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Managing SAP During Uncertain Times: Spartech CIO, John Vandeven

An Interview with Spartech CIO, John Vandeven

Hear from Spartech CIO John Vandeven as he shares strategies for deploying a remote workforce for critical business functions in just days, pivoting production to meet demand for personal protective equipment and his recommendations for preparedness in the future – including focusing on cloud based solutions.

Jamie:

Thank you so much for joining us for our new video series, Managing SAP During Uncertain Times. We created this series in response to the global health crisis, to understand what businesses running SAP today are doing in reaction to the situation. I am excited to share with you today that we have John Vandeven, CIO of Spartech here to be interviewed by Alan Manuel, Protera’s Chief Product Officer.

Alan:

Thanks Jamie. Hello everyone. This is Alan Manuel from Protera, and I’m so happy to be joined today by John Vandeven, CIO of Spartech. John, welcome and thank you.

John:

Thank you. Glad to be here.

Alan:

John, why don’t you tell us a little bit, if we could begin, tell us a little bit about your company, what you do as an organization and then your specific role within the company.

John:

Yeah, so I’m CIO for Spartech. We’re a manufacturer of custom plastic sheet, roll stock and packaging solutions for a broad range of end use markets including medical, food packaging, defense, transportation, automotive. And we have 14 manufacturing locations across the US and a product development center and headquarters in Maryland Heights, Missouri, just outside of St Louis. I manage their IT services, applications and internal-external teams that support our IT platforms.

Alan:

John, the current situation is obviously something new for all of us. We’re working remotely, we’re depending on cloud technologies. We’re doing video conferencing instead of having a chance to meet our customers and partners in person. Your company as well is deeply involved in the medical field, we’re going to get to that in a moment. So there are many, many changes that we’re all going through and would love to get your perspective on that. But before I do that, first could you tell us a little bit about what was a typical day like for you before the current situation? Maybe what were some of the projects that you were involved in? How did cloud technologies play a role in what you were doing on a day to day basis and what were some of the projects that you were either doing or considering again, before this current situation?

John:

Yeah, I think, like most folks in my role, we were continuing to develop and support our IT applications, the SAPs, and other critical business systems that we have, and our customers and vendor interfaces in the like. We looked at, I think as we were working through projects, we were just finalizing our Windows 10 upgrades, looking at some server upgrades. Certainly … excuse me. Certainly a lot going on in the space of security as always and trying to secure networks and troubleshoot and monitor any changes there. So a lot of continuing to work to improve I think our overall solutions, what to drive cost down in our organization, and to support a growing business that we’re looking to expand.

Alan:

Fantastic, and you had chosen a cloud solution a few years ago, if I’m remembering correctly, right? This was not a current move for you, but you had moved your SAP to the cloud in response to business initiatives some time ago, is that correct?

John:

Yeah, that’s correct. Last year we moved our SAP applications into the Azure cloud with Protera managing that as our partner and third party solutions’ provider there. So very recently.

Alan:

Fantastic. Now, of course, let’s talk about why we’re here today. Many things have changed for all of us. Again, we’re all working from home. Some of us in a hastily improvised home offices. Your situation I think is something that’s very interesting to our readers, our listeners. You talk about supporting the medical industry, so let’s talk about what has changed for you. Let’s begin first with as a business, what has changed with Spartech as a result of the current situation that we’re in?

John:

Yeah, and I mentioned earlier, we’re a very diverse business, a lot of different business units that we have to support a variety of end use industries, and one of those is medical. As everyone’s heard recently in the news, there’s been a large increase in demand for personal protective equipment in the medical industry and where we come into play there is we’re a PETG manufacturer. We manufacturer polycarbons and acrylics and cellulose acetate products. All that can be used for personal protective equipment and face shields that everyone has been talking about recently, at least in our business and around for protecting healthcare workers as they attend to the sick and those in need during this epidemic. And obviously we’ve had a large influx of demand, and we’re doing our best to manage that and get all the products we can out to the people who are manufacturing those needed products. So that’s kind of something that we are proud-

Alan:

Well thank you again.

John:

And we feel very good about it.

Alan:

Your organization, among others is so critical to helping all of us, especially those in the healthcare industry really get through this time, so thank you. That must put unique pressures on you in terms of your ability to support these very critical business processes at this time. So as an IT leader, what are some of the challenges that you are faced with and how were you prepare for them and how were you reacting? What are some of the actions that you took early on to ensure that your business could continue to support this a critical role in our supply chain?

John:

Yeah, it escalated very quickly obviously as you know, it did forever one and as we looked at it as a leadership team, I think one of the biggest things that we saw very quickly is we needed to move the large portion of our workforce to work on a home tech solution, and we did that very quickly. It was in about a four day period that we made that decision and moved the critical functions of our business like customer service and finance and a lot of those types of functions remote.

John:

So, my team, [inaudible 00:06:37], that led that initiative, did a tremendous job in quickly re-imaging laptops and getting those out to the people who didn’t have them. Currently, getting them shipped, getting them all set up, data transferred. So we were able to pretty quickly deploy, and I think the reason for that is we had a large number of users who already have laptops, and were able to quickly make that move to their home offices.

John:

We did have a large increase obviously in our number of VPN, people VPNing into our solutions. So load balancing and handling of that increase volume was something we had to very quickly address. We’re able to do so and continue to maintain a high level of service to our internal customers.

Alan:

What about security? Any concerns there or changes there that you have decisions that you had to make quickly to maintain the level of security that you need in the face of really, a rapidly growing work at home or mobile workforce? Any perspective there on security?

John:

Yeah, and again part of this was stuff we had worked on over the last year, but we did do a lot of work on endpoint protection and protection for RPCs for remote users, and we kind of centered that initially around our sales staff where they were signing on from anywhere and everywhere. But that’s been good evidence now as we have those solutions in place and can secure our networks without having people necessarily sitting in offices or secure locations where we have today. So, that was a big component of us I think to being able to quickly make that move with confidence.

Alan:

Right, fantastic. So John, just looking over my notes here. You move the organization to adopt cloud. You got the laptops in place to allow workers to work in a more mobile fashion as needed. You had the VPN set up, you had the security set up. Sounds like you’re in a very good position to be able to react quickly to the situation. Any challenges? Anything that as you began deploying this plan to keep your employees connected, that something unexpected? Anything pop up that made you think, “Hey, we have to consider this differently if a situation like this arises in the future?” Any challenges or anything different pop up?

John:

Yeah, I think a couple things. One on the SAP side, just being able to quickly go after our supply chain and quickly update our master data just working on the influx that I talked about earlier on the clear products. That was one that full, we’ll probably look at it and make sure that we can handle. And I think secondarily it’s just this is problem probably everybody’s facing and that’s just that our country’s IT infrastructure as it, I guess, would relate to individuals working through-

Alan:

John, just to jump in here. Right when you said work and we hear some noise in the background and I just wanted to let everyone know, I mean that is really the situation that we’re in today. Many of us are working in new environments, and for some of us that means that hastily assembled home offices. So again, really appreciate you dialing in. There’s some things we just can’t change with all the preparedness. So I just want to say, thank you for continuing to work through that. But yeah, why don’t you finish your thought there about the internet situation, John?

John:

Yeah, I think it’s just the … And sorry about the noise again, but the infrastructure, I think that we’re dealing with and trying to deliver these solutions to individuals at home is probably our biggest challenge. There’s not a lot of good internet providers, particularly in rural areas where we have some of our facilities at, to be able to send them, a user remote. I think that’s part of the challenge that we encounter even with all of the aforementioned tools we’ve talked about. So I think that’s something that’ll be interesting as we come out of this, and what evolves out of that as well.

Alan:

Okay, so something to consider. Now on that note, let’s talk a little bit about longterm plans. How, if at all, has the current situation affected your longterm planning, both Spartech as a business and then really the IT perspective? Any changes to your longterm plans?

John:

From a business perspective, no. I think, our longterm plans haven’t changed. We continue to look to grow our business in the critical areas we’ve talked about earlier, in medical and transportation and aerospace, and in especially industries we serve. From an IT perspective, I think it’s as always. We’re looking to improve our solutions and how they’re delivered, the ease of delivery, the ease of access. And we talked about cloud solutions earlier, but I think that’s a big part of an ongoing theme that this is just really going to expedite. And you look for those opportunities, I think more and you’re reminded more of it, I think, in these types of situations, or of just the importance of continuing down that path.

Alan:

Fantastic. All right John, thank you so much. Any final words? Any advice to others perhaps on being prepared? Hopefully this is a once in a lifetime situation, but there’s always uncertainties that can arise. Any final words or final advice to others who are watching today?

John:

Yeah, no, I mean I think we touched on a lot of it earlier, but I would just say, inventories are key. Supply chains can shut down very quickly as we’ve seen in this case. So critical spares and having IT assets that are able to be quickly deployed. It’s a big piece of, I think, being able to handle these. Then I think, more than anything, getting out in front of mobile security and securing a workforce that may not be on your existing office networks, things like that, that are more easy to secure is probably a good proactive move moving forward.

John:

And looking for solutions that are cloud based, as I mentioned earlier, just in summary I think, is really a DR in this case, is going to be everything and being able to understand what those critical systems are and move quickly, I think is going to be the major focus. But then again, we’re at the very front end of this, so I’m sure we’re going to learn a lot more as we go and probably uncover a lot more opportunities to improve.

Alan:

Fantastic john, I mean, especially for an organization that is so critical today, a critical supplier in helping the first responders and healthcare workers managing the situation. You’re focused on cloud, you’re focused on enabling mobile access through to the laptops, to the VPN, to the security. You had many of these pieces, or all of these pieces in place before, and really on top of that, having that strategy to be prepared and to be ready in light of some uncertainty that may come, I think is really paying off.

Alan:

So John Vandeven, CIO of Spartech, Thank you so much for joining us today and sharing your thoughts on managing SAP during uncertain times. I’m Alan Manuel from Protera and thank you for those in the audience who took the time out to listen to us today. Jamie.

Jamie:

Gentlemen, thank you so much, and John, it’s a fantastic to hear your insights and thank you again for sharing your time today. For everyone else watching, stay tuned for our next installment in Managing SAP During Uncertain Times and stay well.

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By |2020-07-27T02:37:53-05:00April 6th, 2020|Categories: SAP News|

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