Reimagining Digital Transformation in the Face of Disruption–McKesson with Verizon Midday Keynote at ONUG Spring

While digital transformation is not a new concept, the COVID-19 crisis has forced it to “take on a new level of importance,” said Daniel Lawson of Verizon, one of the participants in a midday keynote at ONUG’s Spring conference, ONUG Digital Live (ODL). Lawson spoke with Brian Silverman of McKesson about each of their experiences in this changing environment, emphasizing the need to pivot and be able to react. “Digital transformation used to be about personalization, being flexible, and able to react to new demand signals. Now, it’s simply about staying in business,” explained Lawson. 

Learn how their companies are reacting to these new factors and the role cloud computing is playing by listening to the entire discussion here. Below is a summary of their exchange. 

Current Challenges

McKesson provides critical services, including the distribution of pharmaceuticals and medical supplies to hospitals, clinics and assisted living facilities. The great demand for Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) during the COVID-19 crisis has made McKesson’s role even more life sustaining. Customers simply can’t wait for their supplies and medications. 

The crisis has forced McKesson to think differently about how they provide their services. “We wouldn’t have been able to do it without our partners,” says Silverman. “We had to rely on our suppliers to speed up production, so that we could provide what our customers needed. COVID-19 has become our rallying point. It forced us to accelerate a lot of what we were doing in terms of digital transformation.” McKesson saw that digital transformation was key to addressing shortages and smoothly working with outside partners to change how they provided their services.

Lawson agreed. While in a different industry, Verizon has had to take a different view of digital transformation in the face of disruption. They are closing stores, re-training many retail workers to be customer service reps from home. “We’ve needed to ramp up the effectiveness of how we communicate, no more water cooler talks,” said Lawson. To meet this challenge, Verizon recently held a virtual town hall, with 12,000 people attending from around the globe. He also emphasized the importance of collaboration with external players and partners too. “We must change the way we operate and communicate.”

Radical Shift in Network Infrastructure

Disruption also comes in the form of the network infrastructure. Lawson called it a “radical shift.” Employees used to access information and applications inside a data center. Now, they are in their homes, all over the world. However, network managers must still monitor and make sure everything is secure. In addition to new data flows, the threat landscape and threat surface is rapidly expanding, requiring a different approach.

“Our security operations centers detected additional threat vectors as we were moving people to work from home,” added Silverman. As McKesson added capacity and additional services to adjust to the COVID-19 demand, they met the “radical shift” described by Lawson. 

Next, Lawson described a three-step sequence network administrators are finding themselves in during this unprecedented time. 

  1. Reacting: This was the beginning of the crisis, when companies were moving workers home, getting them the necessary equipment and simply trying to keep operations moving.
  2. Rebound: Many companies are here now. They are looking at where they are and how they can optimize operations. Many are trying to get as close as possible to the mode they knew previously. 
  3. Re-imagine: This is where we are going. Take all you learned in steps one and two, and re-envision where you want the organization to be. How will you operate in the future?

While McKesson was well on their way through the digital transformation journey before COVID-19 appeared, Silverman says the crisis was the first real opportunity to test their strategies. They realized they are still learning. He gave the example of moving employees from contact centers to their homes. First, they realized these employees only had desktop computers, so they would have to set their desktop up at home. Then, they realized those desktops were not equipped with wireless cards. Unless everyone has a router within six feet, they would need cables. In the middle of a crisis, the IT team was running around looking for spare cables.

It seems minor, but it’s a good example of thinking in terms of having a mobile workforce going forward. It’s these practical lessons we must learn as we look to the future. 

The Dynamic Network of the Future

Lawson next explained how we must think of network connectivity as a “dynamic organism.” It’s not just about connecting point A and point B. In addition to having security inherently built in, networks must have more sophisticated monitoring, now that workers are moving home. How is an application performing? How is the user interacting and using a particular application? 

Verizon is a large field tech organization that must focus on practical ways to prepare for events like COVID-19. They must maintain social distancing while out, still providing customer service and maintaining guidelines. In addition, they have agents that must move from call centers to their homes. “We must use the concept of workflow driven automation to make the entire infrastructure tech stack flexible and agile,” explains Lawson. 

Silverman explains that there will always be a physical element to the network. “You’ll always have a resource and a user in some physical space that must be connected. Even though it’s a physical infrastructure at the core, what you layer on top is what makes the difference.” 

Lawson and Silverman encouraged listeners to build out software defined layers. While adding physical capacity is constraining, being able to switch on service digitally means survival during disruption. This infrastructure is critical as you scale up or if you need to back down. Build an infrastructure that supports your ability to flex. Silverman credited their progress using SD-WAN to helping them remain flexible as they managed their networks during the crisis.

Learn More

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