Carl Sudholz | AGContext Founder with a lifetime purpose

CARL SUDHOLZ – OUR FOUNDER’S STORY

CARL SUDHOLZ, AN INTRODUCTION

Portrait image of Carl Sudholz , professional business analyst and founder of AGContext Pty Ltd.

Carl Sudholz

Carl Sudholz is the Founder at AGContext Pty Ltd. Carl is a specialist of data driven decision making. An expert in how to integrate data, technology and process into organisational systems that deliver value to decision makers. Carl has over ten years of experience working in a wide range of industries including agriculture, environmental management, emergency management and at all levels of government.

Carl’s career into data driven decision making began as a young man in his 20’s when he chose for himself, his life purpose.

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CARL SUDHOLZ - A LIFE'S CHOICE AND CLIMATE CHANGE

“I have one and only one life and want it to be well lived. Eighty short years to do something worthwhile, twenty already gone. Why not spend my life solving the biggest and most difficult problem of my lifetime – Climate Change? If not me, then who?”
– Carl Sudholz, age 23.

Carl’s career in data-driven decision making and decision support systems began in the year 2000. Carl had turned 21 that year. He had great aspirations for his life, but no purpose. He took a keen interest in politics of the United States of America and the Presidential election of 2000 between Democrat candidate Al Gore and Republican George W. Bush. Among the big key issues of the Gore campaign was Climate Change. This was Carl’s first exposure to the issue. Over the next few years, Carl learnt about the global issue of Climate Change, by reading the science and talking to the people doing the science. In 2003 he made the choice that set him on his career into ‘data and decisions’.

In 2003, Carl made this conclusion about the issue of Climate Change. This is the The One Issue of this Century. The one problem that spans all and everything about our world, our nations, our communities and ourselves. The one global issue that consumes all sciences, all philosophy and all cultures. No one will escape it. Climate Change cares not about our ideologies or our religions. And for certain, everything that is Climate Change – environment, economics, politics – is going to get worse before it gets better. If Climate Change is going to be solved then our entire way of life is going to have to change. And especially so, the way that Governments and Businesses operate on the ground. New Leaders are going to have to step up and change the world, else Climate Change will change the world for us.

So in the year of 2003, Carl decided for himself that he could be one of those leaders. And if not, his life will have been well lived in trying. The problem for Carl back then, was he had absolutely no idea how to be such a leader.

CARL SUDHOLZ - WHO NEEDS A MAJOR?

In 2004, Carl Sudholz graduated from Flinders University in Adelaide with a Bachelor of Science (General). His degree was a mix of all the fundamental sciences: biology, chemistry, mathematics and physics plus electronic engineering and computer science. After seven years of changing subjects, dropping out, coming back again and racking up a $20,000 student debt, Carl was more interested in getting to the workforce that gaining a major in his degree. As serendipity, would have it, the fact that Carl never graduated with a major has proven to be instrumental for his career in data driven decision making. By not following the conventional pathway of a graduating university with a major stream, Carl gained the breadth of scientific understanding that is needed to integrate both data and decisions. Carl’s training and experience of data across the sciences enables him to talk technology and/or decision making with anyone.

A RETURN HOME AND A NEW CAREER

After finishing his degree, Carl returned from Adelaide to his home town of Horsham in Western Victoria. Within a few months of job hunting and picking up bits and pieces of random farm work, he landing a job with the Victorian Department of Primary Industries. It was the beginning of 2005 and Victoria was in the middle of the Millennium drought. For farmers of the Wimmera Mallee finances were tight. Carl’s team at the Department wanted to run a series of workshops in the region to discuss financial management in the drought. Carl was asked if he could produce a computer tool to help the conversation. Within four weeks, Carl developed his first ever decision support system. A Microsoft Excel workbook called Crop Forecaster. This tool was the basis of the successful Back-In-Black workshops held throughout regional Victoria in 2005. The Department subsequently received many requests for Crop Forecaster to be developed into something that could be distributed to the farming community. Two years later, AgriGater was launched.

AGRIGATER: DECISION SUPPORT FOR AGRICULTURE

In 2006 and in response to requests for Crop Forecaster to be made public, the Department created a new decision support project to create a software application for farm budgeting and scenario planning. Carl Sudholz was given the responsibility to develop the system and he undertook the development by himself. For this first software iteration, Carl was the AgriGater team. The Project Manager, Solution Architect, Business Analyst, Software Developer, UX specialist and Tester. Within eight months of emotionally breaking effort – which included one continuous programming period of 36 hours – AgriGater: Decision Support for Agriculture, was launched by the Minister of Agriculture at the 2007 Wimmera Machinery Field Days near Horsham.

Two years after AgriGater version 1 and in 2009, AgriGater version 2 was launched. The second version was in fact, two applications. The first was AgriGater Broadacre which was designed for dryland mix cropping enterprises. The other was AgriGater Horticulture for assisting the farmers of the Victorian Horticultural industries.

By the time AgriGater 2 was launched, Carl was well into his post-graduate Masters. The AgriGater 2 project was shortly followed by a new project called ‘Making Decisions that Matter’ in which the two versions of AgriGater, would be brought into one: AgriGater3.

The Department withdraw its financial support for AgriGater in 2011. AgriGater 3 was launched without fanfare in January 2012, and was withdrawn from public distribution within a few months of Carl’s resignation. Today, AgriGater is a relic of the enigma of agricultural decision support.

LEADERSHIP TRAINING BY CRICKET

Carl Sudholz grew up in Horsham and went to secondary school at Horsham College. On his return from Adelaide, he went along to the Annual General Meeting of his former Cricket Club, the Jung Tigers. Carl had the privilege of captaining the A Grade team prior to leaving for University, and was looking forward to playing at his old club in the upcoming summer. Within ten minutes of Carl walking in the door, the current Club President who was seeking to step down, asked Carl if he would like to the job.  After a moments thought, Carl said “yes, ok, why not?”.

When Carl become President, the Jung Tigers Cricket Club was struggling to survive. With no money and no home, the club was on the verge of collapse. During his five years as Club President, Carl instituted a new club constitution, financial management, administration procedures, club branding and completed a digital transformation of club operations. In 2009 when Carl stepped down as President, the Jung Tigers had grown from near collapse to being one of the strongest and most active Cricket Clubs in the region.

In 2011, with his Masters degree in the kit bag, Carl was given the opportunity to take over as Secretary of the Horsham Cricket Association. At the time, the Association was struggling under an archaic constitution and paper based administration. In his two years as Secretary, Carl lead the development and acceptance of a new Association constitution the provided the degree of control and accountability that is need to run an effective community organisation in the modern era. He also led the Association at all its member clubs through a complete digital transformation in Competition management. Carl moved the Association and its member clubs into using Cricket Australia’s MyCricket administration system.

By doing nothing more than putting up his hand within his community and saying ‘I will do that’, Carl gained the kind of leadership experience that not even the most expensive education could provide.

“Leadership is a skill and like any other skill it can be learned. However, to learn leadership takes courage. You have to step up and put yourself forward and do so with any expectation of personal reward. However, when you do so, the rewards that come your way are immeasurable.”   – Carl Sudholz, 2017.

A MASTERS OF DATA DRIVEN DECISION MAKING

Carl Sudholz extended his academic qualifications with the Master of Sustainable Practice with Distinction form RMIT University in Melbourne in 2010. This study brought together Carl’s two other passions: decision making and sustainability. His Masters Exegesis is titled “Designing Information Based Behaviour Change Projects”. It is a desktop study in to the key success factors of designing information technology capable of creating valuable insight for decision making. The basic premise being, that if the big sustainability problems of our world, such as climate change are to be solved, then people in business and government must make decisions and act. The decisions that people make are greatly influenced by the information they have. Decision support systems are designed to deliver information for decision making. Therefore, if we design more effective decision support systems, we can enable better decision making and thus more action upon the big problems.

Through the experience of AgriGater and his Masters, Carl come to realise his skill and passion for decision support systems and data-driven decision making. In this, Carl recognised how by enabling decision support within organisations, he could make his best contribution to the multifaceted and global challenge of climate change. In the year of 2010, that Carl new his time at the Department was limited and the next step was to move into a career of consulting.

CARL SUDHOLZ - DECISION SUPPORT CONSULTANT

In July of 2012, Carl Sudholz set up his new consulting business with an initial investment of $147.00. Towards the end of that year, he made the big leap from employee to self-employed consultant. Carl step up shop at the Wimmera Business Centre in Horsham, which provides cheap rent and support services to people having a go in business for the first time. In his first year and operating as a Sole-Trader business, Carl provided his expertise and advice to those people he knew from his previous career. In the first six months of solo operation, Carl had not picked up any new clients, but regardless things where feeling good. The freedom of business ownership sat well with Carl. In October 2013, Carl Sudholz established the company that is now AGContext Pty Ltd. The founding name of the company was Fast Task Tools Pty Ltd.

CARL SUDHOLZ - A PHD BEGINS AND ENDS

In the same year that Carl Sudholz started his career in consulting, he also began a Doctorate of Philosophy with Charles Sturt University in Wagga Wagga. For the next two and half years, Carl managed life between consulting to clients, attracting new business and completing the literature review stage of his PhD. The research was focused on understanding what are the driving factors of success for a decision support system. The PhD was a direct extension of the questions that came out of Carl’s Masters and experience with AgriGater. Carl spent two years digging and reading over fifty years of scientific research into agricultural decision support systems. The outcome of this work was the recognition that there are five factors of success in decision support: usefulness, usability, availability; alignment and authority. The lessons gained from this time in the books forms the core knowledge basis of what we do at AGContext.

In 2015 and after completing the literature review stage of the doctorate, Carl made the choice not to continue with the PhD, but rather to focus his efforts on helping others take action through data driven decision making. Growing a start-up business and doing a PhD at the time had proven too much. A choice had to be made and Carl decided to focus on his consulting.

“People need my help with data and technology right now. My consultancy business needs my full attention. And I need the money. The PhD can wait, my business can not. I can always go back to the PhD.” – Carl Sudholz, 2015

A PIVOT, CANBERRA AND AGCONTEXT

As part of the decision to give away the PhD, the opportunity presented to relocate Fast Task Tools to Canberra. The demand for data driven decision making continues to grow. Especially so within our public service and government organisations. Canberra also offered a like-minded community with skills and interests in and complimentary to Carl’s passion of decision support.

“In Horsham, I was doing it tough. The fact was that Canberra over Horsham, offered many more customers who were willing to pay much more for my services. We left our family and friends behind so that we could pursue the opportunities the world was presenting to us both.”

In September 2015, Fast Task Tools was renamed to AGContext and relocated to Canberra, the national capital of Australia. This is the business you see now.

CARL SUDHOLZ - ENABLING BETTER DECISIONS FOR A BETTER WORLD

Carl Sudholz has dedicated his life’s purpose to taking on the biggest challenges facing our society in this 21st century – Climate Change. His chosen purpose is to serve the leaders of government and business organisations in making the path through the most complex of issue of our lifetime. For Carl, data driven decision making is the only way in which the solutions to Climate Change will be discovered and the opportunities will be capitalised.

 

CAMPAIGNING FOR CLIMATE CHANGE ACTION

The Australian Federal Election of 2013 involved a long running campaign by the Opposition lead by Tony Abbott, against the Rudd/Gillard Government policies taking progressive action on the issue of Climate Change. In this task, the Liberal Party Coalition was successful in causing the Rudd / Gillard Government to fold in its resolve on its policy position. Tony Abbott’s Opposition Party won the 2013 election to form the Abbott Government of 2013.

Having dedicated his life to seeing social, economic and political action on climate change some ten years previously, the threat that of such regressive and destructive public policy was too much to bear. Carl could not sit by as watch Australia’s conservative tear down of the issue of climate change go unchallenged. Carl’s political action on this issue is most publicly noted through two You Tube videos: Vote for someone else (2014)  and Loyalty has no leverage (2016) . He created these two videos in an attempt to influence voters in home town of Horsham and the surrounding regions, to swing  away from the long sitting and conservative Nationals candidates whose Party policy is in his opinion, to all but deny that Climate Change exists as a scientific fact.