By Steve Phillpott, CIO, Western Digital
As difficult as these times are, imagine experiencing the pandemic without reliable on-demand internet network bandwidth and data storage. At Western Digital, one of the world’s largest data storage infrastructure companies, we worry about solving those challenges, so you don’t have to.
As CIO for Western Digital, I oversee the information technology operations of our company as well as our Digital Analytics office, which is a team of data scientists, data engineers, and software developers who build advanced analytics apps.
The dramatic increase in online activity today is stressing the entire planet’s cloud computing and data center infrastructure at every level. Data centers are being pushed to the limit with the increased flow of information. Plus, IT platforms powering every organization during this increasingly-digital age are being phenomenally pressured by the need to suddenly enable a large portion of their workforce to be productive in remote, work-from-home environments. And, unlike hand sanitizer, flour, and toilet paper, you can’t stock up on internet bandwidth and data storage needs are constantly changing.
With over twenty years of experience in IT, I’ve never experienced this ultimate test of a business continuity plan. Normally, such a plan would be tested in pieces and parts during a crisis. But the pandemic has tested every organization’s continuity plan by every conceivable dimension.
At Western Digital, we’ve learned that our decision to move to a unified and collaborative global cloud financial and supply chain platform has enabled us to make what we call “quick pivots” to remain flexible and agile during the pandemic and other types of crises.
A culture of trust and transparency
At Western Digital, we believe that it’s not just about being an industry leader, having brilliant employees, or generation-altering innovation. For our more than 61,000 employees spanning twenty locations in seven countries, it’s about doing business the right way, every day.
In 2020, for the second time, Western Digital has been recognized by Ethisphere as one of the World’s Most Ethical Companies. We created Data Makes Possible, a strategic initiative, which highlights how people, companies and technologies can enable true change in the world through data. In 2017, along with the United Nations Global Pulse and Skoll Global Threats Fund, we launched the Data for Climate Actions (D4CA) that connects data scientists, researchers, and innovators to fight climate change.
To date, during the pandemic we’ve donated $1.5m to the Silicon Valley Strong Fund which supports individuals and families at risk of displacement, small and micro-businesses at risk of closure, and local non-profits servicing those needs. We’re also donating up to $1m to the COVID-19 Solidarity Response Fund, which is administered by the United Nations to support the World Health Organization’s efforts to fight the pandemic globally. Plus, we’ve donated over 7,000 medical-grade gloves and will deliver 243,000 surgical masks to local medical facilities near our headquarters in San Jose, CA.
The pandemic has validated our cloud strategy
Establishing a resilient financial and supply chain platform has helped us adapt and respond to disruptive events. Prior to the pandemic we made the decision to architect new cloud communication and collaboration tools, including Oracle Cloud ERP, in order to scale as we integrate acquisitions. The driving strategy is to unify disparate platforms using an “always-on” data warehouse and unified cloud platform to eliminate duplicate processes, improve financial and operational visibility, and create a platform for growth. For example, we want to have the employees of acquired companies on our systems on Day 1.
Well, as it turns out, that ability to scale worked amazingly well when the pandemic hit. Within days of initiating the work-from-home directive, we had some of our tools scaling four to fifteen times their pre-COVID use and volume.
A great example of a quick pivot is that we brought eight manufacturing facilities live and using Oracle Cloud ERP and Supply Chain Management in Southeast Asia during a 30-day period while travel restrictions were in place. Normally, we’d fly hundreds of people—including myself—to the locations to train and do change management because it’s not just about adopting new software. It’s also about embracing automation, reducing complexity, and simplifying workflow. There were very few negative impacts, greatly outweighed by the benefits, of suddenly having to adopt a completely remote implementation strategy.
Continuous cloud updates deliver big benefits
Some of the biggest benefits we’re realizing with Oracle Cloud are the result of being able to easily adopt continuous updates. We’ve accepted twelve updates in just the three years we’ve been live. I have never done twelve updates in three years to an ERP system. Ever. And I’ve never known of another company that has done that with on-premise systems. That ability to do timely updates like that gives us new financial and supply chain capabilities on a much more frequent interval.
Since standardizing on cloud-enabled processes, we’ve significantly reduced our data warehouse refreshes from well over eight-plus hours to now under 20 minutes. We’re now operating in a near-real-time environment for reporting and operational capabilities.
We also now have greater visibility into global operations, which will enable intelligent track-and-trace into the transportation management system to monitor past and current location of supplies and products. By integrating Oracle Cloud SCM with our automated shop floor equipment, we’re automating more processes to increase manufacturing efficiency. I’m really excited to leverage more automated intelligence and machine learning as Oracle continuously updates their supply chain solutions.
I’ll share two more example of how we have gained the ability to pivot quickly. We used the agility of the cloud platform, and nimble access to data, to mitigate the potential negative impact of dealing with simultaneous issues relating to trade embargoes and restrictions coupled with challenges in our silicon wafer fabrication facility. Also, with all the supply chain uncertainty in the current situation, we gained the ability to more quickly and efficiently plan and reroute supplies from one supplier to another or to one location to another based on immediate priorities.
Taking time to reimagine leadership
Now more than ever I strive to lead by being more transparent. That includes not just communicating but over-communicating and being empathetic listeners to understand what our employees and customers are going through.
Effective change management is increasingly important. We are using the cloud ERP project as a catalyst for change throughout the entire organization because, in many cases, the technology part of our project isn’t necessarily the hardest part of the journey. The hardest part of the journey is getting people to understand how to use the technology and change the way they’ve worked for years—re-wiring that hard muscle memory.
Adapting to change happens at a different rate for each person so the challenge becomes how to get everyone across the finish line at the same time. To accomplish this, we’ve formed a dedicated change management team that builds appropriate initiatives into all our major technology projects. We’re also focusing on process harmonization to ensure that we standardize all processes as we make the move to the cloud platform globally.
A (brief) pause to reflect
Without a doubt, the pandemic is accelerating our digital initiatives that were supposed to take years. In addition to what I’ve already mentioned, the nature of work is changing. We will need to balance the use of onsite workers with remote, and increase our use of new cloud-based collaboration and communication tools to conduct virtual interactive workshops across our global locations.
Looking back, as hard as it is to roll out a new financial management backbone globally, it isn’t nearly as hard as attempting to do that with on-premise systems. It’s worth restating that we rolled out a cloud ERP solution—and the related change management and training—for eight manufacturing sites in thirty days remotely! This would have been impossible with our legacy on-premise systems and related processes. Although we’ve realized many tangible benefits, we’ve just scratched the surface in terms of fully realizing the power of a cloud financial and supply chain management solution.