.

And I think as we transition to the cloud, we continue to do more with the cloud as you’ve been instrumental in helping us get our AWS Select Partner Certification.

What do you see the difference is, like at the high level between what Meijer was doing then and how you would do it now for a company?

Jim: I think enterprises have a different view than what a small business does. But what I see the change has been, is you used to need to take and do something called lift and shift. It was everybody’s first idea to get to the cloud. Many of these servers are in the data center, let’s put them in the cloud. I’m not sure that approach is the right approach.

Really what we’ve learned, even with our Augusto piece, is to start small, move a workload, move an application, get out there and find what works and how to optimize it and then bring more, bring more and more data out there as it’s appropriate.

I look back at the volume of data that Meijer had and moving that to the cloud has a cost to it. But also it gives you the ability to share it in a way that you couldn’t before.

And I would say, if I look back, that would be one thing to start with, move some data so you can start going after it and sharing it amongst areas.

Brian: Yeah. A lot of people think the cloud’s biggest value is savings and costs, which I think it can be in some cases, but in some cases it’s not.

But the bigger selling point for this type of architecture is agility. I mean, it just sets up the ability to do things so much faster than you can do with your data in these on-premises systems.

And then yeah, sharing it with others and moving it and transforming it and leveraging it for APIs and databases and reports and analytics, all that stuff is accelerating so fast. And there’s all these services now.

What are you seeing in that space?

Jim: I’m excited about these data analytic products. The server-less way to get data, transpose it, manipulate it, maybe unstructured data, and then report against it.

The ability to experiment just wasn’t there before. Go back a few years, if you wanted to experiment with data, you had to get the data, build out a database, structure it, make a server, query it. Now you can literally take data from any data source, put it in the cloud, manipulate it and then start reporting on it. You can experiment so quickly.

Companies and businesses should take advantage of this to see what they can unlock of business value from this data they have. I’m excited about that. I’m excited to share it and as a company to see if we can help businesses do more of that and make smart decisions.

Brian: Yeah. We’re living it too, right? We’re doing it for ourselves, taking advantage of this stuff. As we continue to grow our business and our systems, we need to tie data together, we need to report on it, we need to share it with customers, we need to optimize how we do things, and a lot of that’s driven by the data that’s in these other systems.

So it’s like we’re gluing it together so that we can also use software to optimize our business and build products off of it and things like that. So I’m super excited about all that stuff and appreciative of all your work to get us into this certification level.

Let’s talk a little bit about how you joined Augusto and then we’ll talk a little bit about how you’ve been contributing with the cloud strategy and our Amazon partnership.

But what led you to Augusto? Why did you decide to take this leap?

Jim: One, I think our relationship was very focused on my journey into Augusto. I can look back, we were at your lake, we were out in your boat I think in the middle of the lake. In my mind, I think you turned the boat off and threw the keys off the boat in the water. Sure that didn’t happen, but it’s something to the effect of, “Hey, I’m going to start this business.”

Joel was with us and you said: “Here’s what I want, here’s the vision. Are you guys interested? Are you in it?: And we started just going through ideas of how to make it work, what it would be.

And the introduction to Marty happened right about that time as well. And I’m like, “Wow, this sounds like something I’d want to do.” And at the exact same time that I thought, “Boy, this is something I want to do” I was also like, “Boy, this sounds scary and risky to be an entrepreneur and start a business.” And I left that meeting, I think I went back, I’m not a hundred percent sure I told my wife exactly what happened in the boat

Brian: Or what you committed to?

Jim: What I committed to on the boat that day, I might’ve waited a few days to say it, but that started the journey to Augusto for me. It took, let’s see, the company started in 2016? And you and Marty were just powering along as the two sole employees. And then Joel.

Brian: Yeah. Well, you both were… You guys were the first, you and Joel were the first that I really wanted to be on this team.

And so then I was working with Marty. At that time, I was unemployed. I had lost my job at OST and I knew I was going to go do something and be an entrepreneur, but I was just trying to figure out how to put together the right teams? How do I start this thing correctly?

And that’s when I recruited you and Joel, and I think you guys were going to keep your job and just support me on things and also help do delivery and stuff like as a second job. And then Marty came along in part of my networking and we were in similar circumstances where we wanted to start businesses and we thought we could do it faster together. And that’s when I introduced you guys. And then we really Marty and I, we just tried to land gigs early on to create cash flow.

And it took us like, man, how many, two years I think to do it to the point where we could actually afford to hire you full-time. We had enough opportunity and we had enough cash flow that we could afford to pay you to come on board. And that was how many years ago now? Three years ago?

Jim: Yeah, 2019 basically.

Brian: Yeah. And it’s been accelerating ever since, right? What’s your journey been like inside of Augusto?

Jim: It has been a learning experience everywhere we go. I love that we have challenges and as a company, we set them as priorities and we solve them.

It started with just simply, how do we get good recruiting? Simple, small little things. And then that turned to all right, how are we going to manage employees inside of our organization?

And as we’ve grown, every challenge we’ve taken on, we’ve found a good solution, we’ve put a solution in place, and then we iterate on top of it. Because it’s never going to be perfect, but we keep growing it and changing it and that’s the part I love.

Right now, the thing that makes me excited every day is that we’re looking at new products in Augusto, and these products could be Augusto support, Augusto cloud services, managed services. Those really keep me excited because we’re determining how to make a product.

And the role I’m playing today as the director of strategic partnerships, I love to see our partnerships are growing with AWS and these products we’re building are working inside of it. It’s just been a journey from the start of this, to where we are now. It’s great to look back and see how it’s gone.

Brian: We’ve always had this really positive kind of continuous improvement, oriented culture. And that’s just in our nature, I think. And so we’ve been able to iterate and grow and continue to do things better and better at scale as we move on.

What are you excited about for the future of Augusto and how have you evolved in helping to shape it?

Jim: Early on, part of the role I played was client services, working at some of our clients and in the background helping to manage both some of our recruiting early on, and the IT support that we had. What does our infrastructure look like? What of our tools that we’re providing our team with? Those were parts of what I helped run and do.

I think recruiting brought a kind of a smile to my face early on. We posted our first job on one of the job boards and we got 300 resumes within like two or three days. And we didn’t have a process for handling resumes. They all came into an inbox. And I remember just thinking, how in the world am I going to go through all of these things. But working with the team, we found a way. And eventually we hired someone really great for that role.

And it became apparent that we should get an HR system, the system that lets us track resumes and not have it all coming to one inbox. But that was a good learning curve on the role I played. Now we’ve got a group of people focusing on recruiting and it’s a pretty good process that’s in place, but it’s always working to get better.

Another thing that happened recently Brian, just to kind of think of the evolution of the roles I’ve played, we started to work with different partnerships like Microsoft and AWS and the number of partners we were working with was expanding.

And so it came up like, “Hey, we need a role or someone to watch over these partnerships that have. How do we foster them? How do we maintain them? How do we grow them?”

So as the director of strategic partnerships, the role I play today is pretty much a jump from initially where I was helping structure IT, bringing some recruiting, managing clients and needs that we have to now helping build these partnerships, particularly around AWS and continuing to grow our business that way.

Brian: Yeah, I think it’s been really cool. I think another help in figuring out how to structure and organize all of this business that’s coming our way is this EOS system, the Entrepreneurial Operating System, and a lot of companies have been implementing it over the last few years.

But for us, it was definitely an epiphany a year and a half ago, and we decided to organize this way and there’s this thing called the accountability chart that forced us to really think through how we are going to organize all of these different responsibilities that are emerging out of all this work.

And there was definitely a need for a strategic partnership director. And there’s so much that goes into that, more than you realize, because it’s a lot of relationship building, but it’s also a lot of skill development and evidence-based references and things.

Can you maybe talk about what it was like to go through that journey?

Jim: Sure. One that comes to mind in the journey is really the process to get us certified for AWS. There’s this criteria that you need to do. And our team is just great engineers. We needed to get team certified. So training, certification, documentation that we’ve worked in AWS, clients needed to have case studies and rate us. That was a lot of work to do and make sure all of these things came together so we could get the partnership.

And I would say that has helped us organizationally. We’re more educated in AWS, our team members all speak kind of the same language around it, and as we’ve built opportunities with other partners, developing an AWS, that relationship is only going to continue to grow.

Brian: It’s a lot more than people realize to get to these certification levels and to go higher and higher into these competencies. It really takes a lot of effort and there’s so much going on. We’re working on products, we’re working on some early incubation of some digital products, and we’re working on service products, and we’re continuing to iterate on our core engineering services and design services.

You’re playing a role in a lot of those, what gets you excited to get up in the morning?

Jim: I would say the most exciting part in all that we’re doing right now is building out, and you said products, but I almost say building out in part on top of our partnership with AWS. We’re using these services and tools and things that AWS gives us to put together products that we can work inside of Augusto.

An example is we’re working with Chime and the SDK. We want to put a product together, wrapped around all those things to offer to our Augusto clients.

So for me, it’s taking these things I love — technology, relationships and partnerships — and blending them together to make something. I get a chance to do all of that and learn every day.

That’s something I hope I never lose. Whether it’s learning how to work with people, whether it’s learning how to structure a product inside of Augusto for making revenue, whether it’s learning a new technology, that’s the part that gets me up every day and the role I have in Augusto allows me to do it. It’s been so much fun.

Brian: Cool man. Well, we appreciate you and appreciate the relationship and partnership and everything you’re doing for Augusto, and I know the team really values you and so do our clients. So thanks for being part of this team. And I hope we get a chance to work together for really, a lifetime man. And we’ll keep growing this thing together.

Hey, thanks for listening to the Augusto Digital Insights podcast. Augusto is a custom software design and development company. If we can help you on your next project or you just want to say hello, contact me today by calling (616) 427-1914 or visit www.augustodigital.com. Remember, you can always find this podcast on iTunes, Spotify, Google, and YouTube.

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