Marc De Serio is the Chief Technology Officer of the Henry M. Jackson Foundation for the Advancement of Military Medicine (HJF). You can read the full HJF case study here.
We all find ourselves confronted with novel and unfamiliar situations and challenges in the face of the ongoing global pandemic. For my team at the Henry M. Jackson Foundation for the Advancement of Military Medicine (HJF), the stakes to ensure business continuity were particularly high.
HJF supports the scientific community, be it the military, government or academia, with services to facilitate research that benefits our warfighters and civilians alike. We manage HR, finance, IT, etc. for about 1,500 research programs including trauma, tropical diseases, infectious and emerging diseases, such as Zika, Ebola, and now COVID-19.
Over the past weeks, many research programs have been pivoting to reallocate assets and resources to COVID-19-related projects, ranging from the actual sequencing of the virus’ DNA structure to therapeutics and tracking.
Being surrounded by men and women in uniform, we use the military terminology flash-to-bang to describe the time between the inception and rollout of a project. With a work-from-home mandate on the horizon, we had to make sure our teams supporting these highly critical research programs had remote access to their applications as quickly as possible. Thanks to our incredible team, my architect @Tom, and the partnership with Zscaler, it only took us 48 hours from the initial phone call to having secure remote access through Zscaler Private Access (ZPA) rolled out to our staff. We were lucky in that we had already deployed Zscaler Internet Access (ZIA) in 2019 and had Z App installed on our endpoints, which facilitated the insane speed at which we were moving and at the scale we needed.
To learn more about the HJF deployment, download the case study.
A project for which we teamed up with the federal government perfectly illustrates the impact that our ZPA rollout is having on the COVID-19-related research. We provide federal users and their gene sequencing machines partitioned access to our high-performance computing (HPC) network. Had we chosen to roll out Citrix instead, it would have taken between four and six weeks. During this time, the efficiency of the researchers would have diminished significantly. Even if we had prioritized researchers during a rollout, they depend on our people in the back offices who order and manage the dye supplies that are necessary to run these gene sequencers. We were able to roll out ZPA in two days, avoided disruptions to the supply chains, and are continuing to 100 percent support these research programs.
In our journey to transform HJF’s IT organization from a culture of being very timid on technology to being at its forefront, we are bringing incredible value to the overall organization. Deploying best-of-breed technology, such as Zscaler, has not only enabled us to embrace work from home, but also delivers a great user experience. (Our users have continued to be complimentary of their experience.) This proves that IT can be an agile player who can quickly and effectively pivot and innovate to empower the business. This has brought us great trust and equity as a team from the people we support and has changed the perception of IT from being the “janitors of technology” and a cost center to a business enabler and partner who helps to pave a way forward.
I encourage all my peers, especially those in smaller organizations, to embrace the challenge of transforming your IT organization. You don’t need a massive staff to be at the bleeding edge of technology and to help your business reach the next level. By pivoting and embracing new technologies, and moving away from an on-premises infrastructure, you not only save costs but also transform your organization into an attractive employer sought out by great talent. Shifting from putting out fires that are already causing damage to getting ahead of them and practicing fire prevention has also strengthened the morale of our IT team. This, along with implementing a change management process, has probably been the most important milestone we achieved as a team.
As an IT organization, we strive to highlight the human element. That means recognizing people for their achievements, getting together for team events, and having fun, but also sharing our stories, struggles, and challenges. For me, this also means embracing the fact that, during meetings these days, I have the occasional kid showing up in the camera or crying in the background. I am fortunate to have my oldest helping take care of the younger ones to support me as I manage the new reality of having three kids at home while my wife works long shifts in the hospital. I am sure many of you have encountered similar experiences.
As we are all going through this together, I hope you and your families are well and safe, and are keeping up your spirits as we encounter and overcome these challenges.
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