A Faster Website – It’s not a need. It’s a must!

 

By Danny Kulas

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More people than ever before are getting online and weaving the world wide web into their daily lives.  From delivering the news to selling that thing on Amazon that your customer will surely only use once, having a reliable website is critical when trying to convert users to loyal customers.  A reliable website is one that provides a great user experience and a fast exchange of information when someone is interacting with your website.  If you click a link, you expect to be taken to that new page in little-to-no-time flat.  In this article I will detail areas of improvement that will bring your website ‘up to speed’ and help you convert those window-shoppers to loyal customers.

Why Does It Matter?

Three seconds.  That is all the time it takes for someone to lose interest in your site and go elsewhere to find what they’re looking for.  You have three seconds to show the user what they want to see, otherwise, you can forget about converting them to a loyal customer.  “A faster website means a better visitor experience.  A slow website will lead to a poor user experience.  Your bounce rate will grow.  Page views will drop.  Most important, you will lost money (Demian Farnworth).”  “If an e-commerce site is making $100,000 per day, a 1 second page delay could potentially cost you $2.5 million in lost sales every year (Sean Work).”  That should resonate with anyone who runs an on-line business.  No one talks about a great experience they had on some website, but they will tell their friends and family about a poor experience they had so that they know to avoid it in the future.  This will only compound the trouble because now, even though Mrs. Smith was the one who had the poor experience, she will tell anyone who will listen and now you have a whole bunch of Mrs. Smiths who never came to your website in the first-place nor will they moving forward.  You’ve lost a customer before they even had a chance to check out your site.  Another reason why you should care about the speed of your website “is that Google now uses site speed data to help determine where to list your website in its search engine results (Fred Meyer).”  For companies who have small advertising budgets, the search results page of Google might very well be your best bet for getting your business and services noticed.  I can speak from experience, in that I rarely venture to the 2nd or 3rd page of Google search results.  So, if you want to get noticed, make sure you’re showing up on the first page of results (if possible).

What Can Be Done?

There are several technologies and techniques to consider when looking to improve the speed of your website.  A simple Google search of ‘Make my website faster’ will yield several dozen results.  Some questions you might want to consider are: Do you use a lot of images?  Are you loading several script files?  Is there dynamic content?  Are you compressing your assets?  Answering these questions (and others not mentioned above) will help assist you on what to do regarding the improvement of your website performance.  Being able to identify areas of improvement is a skill that takes a trained eye, so if you’re not sure what you’re looking for, grab someone from your development team, sit down with them and do a website audit to get a better sense of what you’ll be dealing with.

Fake It (Above the Fold)

A website loads from top-to-bottom, so, by placing the specific CSS rules that govern the look-and-feel of the top-half of your website in the head of your HTML document, it will seem as though the website is loading fast and without pause.  The content we’re targeting is often referred to as ‘Above the Fold’ content and it’s what shows up first when a website begins to display it’s page.  What this does is give the user something to look at while the rest of the site is busy loading.  It’s not the most elegant solution and may even feel a bit ‘hacky’  but when used properly it can be of tremendous help.  Perception isn’t always linked with reality and sometimes, especially in this case, that gives you an advantage when trying to deliver an optimal website experience to your users.

Minimize HTTP Requests

You’ve built a website.  It’s very likely you’ve accomplished that by employing the use of several static resources, such as images, CSS files, etc.  Whenever someone visits your website, these files need to be loaded into the browser so that the user can view what they came to see.  The more files your site requires in order to load, the longer time it will take to do so.  This is the scenario we want to avoid and it’s pretty easy to do so.  After you’ve built your website, you might realize that you have three different CSS files, for example.  Each file counts as an HTTP request, which adds time to the page-load speed.  By combining those three files into one, you will increase the speed at which your website loads.  This is called concatenation and can be one of your best friends for increasing site performance.

Pictures and Pixels

If your website requires images, make sure you’re using the best image for the job.  What that means is don’t use a high-resolution, 1200 x 1200 pixel image for a site icon which would be better served using a scaled-down version.  “On top of the extra download time, precious processing power and memory are used to resize high-resolution images (Johan Johansson).”  Whatever you do, make sure to avoid “use of scaling, especially from larger to smaller images.  The image result might look fine on screen but the file size will be the same.  To truly take advantage of the smaller dimensions, use an image editing program and scale the image accordingly (Nathan Segal).”

Cache! Cache! Cache!

“Browser-caching stores cached versions of static resources (such as images or CSS files, for example), a process that quickens page speed tremendously and reduces server lag.  When a user visits a page on your website, the cached version will usually be served unless it has changed since it was last cached; this saves a lot of [HTTP] requests to your server and as a result makes it [your website] faster (Morgan Davis).”  Caching is a great technique for improving your page-load speed, but keep in mind that “the thing with caching, though, is that in most cases it only works for repeat visitors.  First-time site visitors won’t have the site cached yet, since the page needs to load files at least once before it stores them (Laurence Bradford).”  There are two types of caching to be aware of and those are Broswer Caching and Server Caching.  “Browser caching allows your browser to store static files for a while, so it doesn’t need to retrieve them every time you visit the site (Daniel Pataki).”  In terms of server caching, “instead of processing every request, the server takes the results of the these requests and stores them.  It then serves these saved results instead – making everything much faster (Daniel Pataki).”  Learn the art of caching and let your website benefit from that knowledge!

Consider Using a CDN

CDN stands for Content Delivery Network.  “A CDN takes a website’s static files – such as CSS, images and JavaScript – and delivers them on servers that are close to the user’s physical location.  Because servers are closer to the user, they load more quickly.  Larger websites implement CDNs to make sure their visitors from around the world have as fast an experience as possible (Morgan Davis).”  While using a CDN is a great option, it’s also an expensive one.  Make sure your company needs a CDN before handing over the cash to implement one.

Conclusion

Website speed matters, tremendously, to your customers and your bottom line.  Don’t be foolish by ignoring it, otherwise you may be left scratching your head wondering why your monthly revenue keeps falling.  Take the time to audit your website, identify areas of improvement and employ the use of any of the options I detailed above.  Your customers will thank you.

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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 series, we shine the spotlight on one Cogenter at a time – Learn a bit about what they do, their families, interesting facts about them, etc.]

Episode 2

By Sabita Reddy

Our Cogenter of choice for the second episode is Nagendra Peddireddy, Senior Consultant.

Nagendra Peddireddy

Nagendra grew up in a small town called Proddatur, Kadapa, in the state of Andhra Pradesh, in India. He still cherishes those days when bicycling and swimming were a favorite past time. What is really memorable to him are the days when learning to ride the bicycle was not only fun but a really proud accomplishment; and when learning to swim came instantly – especially when being dropped inside a huge natural well without a life jacket!! – (which then, by the way, was considered to be a very normal activity.) Like many of us, he treasures these memories much more because he got to learn them from his real hero – his dad. Today, many years later, residing in Ohio with two beautiful children and a wife; Nagendra Pedireddy still believes in the real pleasures from the simpler things that life offers.

As an IT person by profession, his main gig in the arena is to provide his expertise to organizations during the various phases of SAP BI implementation life cycle; from the initial planning through post-production. So far, he has gained 12 years of invaluable experience working for many industries all across the US and India. When not busy with SAP deliverables, he is occupied in various volunteering activities within his community. He believes in going an extra mile to do anything, that is, for a good cause.

Unlike the many divided people who can’t agree whether to be called ‘the cooks’ or just ‘home cooks’… this techie, who is a true food and cooking enthusiast at heart, and who can’t care any less to debate on what he should be called, is also an aspiring chef who considers food and the art of cooking very sacred. He wishes to master simple things such as being able to cook a variety of fun dishes for his kids, that he believes, will bring him the utmost joy as a parent.

What’s more interesting to know about Nagendra, is that, apart from his optimistic personality, and a never say can’t do attitude; he falls under the very few who have the will-power to get over an addiction…A smoker, who used to have cigarette packets on his desk all the time, he now has dried Amla (an Indian gooseberry plant) on his table instead.

This strong will-powered gentleman, who has proved to himself and set an example to others that he can make a healthy life-style change, and stick by it… we think, will no doubt fulfill his future dream! This chef at heart wants to be able to own his own restaurant where he can literally put to practice the mantra he lives by – ‘eat and let others eat’; and also be able to live by his philosophy of ‘Annadaatha Sukibhava’ – meaning, may the provider be happy.

 

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.

The Office (Cogent version)

By Sabita ReddyOffice Posters

Meet ‘The Office’ i.e. ‘The Cogent Office’!

Before I get started on what it is like to be a part of the Cogent office, let me assure you that we are nothing like the employees of the Scranton Paper Supply Company, nor do we have any certified psychopath office manager, or any Satanists futzing around. We sure admit to some craziness at times, but nothing so out of control that we could maybe sell it for a sitcom to the silver screen!

Firstly, the following couple of facts about the office might make one smile more, especially if you’re a new employee here: the close proximity of the office to many best restaurants in town; and the fact that, it’s just not the people that are super-friendly and warm, but even the walls holler positivity at you, literally. Wondering how? Well, it’s hard to ignore the force infiltrate you, especially when it’s coming from a king-size poster of the Jedi master himself… right?! Yes, we are Star Wars fans too!!

Anyway, with less than a year stint, here are some things I have gathered about the people at Cogent.

Starting at the top, the three main pillars of Cogent – Ganpy, Srini and Yash, hands down, have built a work culture that is indeed very hard to find.

Srini, is truly ‘one of a kind’… who has gotten me convinced that one hour of yoga/ meditation a day can make a person move mountains!! He is just not known for his extremely humble, jovial and appreciative personality; but his around the clock work for Cogent as well as other charitable organizations outside of Cogent, makes many like me think that a new mom’s exhaustion might not be that bad after-all!

Ganpy – the ‘strict vegan’ who does not discriminate when it comes to alcohol, is truly the ‘jack of-all-trades, and a master of all’. This passionate blogger, amidst piloting his team, also finds time for gardening or honoring a reunion commitment made with old friends; leaving the rest of us wondering how he makes it – ‘running a business’, look so easy?! Maybe this Star Wars fanatic does have a secret R2-D2 inside that room of his, working alongside to make everything look so perfect and flawless!!

…and, Yash, ‘the mystery man’ – (you will know why as you read further), is a person of very few words, and whose actions, no doubt, speak louder. In short, he is Cogent’s ‘chief architect for a balanced budget’.

Well…apart from their extraordinary personalities, these three have consistently proved that a CEO does not necessarily have to pretend or act like a boss that people eventually hate. Infact, they have created a workplace where there is genuine compassion and empathy. They make sure that everybody is not only heard, but recognized and appreciated, always. The motivation and leadership, they use, topples the traditional leadership theory which focuses more on results than on the people who deliver those results. I cannot agree more with them on the fact that employees are most productive when they are happy and engaged.

The third pillar, our HR department comprised of Usha and Kamala, is led by Yash. They are the smallest team in size, but the most powerful! I say this not because they are the ones managing all the dosh; but because they are the most approachable, accessible, and above all, very responsible. It really takes a lot of patience answering to the queries of a hundred employees every day; yet, none have lost their cool… (Now maybe, a certified psychopath or Satanist would bring some drama to such a calm and boring environment, isn’t it? Haha!)

Then we have our business development/sales team – led by Mayur, the IIM-Ahmedabad alumnus – who, when not providing the best SAP solutions to our clients, is a real ‘hoot’ (as described by his team member Susan), and the ‘creative genius’ who sticks tiny paper made boats on wall frames that portray water. Our other half – the mobility team, whom I like to call the ‘geek squad of Cogent’; comprised of Dan, XP, Sean, Phil and Xin, regularly offer some of the best technical information and tips on our blog, that is hard to miss. These two teams constantly fuel the Cogent engine; and whether they are the largest in number or the loudest… just working alongside them is a great learning experience by itself.

On a side note – we also have some staff members who work remotely; and if you’re like me, (funny but true story), you too might take a few months to realize that you will NOT find Yash in the HR room, no matter how many times you think you missed seeing/ meeting him that day; because, he works from his Atlanta office!!(…and now you know why I call him the ‘mystery man’). Seriously, Cogent’s virtual staff’s, (like Yash, Rob, Steve and Hema), availability and response, seem to make you feel like they are always physically present at the office.

Well, to conclude…it is said that the drudgery of the modern office can either make you laugh or cry.  Frankly, Cogent, a boutique consulting firm, eliminates the cubicles, the endless meetings, and the bureaucracy that you find at the big4s. Although I’m short of just a couple of months to celebrating my first anniversary with Cogent, I think I’ve stayed long enough to vouch that this company and its people really live up to the name – Clarity, Creativity and Connectivity.

We may be a small company and we may be different, … but you’re sure to find ‘the few, the proud, the talented, and the passionate’ right here.

SAPPHIRE NOW 2016

By Ganpy

Busy? Maybe. Boring? Never. This is how we roll at COGENT!!

By Sabita Reddy

Consultants

Whether it is to waking up to a melodious alarm go off on your nightstand or to the polite greetings of the front desk staff of the hotel you are at..

May be the day just kickstarts with a meeting at the client’s or maybe you are just waiting to get off that red eye…

Not a day in the life of our SAP consultants goes by without having to juggle between different time zones, prioritize tasks for the day from their to-do lists, get frenzied about rewriting that report while making sure the kids get dropped off to their schools on time, make every effort to understand a possibly dysfunctional environment while seated at the new client’s office meeting, or review a report for the fourth time as the deliverables of the project are due in a few hours.

Such busy schedules and short timescales may seem to create the notion that this work is meant for those very few – who like to live the nomadic life. However, there are the others who have consciously chosen this arena and who also fall under the ‘consultant’ category, just because they have the opportunity to work in their pajamas sitting on that favorite recliner, or as they tuck their kid for a nap.

Being a consultant can be hard, but the flexible timing and working hours in this line of business means that the consultants are responsible for the time at work and also for the time they enjoy. If working hard, being busy, and wanting to have a ton of variety in your professional life, is a pursuit…then this job is certainly for you.

At Cogent, our SAP experts admit to enjoying every single day at their job. As they work on game-changing projects for various leading companies, they say they gain an in-depth knowledge of a different industry with every new project, and are challenged to do things differently every single time, to meet each client’s expectations. They love being dragged and made to jump out of their current routine tasks and lay hands on other on-going projects with their team-mates. Most exciting of all is that they feel lucky to socialize with people from different countries, cultures and disciplines. In the midst of all this chaos, they actually find time for some pleasure too. They enjoy the breathtaking views of the Mt. Rainier in the Northwest, and the blue skies and white sandy shores in Miami. They waste no time pretending to be Irish at the St. Paddy’s day parade in Chicago, or to just sit back and relish the flavors of the southern-style deep-pit barbecue while in Texas. At the end of their projects, our consultants are just eagerly looking forward to their next adventure that Cogent has for them.

Our troopers add that their ‘not-so-glamorous-work’ (realistically speaking), has turned out to be a fun and a challenging one instead. Being able to lean onto some great mentors at any given time of the day (who are ready to answer their call regardless of which time zone they are in), and being able to get the best staff support and incentive system at Cogent, they claim to take away a very unique experience that has continuously enriched and enhanced their professional and personal pursuits like no other company.

In simple yet true sense, Cogenters are busy exploring the best of all worlds, and Cogent promises to keep it that way for them!

We are just not a staffing company, but a family filled with knowledge, fun, security and stability.

Come, Grow with us!