We Are Now A ‘Certified Minority Owned Business Enterprise’!


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At Cogent Integrated Business Solutions Inc., we’ve always been proud about being a minority owned enterprise, and about showcasing our diversity wherever we go. After being in business for more than 10 years, we are very excited to share the news that Cogent has been certified as a Minority Owned Business Enterprise (MBE) by MMSDC, as of December 2016.

This certification definitely encourages us to expand our efforts in sharing our diversity, by establishing ourselves as partners with organizations committed to working with businesses like us, in order to benefit from our services. This certification also supports our efforts to expand employment opportunities and job security, to other minorities as well.

As an IT services provider, offering consultative and results-driven solutions in SAP technologies, as well as providing employee productivity/ engagement and smart enterprise mobility products; getting this certification is an accomplishment for Cogent. We hope to enter, expand and deliver our technological offerings to the city and state governments, and educational institutions. We are very confident that the public and not-for-profit organizations will benefit tremendously through our capabilities.

Affiliation with MMSDC is surely a great start for Cogent as this allows hundreds of corporations access us through the council. Also, in conjunction with this certification; Cogent has already initiated the process to get certified with Michigan’s HUB program, by becoming a member of the Small Business Association. These certifications will not only open doors for us to enter the public domain; but, as an established  SAP consulting and mobile product development company, we can now successfully deliver our solutions and services to a variety of clients and industries across Michigan, and continue to ensure we deliver the highest levels of service that will benefit the community as a whole.

On behalf of the Cogent team, here is a shout out to all the organizations out there open to collaborating with us, that, ‘we guarantee we will make you feel as happy, satisfied, and proud working with us; just like we feel about our products and services!’

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Zen and the Art of Smartphone Maintenance

By Ganpy

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I am not talking to Chris. There is no Chris in this story. And this is not a story based on actual occurrences. Although it is possible that I am talking to a eleven year old like Chris. Or a Twelve year old. Perhaps even to a twenty five year old. As a matter of fact, I could be talking to anyone with a smartphone. So, once again, to be clear, I am NOT talking to Chris.

That brings me to the story.

“New model of iPhone releases tomorrow”, I yell.
“I have seen lots of those. I mean, lots of such new smartphone model releases..”, you say.

“Oh”, I nod and start thinking to myself. We now have a generation of 9-10 year olds who have grown up with smartphones and know nothing different. They don’t get impressed with new models getting released every other month. I reckon one has to be old to appreciate such “events”. Or should have at least lived during the dark age, aka the pre-smartphone age to be excited about such events.

“But this one is a new iPhone release. The mother of all such events. They don’t happen every year. Ok. I’ll correct myself. They do happen once a year..Or twice a year. But still a rare occurrence given it is from Apple”, I say in a fading voice. I know I am losing my battle to engage you and by now, I have given any hope I may have had to trigger a drop of excitement about the big event scheduled to happen on Sep 7.

A grown up adult like me does things with an iPhone, in a way that is completely different from any teenager or for the story’s sake let us say,  from a eleven year old. There is no novelty factor anymore, but there is a pride of ownership. I have seen this device – this iPhone 6 that I am holding in my hand, the one I am staring at every 2 seconds, as I anxiously wait for my friends’ reaction to a wisecrack that I just spluttered out in a college WhatsApp group..yes, I have seen this device evolve from a flip phone, when such devices used to weigh a couple of pounds at the minimum. But the eleven year old doesn’t know that because the eleven year old has never held a flip phone in his/her hands and has never experienced the joy of carrying a fanny pack sort of a belt clip to hold that heavy phone as he/she walked around. That’s when it dawns on me. It’s sort of like Television for my generation.

It’s Sep 6, 2016. The day before. I don’t have any Pre-Apple event rituals that I follow. None that I recollect anyways. But I wonder if I should indulge in some. Start a tradition perhaps. But why? To what end?

We all are just communicating. What primarily used to be voice based communication that these phones used to enable, has now transformed into text based communication. Voice based communication is almost secondary now.

“Apparently it’s going to have better cameras”, I holler as the noise of a passing vehicle drowns my voice.
“What?”, you look at me puzzled.
“Well of course, You have seen that before…Nothing new I suppose”.

I invite you to join me on my side of the table. The burly man in white, who I sense by his impatient body language, has been waiting for a seat for a while. Or he has a severe case of growling stomach. Either way, he quickly pulls the chair you were sitting on, away from the table to move towards another table. I notice an iPhone 6 plus peeking out of his sweaty palm. He rests himself on the chair with some physical challenge, the act only exacerbated by his continuous indulgence on the smartphone . I don’t think he took his eye off even for a second.

Where was I?

“They say iPhone 7 may not be a huge jump from iPhone 6. But who knows? I am going to get one no matter what. They are also speculating that Apple will drop a new Apple Watch along a new MacBookPro..”
“Oh..”.

The burly man is still busy staring at his phone. The waiter has to tap on his shoulders to get his attention. I think I caught a glimpse of the yelp page of the restaurant open on his phone.

“I think he is looking at the reviews..”
“What..? What did you say?”, you, completely unaware of what is going on around.

That’s when I notice that you have been staring into your smartphone as well, all this while. And I hear you whisper something.

“What did you say?”, I ask gently.
“Oh..Nothing. Apple has been playing the catch up game for a while now..”.
“You mean, they don’t lead smartphone innovation anymore?”.
“Of course not. Which world do you live in?”.
“I guess the same as you. Ha ha..By the way, I have never used any other kind of smartphones. Been an iPhone user all my smartphone life..”.

You lift your face and look at me. May be for the first time during this entire conversation, I see you making eye contact with me. I see you smile but with a bit of an annoyance.

“I can never understand you Apple fanatics..”, you say with a bit of disdain.
“Hey, I am no fan of anything. I just like iPhone..”.

Through the corner of my eyes, I could see the man at the next table still staring at his phone as he quite skillfully cleans up a bowl of soup. Broccoli Cheddar with bacon bits. The restaurant is known for this soup. Yelp seems to have played a role in his decision making.

“So what is your favorite smartphone?”, I decide to become more open about others’ smartphone choices.
“I really don’t have any..”.
“But..but..you are very judgmental about iPhone users..”.
“That means nothing. I mean I find this whole excitement silly..”.
“Hmm, I don’t know. You are right. It’s a bit silly. But I can probably explain..”
“I am sure you can. Do you see any other smartphone releases preceded by so much press, media coverage and fan frenzy?.”.
“Exactly my point. You don’t and that’s why I was trying to get you excited..You seem to have an absolute equanimity as far as smartphones go…”.

I see you break a smile. And you once again make an eye contact with me. This time a bit deeper. A bit stronger connection. As if you have made a point.

Spotlight

[In this is new series, we are going to shine the spotlight on one Cogenter at a time – Learn a bit about what they do, their families, interesting facts about them, etc.]

Episode 1

By Sabita Reddy

Our Cogenter of choice for the first episode is Rob Hillman, Director, Enterprise IT Solutions & Delivery.

Rob Hillman

If the rest of us think that drinking champagne, and eating caviar, is living the dream; meet Rob Hillman, who thinks that he is living the dream every single day without any of the above, necessarily present.

A father to two daughters, two sons and a dog; a grandad to three, and who is eagerly expecting a forth, later this year, Rob is a young lover at heart who still feels extremely lucky and blessed to have been married to his wife, whom he hired for a challenging job on his team 20 plus years ago. Rob is a gentleman so content, yet so determined to live and inspire others by sending a message that true love and happiness never expire.

After traveling and living in many places around the globe, experiencing diverse cultures, Rob’s appetite for exploration has only gotten stronger. This certified sailboat skipper is ready to cruise the Great Lakes, the Atlantic coast of North America, the Caribbean and the Adriatic seas, soon.

As much as he loves spending time with his family or on the boat, he also loves helping big organizations in IT related services. He shares his expertise in business and information technology, with a focus in delighting clients. He manages to do all the things mentioned above, as he claims that Cogent has made it possible for him to do so. In his own words, I am a part of an organization that values people, values work-life balance and is run by honest, hard-working, and smart people. This describes Cogent and they have a history of bringing the right resources with the appropriate knowledge, skills and team chemistry to a project. Cogent and I are a great fit.”

Rob strongly believes how badly politicians and diapers need to be changed regularly. He very subtly passes on this absolutely indisputable message to anyone trying to find success in life…that life is all about continuously learning, growing, and improving.

With so much of success he has had personally and professionally, he still modestly denies having any secret power. Under this unpretentious personality of his, we think his real secret lies in his belief that nobody is old enough to know everything, and that, by putting aside the ‘I know it all’ attitude, and instead, constantly watching, learning and borrowing the lessons from others’ successes or failures, and continuously investing oneself in exploring more, anyone can live the dream.

Now, before you pause to go back, to reflect and contemplate the truth in the above message… here is something not many know about Rob — His first job was as a radio broadcaster.  On November 10, 1975, while working as a young news director at WSMM radio in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, he broke the story of a freighter that went down in a massive storm in Lake Superior taking the lives of all 29 men aboard.

The freighter was none other than the S.S. Edmund Fitzgerald.

SAPPHIRE NOW 2016

By Ganpy

Properties and KVO

By Peng Xie

The other day I came across a bug when I tried to use Key-Value Observing to observe the change of a property in some not-so-modern Objective-C class. The observer was never notified when the property’s value changed. It took me a long time to figure out what was wrong and I just want to share my findings, so you don’t have to be upset should you ever run into a similar situation.

It all started with a simple “@synthesize” statement.

Some background first. In “Adopting Modern Objective-C” document, Apple recommends using properties instead of instance variables (or iVars) in “as many places as possible”. One of the benefits listed is “Auto-synthesized getters and setters”. If you still remember all the “@synthesize” statements in stone-age of Objective-C, I believe you will just love auto-synthesizing feature in modern Objective-C as much as I do. (Almost) No more “@synthesize”! Isn’t that sweet?

Even though synthesizing is no longer required (most of the cases, and usually not even recommended), you can still use it to synthesize a property with a backing iVar (Compiler will create an iVar with the same name of the property if there isn’t one created by developer.) and custom setter and getter. However, if you don’t make your setter KVO-compliant or just simply ignore setter and change backing iVar’s value directly, KVO will obviously fail to observe the change in property’s value.

A well-designed custom setter or a setter created by auto-synthesizing calls “willChangeValueForKey:” and “didChangeValueForKey:” methods at appropriate moments to send observer notifications so that observers that implements KVO methods know when a property is changed. If new value is directly assigned to a backing iVar, the setter is never called and hence there will be no notification sent for KVO. Not only will your own KVO code not work, any framework you may have used in your project that depends on KVO will also not work.

You can find a demo project here. In the demo, if a property’s value is modified without using the accessor (setter in this case), KVO won’t be able to observe the change.

TL;DR Listen to Apple and use properties wherever possible.

Rebranding Cogent

Dear Reader,

This is a personal story. 

2005-2007.

It has been almost 9 years, since the original founders of Cogent got together through a series of web conferences, phone calls and in person meetings, to design an identity for Cogent. Prior to this exercise in 2007, the same group had gotten together in 2005, when the idea of a new entity we were going to found was beginning to take shape.
“What should we name this company as?”
“What should the name symbolize?”
“What are our core values?”
“How does the name align with our core values?”
These were some of the many questions we had to brainstorm and all startup entrepreneurs go through this.  We finally arrived at the name Cogent. We had actually created a worksheet of sorts that explained why the name Cogent and what it means to us.
The Integrated Business Solutions part was an afterthought, more to distinguish our brand from a couple of other “Cogent” brands in the marketplace then (though they had/have nothing to do with what we do). Thus, we became Cogent IBS.

Since operating a business involves having a logo, which almost becomes your identity, we quickly bought a predesigned logo, which none of the founders had any creative inputs on. Because we wanted to become operational immediately, we had to do this. In other words, we didn’t have time for our creativity to drive us. It was a small scale operation – so the logo was mostly visible only on our then minimalistic website along with letter pads. envelopes and checks, whose volume was not very high. We didn’t do a whole lot of marketing. So that logo didn’t mean much in terms of how we personalized it for ourselves.

In 2007, when we shifted gears and started to execute all the ideas, that we had originally planned for, when the vision for Cogent was built in 2005, we realized that  it was time to have a logo that truly symbolized us – What Cogent stands for.

So, our current logo, that we all so dearly love, was a result of many weeks of brainstorming and many days of creative excitement. All the founders were involved in picking the logo & it was one of the most creatively satisfying experiences all of us had together at that time. The logo we have now, symbolizes what Cogent stands for and for our core values. This was our first rebranding exercise and as part of this exercise, we launched a swanky looking, comprehensive website.

2012-2013.

Then sometime around 2012-2013, when the marketplace started changing rapidly and with the advent of social media, etc. we were trying to keep pace with our slightly outdated technology that was used for our website. The early adopters that Cogent has always been with technological tools we need for internal operation, sales & marketing, we decided to jump on the modern web design bandwagon right then. This really was our second big rebranding exercise. Our core values had not changed and hence we decided to keep our logo in tact, however our vision had changed direction a bit, what with our newly launched mobility practice. We were no longer just a Services company, but now have become a Products company as well. So, we decided to build a brand new website which aligned with our modified vision for Cogent. And I think, that rebranding helped us quite a bit to stay above the noise in the marketplace among our competitors.

2015.

A few months ago, during a family trip, when I shared with my son our plans to potentially rebrand Cogent in the near future and how this time, we may consider a new logo – a new identity so to speak, his immediate question was “Why?”. Growing up in a entrepreneurial family where the father, the founder of Cogent lives & breathes Cogent all day, it is natural that a certain sense of pride and a certain sense of ownership spills over to the children of the family. (This sense of ownership, by no means, is a sense of entitlement – Just have to emphasize that here.) My kids are no exception and they completely love everything about Cogent – by which I mean the people I get to work with at Cogent, the events we organize, the general feeling of all things Cogent and most importantly the logo. The current logo is no doubt one of the most attractive logos – for the colors and for the rainbow like appeal it has for children.

I could notice a sense of sadness in him, almost not wanting to let go of the old identity. And, I could completely understand that, for I had/have the same feelings, only that much more in proportion because I had originally been involved with the design of that logo. In the process of trying to explain him clearly why we wanted to do this, I was also able build my own case in my mind, a bit clearly. Why are we doing this?

The reasons, as I explain here are very simple.

1) With our changing focus in the last few years, we not only want to turn a new leaf in how we do our business, but also in how customers perceive us. For example, we have a new line of mobile & cloud solutions – Coobo, Tuux and now Cabaana. When it comes to professional services, even though we are very much an SAP focused company, our focus has become very niche. Personas/Fiori, SCM and HANA are the areas that we want to be known for besides our traditional strengths. To take a page out of SAP’s marketing playbook, we want to Run Simple. All of the above mean, we need to tell a new story now.

2) A new identity brings a fresh breath into our lives – i.e. All Cogenters’ lives. The energy, the positivity and the excitement you get with a new identity are different. Sort of like how you feel while driving a new car or wearing a new pair of shoes or new clothes.

3) Most importantly, our audience is changing. As much as we want to continue to provide the best services to all our existing customers and preserve those relationships sanctimoniously , we also have the need to reach out to an entirely new demographic of audience/customers, who have not heard about or of our “brand”. We need to appeal to them in a fresh way without the burden of our old identity, so they could connect better.

I think that’s it. Those really are the three reasons, in my mind, why we need to rebrand.

Srini, Yash and I have been having this discussion for about a couple of months now & the struggle to accept change is universal, I guess. We have worked very hard to build a case for this rebranding exercise and we are more than convinced that this is something that we have to do. And we have to do this in 2016. We all have a sentimental attachment to the current logo. No doubt about that. And there is really nothing that we don’t like in it. But, perhaps it is time to move on. Just because.

2016.

Now, the good news. After several weeks of creative brainstorming, we have finally picked our new logo.

  • The new logo will be simple and easy to remember.
  • Unlike the current logo, the new logo will have very little going on in it – In other words, a very simple logo.
  • We expect the viewer to immediately grasp the identity & register it in his/her mind, as opposed to the current logo, which has so many things going on in it. The colors, the arcs, the tagline, etc. – which may make it a little hard for viewers to register all the moving elements together at the same time in their minds.
  • In the age of quick information and in the age of information overload we live in, anything you can do to capture the audience quickly, is the need of the hour. We are sure our new logo will do that.

We will be launching a new website too as part of this rebranding exercise.

Srini, Yash and I are very excited about this rebranding exercise. We certainly believe that this will turn a new leaf in Cogent’s history.

After all, the middle C in our 3C principle is Creativity. What’s creativity without constantly reinventing ourselves? 

Get ready for a brand new Cogent! Together, we will enjoy the new ride.

-Ganpy.

 

WWDC14 – From a Developer’s Perspective

By Peng Xie

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This year’s WWDC should be considered as the biggest event for an iOS developer since the release of iPhone OS 2 in 2008. During the conference, Apple introduced a huge number of new development kits as well as many improvements to the existing SDK along with the new iOS8. In addition, Apple also surprised the whole developer community with the introduction of Swift language. As a developer myself, I’ll discuss several things that I’m excited about in this blog post.

iOS8: More power, More possibilities

Back in 2008, Apple introduced the App Store and opened the door to thousands of developers to make all kinds of wonderful apps for the platform. As years go by, the Cupertino based company has gradually enhanced the APIs in iOS SDK to make iOS apps more capable and useful. This year, with the introduction of iOS8 SDK, developers can now do more than they ever could have done. First, let’s start with some fun. Last year, Apple introduced SpriteKit for 2D game development and it has instantly become one of the greatest competitors to the popular 2D iOS gaming framework Cocos2D. This year, in addition to the improvements of SpriteKit, Apple also brought two new 3D gaming frameworks, SceneKit and Metal. Like SpriteKit, SceneKit offers easy ways to create 3D animated scenes in apps. And it even incorporates a physics engine and a particle generator for more complex 3D effects. For more professional 3D game developers, Metal offers the abilities to directly harvest the power from A7 processor’s GPU without going through a layer of Open GL ES. All these new APIs will enable developers to create even better user experiences and awesome graphical effects in different kinds of apps. The gaming related frameworks are just a small part of iOS8 SDK’s improvements. In iOS8, apps can now have more capabilities. Apart from being an iOS developer, I’m also a photographer. Therefore I have to talk about PhotoKit, manual camera controls and extensions introduced in iOS8. As you may have seen in the keynote event of WWDC, developers can now make apps that are able to access iCloud Photo assets directly in Camera roll and share the photos across different apps and platforms. Manual camera controls such as focus, white balance and exposure settings are now provided by AVFoundation framework for apps to use. All of these new features can add up to a pretty good camera app with the already-wonderful camera hardwares in iPhones. Now you may ask what are the extensions and why they are important to a camera app. Extensions are custom functionalities provided by apps that can be accessed within the context of some other user task. And well, they are not only important for camera apps, but also for all kinds of other apps. In our example of a camera app, the app can have a photo editing extension and the user can use that extension to edit any picture in any app. The extension can also incorporate with Notification Center to provide extensive photography related functions. One of the most request feature in iOS now can also be realized by extension. That is custom keyboards. With the ability of extensions, developers can now make keyboards for users to carry out all kinds of specific actions. I wouldn’t be surprised if someone makes a keyboard just for entering camera shutter speeds and exposure stops or, a keyboard dedicated for mathematical equations. Next thing I want to talk about is the CloudKit. iCloud has been there for quite some time. It seems like that this year Apple has finally take the iCloud from a “hobby”to something serious. With CloudKit, iCloud now can act like a web server for app’s data. And features such as authentication, private and public databases are also provided by CloudKit so the developers can focus on the client-side development and let iCloud handle the server-side logic. What’s even better? With some pretty high allowance on usage, all of these wonderful features come for free with Apples developer program. iOS8 is truly a milestone for iOS. With APIs mentioned above and new features like HealthKit, HomeKit and Handoff, the possibilities for what an app can do now is really endless.

Xcode and Swift: Good has just become better

Like many iOS developers, Xcode is one of my most often used applications on my Mac. I don’t always like Xcode. But I have to say, as the go-to iOS development tool, Apple is making Xcode a better tool each time a new version is released. Xcode 6 is no exception. Before we dive into Xcode, let’s talk about the Swift language first. I think Swift is the biggest surprise from Apple since the introduction of Macbook Air. There was absolutely no prediction that Apple was going to introduce a brand new language in this year’s WWDC keynote. Swift has really shocked the iOS developer community (in a good way, mostly) and you can tell that by looking at the expressions on the faces of developers attended the keynote. Given several advantages over Objective-C and ease to learn, Swift has become an instant hit among iOS developers and even potential developers who are trying to find a new language to learn. As the software quality company TIOBE pointed out, by the time they post the programming language popularity rank for July, Swift will probably be in the top 20. Swift is designed to be modern, safe and powerful. The modern character of Swift comes from the new features such as closures, tuples and generics. The syntax is easier to read and maintain than Objective-C and features like generics in Swift will also enables developers to do things they could never be able to do with Objective-C. Safety in Swift is ensured by eliminating classes of unsafe code and always initializing variables before use. Swift is also designed with the idea of being a powerful language in mind. It uses the high-performance LLVM compiler just like Objective-C and will be transformed into optimized native code to get the most out of Macs and iOS devices. With all that being said, Apple didn’t just released Swift as a single new language. All of Cocoa and Cocoa Touch as well as other libraries in iOS and OSX SDKs are updated to support Swift. And of course so it is with the latest Xcode 6.

Xcode 6 comes with many new features and some interface revamping. One of them is the Playground. Playground offers great ways to learn Swift, try new codes and develop custom views. The code is executed automatically and result appears immediately. Developers can see visualized results, imported resources, and created views in assistant editor. Several other features such as timeline slider are also available in the Playground to offer more functionalities.

Playgrounds are more just for trying out new stuff. When it comes for developing the interface, Apple now offers live rendering in the Interface Builder. Developers don’t have to build and run then switch between Xcode and simulators (or devices) to see the result of a custom view. In Xcode 6, the changes are automatically applied into your custom views in the Interface Builder. And for debugging the views, Apple has introduced the View Debugging feature which will turn the UI into a 3D rendering of each layer in the stack of views. Developing and debugging custom views has never been easier before. Speaking of Interface Builder, in addition to the newly introduced OSX Storyboard, Interface Builder now works with Size Classes. Instead of specifying Storyboards for different screen sizes and devices, developers now can use one Storyboard with Size Classes and Auto Layout for all screen sizes. And there is also the Preview mode to quickly check the interface without having to run the app. Last but definitely not the least, I want to talk a little bit about debugging. LLDB debugger became the foundation for debugging in Xcode 5. In Xcode 6, it has just become better with Swift REPL. Swift REPL, or Read-Eval-Print-Loop is an interactive version of Swift lives in the debugging console in Xcode or Terminal. Developers can use LLDB just as before but now it will also give debug information for Swift codes. It is also possible to validate existing code or even trying new codes right in LLDB with Swift REPL.

Epilogue

iOS8 and Xcode 6 has really opened more possibilities for both developers and Apple itself. iOS8 has laid the foundations for Apple to make more interesting new products such as iWatch and potentially some automated home control devices. Xcode’s new Storyboard with Size Classes also make it easier to develop apps for existing iPhones, iPads or even for the future iOS devices with larger screens. I believe when Apple releases their next generation devices and lifts the NDA on iOS8, the excellent iOS developer community will surprise the users with some pretty interesting apps we have never seen before. 2014 is going to be a good year for all iOS and OSX developers.