It can be difficult to find time to make ongoing, incremental improvements within IT. Thales North America CIO Kevin Neifert shares how his organization made it a priority.
The Pharmavite business transformation journey: It starts with infrastructure overhaul
I’ve been in my role with Pharmavite for about seven years and, during that time, we’ve embarked on a big transformational change from an infrastructure standpoint. It was a premeditated decision to start at the infrastructure level – one that we knew would take years – but it was worth it.
The first year was spent getting the lay of land – really understanding the requirements of the business and how IT fit in. While we had a working house, there were a few cracks in the foundation that needed to be shored up. The company was originally designed to be a one-story ranch, but suddenly, we needed to evolve into a multi-story house – or even an apartment building. If we hoped to answer all the different requirements coming in from the business, we needed a strong foundation for that growth.
Starting from the ground up
To start, we needed everyone in the organization to understand the part IT would play going forward: IT as a business enabler. Technology runs the business, therefore, the technology has to work for the business to succeed. We really needed everyone to understand that distinction, because otherwise it might have been hard to get people on board with our strategic direction.
An analogy I used was one of a traffic intersection. People only care that traffic lights work and that cars are moving in an orderly fashion. Not many are interested in looking under the street to see the complicated system of tunnels, wires, and connections needed to make those lights work. When it’s working, people can ignore it for the most part. But when it fails, chaos ensues. That’s technology infrastructure – and that’s where we needed to start our transformation journey.
When we made the conscious decision to focus on infrastructure first, we soon realized that our plan looked great on paper – but it would take some time to get there because the infrastructure needed upgrading, replacing and relocating. We embarked on a project to create our own a private, co-located data center coupled with a disaster recovery site (as the back-up).
Another time-consuming element of stabilizing our foundation was getting to a position where we could upgrade our ERP system. It was initially implemented with a number of customizations; it hadn’t been touched in eight or nine years due to the complexity and the sheer number of applications involved. Upgrading this system along with the 80+ core applications involved was a two-and-a-half year effort in itself.
The role of cloud
The cloud has played a significant role along the way. Throughout the process, I’ve become a big proponent of hybrid cloud. Everything that's core to our business – that we want to keep under our security control and maintenance – is in our private cloud. We're leveraging the public cloud for the rest. This approach has had two major outcomes in our transformation efforts: company productivity and business solutions.
On the productivity side, cloud has created an “anywhere, anytime, anyplace” platform for our entire organization by integrating email, chat, video collaboration, inter-company communications, and file sharing. Over time, it will allow people to use whatever device they want to use, wherever they might be.
On the business solutions end, cloud has enabled us to operate a "plan-build-run" transformation model. It’s given us the ability to get our applications and systems – like our ERP system – where they need to be to give us that stable foundation for growth. We can now focus on the “plan-build” side of the equation that will really transform the business.
Where do we go from here
All the groundwork we did on our infrastructure is really paying off now that we are on the other side of the “plan-build-run” model. We’ve created multi-year corporate IT programs that are all focused on a transformational element for the company. IT is no longer running one-off projects in a silo. Rather, we’ve been able to create a brand around our IT programs and get everyone involved including company leadership, the executive team, and board of executive managers.
This is of particular importance because change management is a big part of our overall transformation journey. We’re looking at new ways of doing business; job descriptions will change; business processes will change. Every single person in the company is being touched in some way, so we need to drive transformation from a whole-company standpoint. It’s one of the reasons we’ve been successful so far.
But, we’re not done yet. We have a master data management and governance issue that we need to address in order to have one version of the product truth. For us, that has been a bit elusive. We’ve been in business for 45 years. We’ve grown organically, but quite dramatically, so we’re in the process of cleaning up a lot of mismatched pieces and data accumulated along the way.
Because we are overseen by the FDA, we’re also in the process of making all our IT systems into FDA-validated systems. We need to ensure all of our systems are up to that level of standard from an IT standpoint. Plus a host of other supply chain improvements. We’re going to get better data from our systems, which will allow us to do a better job from a production standpoint.
Although our transformation journey is not yet complete, we are in a great position to succeed in the long-run due to the infrastructure work that we put in upfront. If you are having trouble getting the more transformational elements of business change off the ground within your organization, I’d encourage you to look under the house and see if your foundation is in order. For us, it was the best place to start on the long road to transformation.