Times West Virginian Spotlights Agile5, SBA Award

Check out the Times West Virginian newspaper article on Agile5 from March 20, 2024 here:

Adam Leach, vice president of operations, Chet Tobrey, vice president of research and development, Peter Fritsch, chief technology officer, and President and CEO Lisa Fritsch stand for a portrait in Agile5’s Fairmont office. (Photo by Esteban Fernandez / Times West Virginian)

By Esteban Fernandez, Times West Virginian

WHITE HALL — Microsoft’s Windows XP was so beloved that the State Department couldn’t bear to let it go.

A report from the Government Accountability Office published last September revealed the department still uses an operating system that was discontinued 13 years prior. Microsoft stopped providing new security updates for Windows XP in 2014. Despite that, the State Department continues to use it.

This is a bad thing.

Software upgrades might seem trivial, but considering all of modern life is now organized and implemented by instructions run electronically through chipsets, out-of-date software can threaten online safety and identity protection. Fortunately, companies such as Agile5 in the I-79 High Tech Park are working to upgrade government computer systems to modern standards.

“It’s been one of the things we’ve really been switching to, and moving toward, particularly in the last couple of years,” Lisa Fritsch, president of Agile5, said. “Because, it has become such a major issue. For everyone, it doesn’t matter if you’re a federal agency or a state, local or commercial, it doesn’t matter. Everybody has to worry about security now.”

Agile5 uses a software development methodology called Agile. It’s a way to manage projects so that pieces of the project are developed in phases, and then tested to ensure it works. The developer, in various phases of the project, touches base with the customer to ensure the project still fits the customer’s vision. This also makes it easier to course correct or change to a customer’s needs throughout the project. Fritsch said sometimes the company starts a project with a client and by the time the project is finished, it’s radically different from how it was originally envisioned.

By contrast, the waterfall method of development has software developers do the entire project at once, only testing to see if it works at the end. Hair pulling ensues if a customer wants to make a change after the project is finished and delivered in its entirety; the chance to easily make a change was at some point earlier in the development cycle.

Using this method, Agile5 develops custom software solutions for governments and private entities. Security is built right in from the very beginning, rather than an afterthought. Established in 2011, the company has worked on roughly 40 different projects with the federal government. As technology progresses, so does Agile5. The company moved into cloud computing and is now working to find ways to incorporate AI into its work.

Agile5 wants to bring its work to county governments. Recently, the company’s business development director went on a tour of all 55 county governments in the state to check on the state of IT Infrastructure.

“He’s aware of sheriff’s offices, where they’ve got an old server sitting under somebody’s desk and it’s got absolutely critical infrastructure on it,” Peter Fritsch, chief technology officer, said. “And, they can’t afford to have that server patch. They can’t afford to keep it up to date. It’s probably end-of-life. Microsoft only supports these things for 10 years.”

Lisa Fritsch emphasized that having outdated network infrastructure placed in critical areas like sheriff’s offices is dangerous, because those offices collect a variety of personal identifying information. Outdated software is vulnerable to hacking. Security patches that cover vulnerabilities in newer versions of software aren’t patched over in discontinued software like Windows 7 or XP, creating an easy inroad for cyberthieves.

Peter Fritsch said he was aware of one major breach down south that happened a couple weeks ago and is still going on.

Software development isn’t just about security. In theory it should also enable easier participation with government. However, out-of-date customer portals and user interfaces make that experience difficult and tiring, hampering participation. Chet Tobrey, vice president of research and development, is working on a project to improve the systems architecture of the eRulemaking system that federal officials use when drafting policy rules. These rules are open to public comment, which can be done through the Internet.

“We have a couple of people who were former teachers here in West Virginia,” Lisa Fritsch said. “They didn’t really know that even existed, where you could go look at these rules being proposed at the federal level and comment on them. That’s what this system does. It’s a system, as Pete said, that’s all about democracy and having your voice heard.”

Tobrey is also the company’s first employee. Throughout his time, he’s seen Agile5 work with a lot of large businesses. However, he is an advocate for the small business model. Whereas a large company might be focused on the bottom line, a small business has more luxury to be selective on what its end goals are, and dictating what it wants its impact to be.

“The talent of our team and our skill set provides a lot of value, whereas it’s not about making a lot of money, it’s about doing the right thing,” Tobrey said. “I think we see that more easily than a lot of other folks.”

The team credits the U.S. Small Business Administration for a lot of its success, and is excited to travel to Washington D.C. in April for the SBA’s Small Business Week conference. While there, Agile5 will be recognized as winner of the 2024 National Small Business Week Award for the state of West Virginia.

The company also wants to bring more attention to what tech companies are doing here in the state, outside of energy production. Lisa Fritsch recalled a round table discussion she took part in five years ago in Charleston. She was the only member without a background in energy production, and was disappointed the other members were fixated on the subject. She wants to see West Virginia embrace other fields and excel, bringing opportunities to its residents. The company hosts internship opportunities to bring up-and-coming talent into its ranks before it takes an opportunity out of state.

“You have these other opportunities in other ways to grow the state economy,” she said. “We’ve got to start thinking past where we were.”

Agile5 at least, has a head start on that.