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Akili PHD: The Athlete

 

By Ben Wilmoth | Senior Business Planning Consultant

In 4th grade, I started playing football and learned early on what it’s like to be a part of a team.

As a kid, I liked to joke around a lot, so my parents were looking to get me into whatever activity that would keep me from getting into trouble. My mom tells me stories of when I would stack pillows in the living room and pretend the stack was a running back. And in an attempt to stop the stuffed running back from scoring imaginary touchdowns, I would continuously tackle it as if I were starting for the Dallas Cowboys. I’ve always wanted to play and it just came natural.

Add a couple of years and more than a couple of pounds, and I found my fit as an offensive lineman. And as I grew, so did my desire to compete. To be a successful competitor, it meant I had to learn how to be disciplined, fundamentally sound and coachable. Through the variety of ups and downs playing football competitively provides, I had acquired all of these skills and more. Most importantly, I learned how to be a contributing member of a successful and productive team, which would help establish a foundation that would support me in my future career.

Today, I’m on a whole new team with and although I’ve switched from reading defenses to reading user requirements, the passion is still there. As a matter of fact, many of the skills I used in football are apparent in my role as a Senior Business Planning Consultant at Akili.

Just like an offensive lineman, you have to be accountable for your role, but also be cognizant of the roles of your teammates. You have to be decent at making changes on the fly (both literally and metaphorically).

You have to be quick to adapt.

The core of how we implement projects at Akili is based around being agile. It’s about keeping everything in control and taking frequent status checks. It’s also about being transparent and understanding that if what you are presenting to the client does not meet the mark, you need to pivot immediately.

In football, the offensive line doesn’t get all of the glory. As an old offensive line coach once told me, “Your job is to finish your block and get out of the way.” Being an offensive linemen is not a glorified role. In fact, the general premise is that if you are being noticed, you are making mistakes. Similar to Akili, our main goal is to make our sponsors and clients look good. This means that in the end, we’re not always the one who receives the credit.

For us, that’s OK because our greatest sources of pride come from successful implementations and continued business. We perform until the expectations of our clients have been exceeded and at Akili, that’s what truly matters.

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Employee Spotlight: Meet James Cannon

 

From planning business solutions to bike routes, Solution Leader James Cannon puts the pedal to the metal when it comes to personal growth. This week, we learned more about his experience at Akili and even took away some solid advice.

What’s your role at Akili and the most satisfying aspect about it?

Officially, my role at Akili is a Solution Lead within the Anaplan platform. Unofficially, I wear a number of hats. No day is ever the same, which is one really satisfying aspect of my role. I’m able to help drive change within our clients’ organization, as well as help drive change here at Akili.

How did you become interested in your line of work?

I’ve always had an interest in technology and building things, so it’s almost a perfect fit for someone like me. When you add in the fact that I also get bored easily, this industry is fitting because it requires the ability for rapid change. I’m usually rolling on to a new project every 4-6 months.

What about Akili made you decide to join?

The people! When I interviewed, the individuals I met were the real reason I chose to work here. At the end of the day, I’d rather work with people I really enjoy and call friends than make a few more dollars somewhere else and be miserable.

What’s a memory that stood out to you at Akili?

There are honestly too many to list over the past 4 years, but most of them either involve having a great conversation over a drink with a fellow Akilian, or some office shenanigans.

In your opinion, what makes Akili different? 

A lot of the same reasons that made me want to join Akili (the people, the culture, the leadership, the team spirit, etc.) are what I think allows Akili to separate itself from others in our industry and make it a really special place to work.

What do you enjoy doing outside of work?

Anything outdoors, really. I am an on-again, off-again avid mountain biker. In the summer, my weekends are often spent playing golf or going to the lake. In the winter, I’m usually trying to make my way to a mountain to go snowboarding.

What keeps you motivated?

Helping people is a really big motivator for me. I’m a firm believer in continuing your own personal education, so I really like to learn new things. Sharing my knowledge with other people to help either benefit them, or their organization, is my main motivator.

Tell us about some of the greatest advice you’ve ever received.

I wouldn’t categorize it as the greatest advice given to me, but there are two maxims I circle back on when working with our clients. The first one is, “Work smarter, not harder” and the second is, “You can only manage what you measure”.

The first one is something I believe we help our clients achieve with our services. At the end of an engagement, I like to think we have helped our clients facilitate the change needed for their group or organization to work smarter everyday by doing less work through the tools we helped implement.

The second, is an idea that I truly align with. You are not able to fully understand the impact of a problem unless you measure and track it. This idea has limitless applications and is a great way to improve either a personal process or an organizational process.

Anything else you’d like everyone to know?

Don’t be afraid to gamble on making a jump to something new. I knew nothing other than a Google search of who Akili was or what they actually did. Making that leap of faith into this field and this company has been eternally rewarding for me, both from a personal and professional standpoint. It has allowed me to continue to grow and develop as a person and along the way, it has allowed me to meet and connect with some amazing people.

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Akili Ranks Among Best Companies to Work for in Texas for 2018

 

Akili is proud to announce that we were recently ranked 18th among the 2018 Best Companies to Work for in Texas, making our fourth appearance on this list. Our firm was recognized yet again for our unique culture, positive work environment and rewarding client work.

Made up of 100 companies, the 2018 Best Companies to Work for in Texas was designed to identify, recognize, and honor the best places of employment in Texas, benefiting the state’s economy, workforce and business.

“We are humbled to be recognized as one of the best companies to work for in Texas, yet again,” Akili CEO Shiek Shah said. “As a professional services organization, our employees are our key assets. Our management team strives to create an environment where our employees are happy, challenged and produce meaningful outcomes for our clients. This honor attests to our on-going efforts to recruit and retain the best of the best.”

To be eligible for this recognition, companies have to meet the following criteria: Be a for-profit or not-for-profit business or government entity, a publicly or privately held business, have a facility in the state of Texas, have a minimum of 15 full or part-time employees working in the state of Texas, and must be in business a minimum of one year. Best Companies Group conducts a two-part company assessment to gather detailed data for each participating company. Part one includes an employer questionnaire and part two is a survey for the employees to complete.

Akili fosters a strong culture of investing in our employees and developing an environment that values our employees as individuals, provides the support of a team and enables employees to pursue their career goals without restraint. Our vision is to create a work environment that gives our people the opportunity, encouragement, and recognition they need to truly excel at what they do.

Anyone that spends time in the company of the Akili team realizes that the core values on which the organization was founded on are present in day-to-day business. These values guide all of the key decision making processes and are present within every layer of the organization.

About Akili

Akili (pronounced (uh • kē’ • lē) meaning “knowledge” in Swahili) is a niche information technology consulting firm founded in 1992. Akili is headquartered in the Dallas suburb of Irving, TX, with locations in Houston, TX and Denver, CO. We have over 20 years of precision implementation design and trusted delivery services to small regional companies, mid size national companies, and multi-national Fortune 5 companies.

Akili is focused on Industry solutions for Oil and Gas, Telecommunications, Finance, Chemicals, Hi-Tech, REIT and Retail. Functional solution areas include Enterprise Performance Management (EPM), Business Analytics (BI, EIM, DW), ERP (Including PRA, JVA, Asset Management), HANA, and Cloud Services (Finance, Operations, Sales).

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My First 90 Days at Akili: Josh Huilar

 

By Josh Huilar | Anaplan Consultant

When I first think of Akili, two words come to mind: Culture and fun. In fact, at Akili, they are one and the same. Many companies tout the mantra of “Work Hard, Play Hard”, but is it really work if you truly enjoy your job and the people you work with?

That’s been my experience at Akili so far.

Coming to Akili was a big decision for me. I am originally from Wisconsin and my career up to this point had been working for much larger organizations based in my home state. I’ve always envisioned working for a smaller firm much later in my career, but I am glad I made the move. Despite its size, Akili offers many of the same benefits and amenities that much larger organizations provide. For those of you considering relocating to the Dallas area it has much to offer, from professional sporting events, live concerts, excellent restaurants, great weather, eclectic neighborhoods, and reasonably affordable housing and cost of living when compared to other major U.S. metropolitan cities.

Here are some highlights from my first 90 days:

Wine & Whiskey Wednesdays: On Wednesdays, everyone in the office takes a break from the hustle and bustle of the work week by pouring a glass or two of their favorite libation after 4:30 P.M.

Chicken Wing Eating Contest: Need I say more?

Office Hoverboards: In previous offices, this would have been an immediate safety violation and not allowed. At first, the hoverboards made me squeamish, but now I find myself cracking a smile anytime I see heads floating above the cubicle walls.

Flexible Work Arrangements: I was able to work remotely in Vegas and Atlanta when I had vacations planned before I came here.

No Office Politics: Our leadership team genuinely wants you to succeed. At Akili it’s pretty simple. Do what is best for your clients and coworkers, and you will succeed.

Overall, I have no regrets joining the Akili family. I follow many of my coworkers on social media and spend time with them on the weekends. Now that I am settled in, my primary focus continues to be managing my current client’s ongoing conversion to Anaplan. Recently, my client identified additional Anaplan projects they would like to undertake, and requested an extension of my work assignment. The best compliment you can receive from a client is an extended work assignment. It demonstrates the client’s trust and confidence in you as a consultant, the firm you represent, and in Akili’s case, Anaplan as their tool of choice to meet their integrated business planning needs.

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Akili PHD: The Volunteer

 

By Christina Neubauer | Business Development Manager

When I was 21, I bought my first rabbit; a baby lop-eared girl named Ava. At the time, I thought I knew enough about rabbits to properly care for her. It took about a week for me to realize my error.

In that week, my ruffian little rabbit had proven to be a handful. So, I dove headfirst into research and quickly learned that my first mistake wasn’t my lack of knowledge on pellets versus rabbit-approved veggies. It was that I had bought Ava from a pet store instead of adopting.

According to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), about 6.5 million companion animals are brought to shelters in the United States every year. And of those 6.5 million, 1.5 million are euthanized. It’s a staggering number to be faced with, especially when many pet stores in my own area are never in short supply of kittens, puppies, and of course, baby bunnies. I learned very quickly that rabbits are overpopulated and under-cared for by owners.

And I was one of them.

Over time I learned more and more about rabbit care and eventually found myself at Chicago’s Red Door Animal Shelter. Started in 2000, the Red Door Animal Shelter rescues, rehabilitates, and re-homes the top three pets in the US; dogs, cats, and rabbits. All while being a no-kill, non-profit, 100% donation-run organization.

I became a volunteer, then an adoption coordinator and educator, and recently a board member. Working with the shelter has shown me many good times, like finding a sweet but abandoned cat a new home with loving people. But it has also shown me many upsetting times, like the day a cardboard box of emaciated kittens was dumped on our doorstep. Nevertheless, I became determined to do everything I could to educate people and place our animals into caring homes. I became more thorough and hell-bent to put all of my effort into each individual situation.

That same determination has carried over into my work at Akili. The passion I have for animals somehow transferred seamlessly into a passion for above-standard service. As a business management and technology consulting firm, our job is to improve the business performance of our clients by presenting well-researched solutions to fit their needs, all while providing the best support from the best people for the best mix of technology and consulting.

It’s clear that I’m not alone. Every member of the Akili team is determined to bring the very best results to each of our clients and to each unique situation or need. From Business Planning to Support Services, we’re passionate and determined to make the business lives of our clients easier.

Whether it’s finding loving homes for animals at the shelter or solutions for clients at work, my passion for service always shines through.

Christina with Avalanche, the 15-lb Flemish Giant Rabbit
Christina with Lex, the Human-Climbing Cat
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Employee Spotlight: Meet Keith Fenske

 

Big or small, whatever the technology issue may be, Keith is here to solve it. When you don’t see behind the scenes, it can be easy to take working technology for granted – until something goes wrong! This week, we had the chance to learn a lot more about Keith and his role, as well as share appreciation for all that he does to maintain a smooth operation.

What’s your role at Akili and the most satisfying aspect about it?

I am an IT Consultant. I provide technical solutions and infrastructure to the point of it going unnoticed. Success is measured by little or no technical disruption for both end users and company services and operations.

How did you become interested in your line of work?

I was fascinated by the rapid technology development pre-dot com and seeing how the personal computer was going to transform everyone’s work and home life. I felt that this movement was the future, so I decided to make it my career.

What about Akili made you decide to join?

I was referred by a former coworker at a large corporation who had recently joined Akili. At first, I was hesitant leaving a large company for such a small entity, but once I met the owners and they shared the core values, the company direction, and their openness that I could walk into their office at any time to meet with them, I was sold.

What’s a memory that stood out to you at Akili?

A few core values come into play: Teamwork, Intensity, and Fun. In the earlier years of Akili, we were going through an acquisition of a Houston company and needed to move the acquired company’s IT infrastructure and desktop computers into the Akili Houston office over a weekend. The complete IT team traveled to Houston, rented a large truck, and worked long hours every day to get the move completed. At the end of each day, we made sure to decompress and enjoy some refreshments, play pool and share our best jokes.

In your opinion, what makes Akili different?

So many things. The culture: where work is just as important as having fun. The people: where everyone knows everyone and enjoys each other whether it’s on client projects or at company events. The teamwork: where collaboration leads to results.

What do you enjoy doing outside of work?

I enjoy going on bucket list vacations (Australia, New Zealand, Italy) with my wife, getting together with family and friends, and playing the frustrating and rewarding game of golf.

What keeps you motivated?

Many people feel intimidated by technology and embarrassed to ask for help. I’m driven to comfort people of this anxiety and provide technical assistance no matter how simple or complex their issue may be.

Tell us about some of the greatest advice you’ve ever received.

Live for today because yesterday is gone and tomorrow is not guaranteed. Life moves very fast, so make the best of it in the moment or you may regret it.

Anything else you’d like everyone to know?

I jumped out of a plane not only once, but twice (3,000 ft and 10,000 ft). Having this experience, I was able to convince my wife to para-glide off of a mountain in New Zealand.

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Akili Core Values Series: Integrity

 

By Julie Ziemer | Project Manager

Integrity: No games and no hidden agendas. Honesty defines our relationships with our people, clients, and partners.

At Akili, we do what is right for our clients and our employees, even if it means we lose revenue or have to say goodbye to a teammate. As a result, we have gained and maintained valuable, high quality, and meaningful relationships, which translates to more lucrative clients and employees in the end.

Integrity is one of my top personal values. I have been with Akili for close to ten years of my career, and have witnessed many difficult conversations with both clients and employees, and I am continually impressed with the conversations and outcomes. If you want a “yes company”, we may not be your best bet. We do not take the easy route. We take the right route.

Of course, the integrity of a company is only as good as its weakest employee. Warren Buffet once said, “In looking for people to hire, you look for three qualities: integrity, intelligence, and energy. And if you don’t have the first, the other two will kill you. You think about it; it’s true. If you hire somebody without [integrity], you really want them to be dumb and lazy.”

Akili does hiring right. We have exceptionally bright, hard-working, fun (and often quirky) employees who are not afraid to speak their truth. Management expects and rewards that. In fact, our CEO has a rating scale for employees calling “bull $ it”. If you do it well, with solid truth and convincing content, you are rewarded. If you don’t speak up in a difficult situation, it’s likely that you will not last. We do not have time for people who lack integrity, and our team will not tolerate it.

Ask any of our clients what they like best about working with us, and my guess is that the response will be something around performance, fun, and integrity. That, in a nutshell, is why I love and am still working at Akili.

“To give real service you must add something which cannot be bought or measured with money, and that is sincerity and integrity.” – Douglas Adams

 

By Josh Fadley | ERP Practice Director

in·teg·ri·ty –

  1. The quality of being honest and having strong moral principles; moral uprightness.
  2. The state of being whole and undivided.

“Integrity” is a term often used when describing upstanding interpersonal qualities, however to fully understand its meaning and practical application as a core value at Akili, it is critical to understand both of its defined meanings.

While its first definition refers to the inherent state of being honest, Akili’s view on Integrity as a core value takes it one step further. We dedicate ourselves to not just being honest, but being openly truthful – “no games and no hidden agendas”.

Over time, this value has demonstrated itself on multiple occasions. Back during “Akili Version 1.0” in the 1990s, Akili had signed its largest ever engagement to date with a focus on developing a custom solution for a client. During the initial project preparations, one of our consultants discovered a product already in existence that would provide the requested functionality with reliable quality at a much more cost effective price point. Akili approached the client and offered to tear up the contract in order to do “the right thing” by them. This was a financially painful decision but it was ultimately the right decision – it was not just honesty when asked a question, but rather it was actively seeking out and offering truth beyond what most expect.

When viewing integrity from this perspective, the second definition of integrity, “the state of being whole and undivided”, is not merely an alternate meaning of the word but, rather, an inevitable consequence that comes from living out the first definition. When members of a tribe are not just honest but overtly truthful, the natural result is a group that inherently trusts one another and forms a true team.

At Akili, the results of embodying both definitions continue to play out a thousand ways each and every day, from our internal culture, which is shockingly devoid of people “playing politics” to healthy and lasting relationships with clients that span decades, industries, and economic climates.

People often refer to Akili as being “just different” – that’s OK, we know we’re different in quite a number of ways. And our clients invariably trust us because of this difference.

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Employee Spotlight: Meet Aline Koch

 

Whether it’s managing big tasks at the office or family functions at home, Project Manager Aline Koch keeps herself busy, but very organized. We spoke with her to learn more about her role and the life she leads outside of the office.

What’s your role at Akili and the most satisfying aspect about it?

I am a Project Manager at Akili, which appeals to me because I love to organize everything. It’s very satisfying to see people adopting something that I had a hand in creating. Our customers’ excitement when embracing whatever it is that we have for them, and running with it, gives me a sense of accomplishment.

How did you become interested in your line of work?

I actually moved into IT during the dot-com craze. I started out as an Oracle DBA and Business Objects developer. I moved on to Data Warehousing and almost any tool that could be associated with ETL or reporting. I enjoyed analyzing, solution development, and basically solving a puzzle. This led me to being a Data Architect, Director of Business Intelligence, and other data-related positions. When I began at Akili, I was a Data Architect and I would PM as needed. As the need for PM’s grew, I moved into my role as a PM. It is just another aspect of problem-solving: How do I accomplish this goal with the resources, budget, and timeline presented? I love what I do.

What’s a memory that stood out to you at Akili?

I remember the first Halloween at Akili after I started. The costumes were very funny, irreverent, intellectually challenging, and elaborate. I remember thinking what a great group of people to hang out with. All of us work hard, but we truly believe in balancing our lives by having fun too.

In your opinion, what makes Akili different?

I believe that Akili is different because of the partnership we offer our clients. Our leadership team truly embraces the concept of partnering with our clients. This is the first company I’ve worked for that will actually turn down a client engagement or go to a simpler, less expensive solution if that is what is right for the clients. This leads to strong loyalty with our clients and per one of our clients, they trust us to choose what is right for them as we will give them the unvarnished truth. We end up with long-term strategic clients because of this.

What do you enjoy doing outside of work?

I’m mostly involved in volunteering for all my kids’ activities. There are only so many years that kids want their parents involved in their lives, so I want to stay as involved as they will let me be. I have 3 teenagers who are all great kids. The older 2 are in Marching Band, which is strangely more intense than football… in Texas …yes, I know that means that it is insane. They went to state on Nov. 8!

My husband and I have to schedule our date nights to make sure we have time alone. We’ve done creative things like a cooking class, dinner clubs with friends, scuba-diving weekend, vacation to Disney World without the kids (I highly recommend this), and lots of other fun weekend getaways.

We have an incredibly large family, which means we have a lot of family events. I have 20 first cousins, and my husband has 12. The photo is just some of my French family that was in town to give you an idea.

What keeps you motivated?

I enjoy the challenge and love walking into new projects. Getting a new project with a new objective is like giving me a favorite piece of candy. I’m a data geek at heart and love to find a way to get the end result accomplished.

Tell us about some of the greatest advice you’ve ever received.

The difficult we do immediately. The impossible takes a little longer.

Essentially, this is what consultants do. We find a way to do what is asked of us, even if it seems impossible.

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My First 90 Days at Akili: Anali Rosas

 

By Anali Rosas | Anaplan Consultant

When I first started at Akili, my initial impression was, “Wow, everyone here is so incredibly talented. They work hard AND have fun doing it.” As simple as it sounds, it’s a rare combination to find in a corporate job. From the very first day, I was motivated to work and learn everything I could from my colleagues.

And so far, my impression has not changed.

At other companies, seeing an email from the CEO might just be another state of the company address, automated message sent by the executive administrator, or worse – a bearer of bad news. At Akili, you can expect anything from Shiek, like an email blast challenging all of us to a month of burpees. The entire office keeps it light, which makes it enjoyable to come in every day.

When everybody outside of Akili asks how I like my new gig, I respond the same each time – “I’m still waiting for the catch!” There’s always a catch, but not at Akili. I really appreciate the open door policy we have here. There’s a sense of community and accountability from top down.

Beforehand, I was in a completely different field, so I knew starting a job in a new field would be a challenge. My life so far at Akili has been a steep learning curve, which keeps me on my toes! It has been a humbling experience. There’s always something to learn from someone and I definitely do not take my job for granted.

As for the future, I’m looking forward to not being the “new” person anymore! Just kidding. I’m looking forward to participating in the Dallas marathon – our office is quite the competitive one, and we have two relay teams competing this year!

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Akili Core Values Series: Excellence

 

By David Allen | SAP S/4HANA Solutions

At Akili, we focus on aligning our people, processes, and delivery to customers around our core values. As we change and develop as a consulting company, the one constant is our allegiance to our value system. In this post on our core values, I have the opportunity to discuss excellence, which we describe as:

Excellence: Mediocrity is not an option. We prize innovation and consistently strive to better our standards for speed, efficiency, and quality.

In no way do we take excellence as an attribute of being better than someone else or better than another company. In fact, our goal with excellence is to be humble, since there is always room for improvement. To be excellent is to define a point in time and at Akili, our goal is to innovate and consistently strive for more. There is a quote by Aristotle that states:

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, therefore, is not an act, but a habit.”

In fact, excellence is the outcome of excelling at a combination of other habits in the workplace. So, what is Akili doing day-to-day to achieve excellence?

Akili focuses on delivering business value and not just technology solutions. Business value is focused on the people, the process, and the technology. In any project, these three components are impacted differently, but all of them are impacted with every project. Our goal with our delivery methodology at Akili is to ensure the customer has complete transparency on that impact within each project.

An example of the ‘people side’ of the solution delivery can be described around the change management activity within a project. As with all projects, there is a limit to the available budget, timeline, or available resources. When there is a budget limitation, a customer may want to handle the change management requirements of the project directly. Many consulting firms will remove that scope from the project plan, but at Akili we simply change the ownership on the plan and continue to monitor the activity of the customer with our project manager. The success of the project will be graded on the entire project delivery, even when it may not be in Akili’s direct deliverables. No matter how well the technology solution that Akili delivers solves the problem, the technology will not be impactful unless the business understands that change and embraces it. It will not be impactful or achieve optimal business value unless it is balanced across the people, process, and technology. Our goal with our projects is to be an independent advisor that is accountable and results-oriented.

Akili chose excellence for a core value, not because it is easy to achieve, but because it is difficult. Success is shown each day by our customer’s commitment to utilize Akili for multiple projects, by the longevity of our team with a very low turnover rate, and by the recognition we receive by our community and partners.

When was the last time you looked at your consulting partner and thought they represented excellence?