Distek Shakes the Status Quo with Microsoft

Introduction

Being the President of a growing business has many (many) challenges. Among those facing Distek’s Jeff Brinker, were security and employee productivity at the firm. That’s why the global manufacturer works with eGroup | Enabling Technologies.

Distek manufactures testing equipment for pharmaceutical and biotech companies. You may not have thought of how a pill dissolves inside your body, but Distek does. Their equipment simulates the drug in the human body, altering the temperature and motion of drug samples, and analyzing and confirming the dissolution profile of that drug. As result, when a patient takes an immediate releasing drug, they’ll know it’s really immediate, versus a drug that is set to slowly release over time. Distek proudly designs, assembles, tests, and ships its products out of its factory in New Jersey.

Employees are regularly collaborating on documents and showing their equipment to customers. After having used Microsoft 365 for several years, Distek felt it was the right time to get a security check on the environment and start using its more advanced capabilities.

Securing the Foundation

President Brinker recalled, “We spent about two days having one of Enabling’s engineers look at the setup of our system. They offered suggestions of what to do to improve security. It was a pretty simple project but provided a lot of benefits for us, and a comfort level of knowing that we hadn’t done anything wrong in the setup. We did find out there’s more we need to do. There’s always more to do!”

In addition to reducing risk, there’s a side benefit– When Distek is audited by its pharma or biotech customers, the process is easier. “We get audited all the time,” stated Brinker. “There are often questions about the security of our data. Having Microsoft’s tools helps us comprehensively answer those questions, and gives our customers a level of comfort that we have security controls in place.”

The security improvements are also helping Distek acquire cyber insurance. “There are certain boxes that you have to check to get insurance, which we didn’t have prior to working with Enabling Technologies,” recalled Brinker. “We check those boxes now.”

As the President, Jeff knows the importance of communication and change management. Distek followed the advice of eGroup | Enabling Technologies’ adoption success team: to communicate change early and often. “We made our people aware in advance of what’s happening, about why we’re doing it, and how it’s going to affect them. When we implemented MFA, there were probably a couple of users that maybe needed a little hand-holding, but overall, it was pretty easy. The tools Microsoft provides are easy to use.”

Secure AND Productive

Having that secure foundation allowed Distek to quickly respond and work with eGroup | Enabling Technologies to rollout advanced Microsoft 365 apps, like Microsoft Teams, which was prescient given the work-from-home shuffle.

“I feel very fortunate that we were progressive in our decisions of taking on cloud-based tools and Microsoft Teams,” asserted Brinker. “When COVID hit, we didn’t have remote employees. Essentially over a weekend, we were able to get most of our staff working from home. Our people were already comfortable using Teams, so we were able to make calls with each other and do virtual meetings right away. All things considered, when the world was in chaos and no one knew what was going to happen, we were able to get our staff working comfortably. You just see the benefit from how quickly we were able to do that.”

Teams Phone Enhances Hybrid Work Capabilities

“Our biggest hiccup in COVID was what should we do with our phone system,” lamented Brinker. “How do you route calls from our on-premises phone system to people who are working remotely?” The firm was on a physical ShoreTel phone system that had worked well but lacked mobile capabilities. The catalyst for change was that the server that ShoreTel ran on needed to be replaced to upgrade to a current version.

“ShoreTel had been acquired and I don’t really think they’re putting much effort into their on-premises phone systems anymore,” felt Brinker. “We knew we needed a change. We looked at various options.”

As this was during COVID, people were working remotely, and were already in Teams much of their day in virtual meetings. “Everyone was comfortable using it,” stated Brinker. “We knew implementation of voice would be pretty easy. It’s almost like you’re flipping a switch and now you have a dial keypad and can make outbound calls. The decision and transition were easy.”

Even better, for sales and other “always-on” roles, the Teams mobile app has proven valuable. “It’s essentially like having two phone numbers on your cell phone, my personal cell number, and my Distek phone number,” Jeff said.

Managing the Change

As President, Jeff knows there is a high rate of failure of software projects. To ensure the value of Teams phone was realized, he enlisted eGroup | Enabling’s adoption and success professionals. 

Since most of the population was already so familiar with Teams, the learning curve was short. Aside from some basic video training for the masses, eGroup | Enabling provided more extensive training for the staff that had to manage the auto attendant.

“Enabling was very helpful! They had a bunch of communication templates that we customized for our own needs– Three months before, we'd notify our users, and then again one month before, and then T-Minus 5 days. There was a whole program that you folks had."

 

Brinker knows that the people really only care about the last three feet of a Teams Phone deployment. “We have everyone use some type of some type of Teams-certified device,” he stated. “We gave them a choice of a headset or a little speaker puck. You want the audio to be clear on the phone and in virtual meetings. We’ve all had someone whose audio is not good and that takes away from everything.”

Distek did take the modern approach of headsets, not handsets. “We have no brick and mortar phones,” said Brinker. “We really didn’t even give them a choice of a handset. The truth is, people spent two years in virtual meetings on teams anyways. It (calling) is not that different.”

All that up front planning led to a near zero-impact cutover. “Because people were using teams before and then just started getting inbound and outbound phone calls, there really wasn’t much of a transition for most people. It was all relatively quiet which is which is perfect,” said Brinker (happily).

Technology Helps Recruiting in the Hybrid World

As the President of the growing firm, human resources are of paramount importance. “We’re in pharma and biotech, which is a booming industry,” Jeff stated. “To hire and retain employees, our management team really felt like it’s a requirement to offer hybrid work right now. I mean, one of the first questions we hear from recruits is, ‘Is the job remote?’”

Brinker believes Microsoft’s 100% mobile-ready tools are providing an advantage. “We don’t have to just hire people in New Jersey,” he said. “We can open up our population pool. In this time where it’s very challenging to hire people, that is a big benefit.”

Bringing on those new employees virtually has become simpler too. “I think it makes it a lot easier for onboarding and offboarding,” said Brinker. “We’ve got people starting who are in virtual training for the first week or two. Without some of these tools, it would be much more difficult to do that.”

His team has responded well to the hybrid model. “We feel like they’ve earned the right to be able to work remotely because they’ve proven that they can do it and they’ve earned the trust to be able to do it,” Brinker stated. 

Tips for Bringing a Remote Workforce Together

Distek realizes that with a hybrid workforce, there are changes in corporate culture and communications. Brinker leads from the top. “I do quarterly town hall meetings on Teams now. Now all of our staff can hear updates and what’s happening, which helps a lot of our remote staff feel more involved in the company. It’s much more transparent.”

The community is staying active asynchronously as well. “We have an organization-wide team that’s been beneficial for our staff. We do a lot on core values that we like to promote. We give out core value recognition and we post that on Teams. We encourage staff to put comments on there, a smiley face or feedback. You really do want to try to get the engagement. The tool works much better when you get traction and everyone involved in using it.”

 

“Work is getting done, and some work is probably faster without the distractions in the office as well!"

 

Big Beneficiaries in Sales, Engineering, and in the Distribution Channel

Brinker was excited to share how his organization uniquely uses Teams. Aside from remote staff, road-warrior salespeople, and engineers, distributors and customers are reaping major advantages.

“A couple years ago it’s hard to fathom our engineers working remotely because they’re so hands on.” Now, Distek’s benchtop testing devices are taken home by engineers for testing, and they use Teams’ cameras to show remote colleagues the panels of their devices. “The engineers really embraced the communication in Teams, and then it took off.”

Cross-functional teams provide better visibility to extended team members. “We have engineering teams with some sales or services people in it. Otherwise, information would’ve been in a meeting, but people now have better visibility to make more informed decisions.”

In a sense, while Distek grows, Microsoft Teams is making it seem smaller. An org-wide Team has improved corporate communications. As opposed to making announcements via email or during in-person announcements on the production floor at headquarters, President Brinker does quarterly meetings on Teams. “Remote employees know what’s going on and the company is more transparent.”

Due to recent travel restrictions, Distek created a video studio on campus, and began doing virtual training for distributors and customers. Training now happens multiple times a year. “A previous in-person training session would have 8-10 people, and now we get 30-40 people learning through Teams. We have multiple portable cameras to zoom in/out on the instruments. It’s been a huge benefit. It’s quite effective and the feedback has been very positive.”

Continuous Improvement

“Enabling Tech has been very helpful in providing tools to our staff to do their job,” asserted Brinker. “Enabling has the experience, the expertise. We’ve been impressed with the staff that we’ve worked with, which is why we’ve continued to do projects. For us, it gives us a comfort level that we’ve implemented properly.”

Keeping up with the continuous changes in the Microsoft cloud isn’t easy for a growing company, so Distek again leans on the eGroup | Enabling team. “Part of our support plan with you folks is where we’ll do a monthly call with one of your staff and they will provide a summary of changes. That’s been helpful because that is a challenge to follow as they change a lot, and they change quickly.”

Despite his passion for technology, Brinker concentrates his focus on his team.

“We try to continue being progressive on our stance with IT and leverage the cloud. But it really comes down to staff using the tools. You've got to inform your staff, you have to do training, you have to do communicate because you do want to get that user adoption.”

It’s rare for a President to be so attuned to the importance of change management, but Jeff knows there’s a high failure rate of software initiatives. “It comes down to staff and user adoption. It’s important to get leadership from the top, including the departmental managers who need to lead by example.” He knows that may not happen organically. “If the leader of the department is not posting chats and using Teams to communicate,” Jeff advised, “then the rest of the department is probably not going to either. Make sure your President, CEO, or owner and the leadership team really has bought into the tools that you’re using, embraces them, and helps get user adoption.”