Making Hybrid Work: Unifying Infrastructure to Support a New Model for Manufacturing
Moving to remote work is relatively straightforward in many typical office environments. Whether in response to the pandemic or as part of a longer-term retention strategy, companies around the world have adopted and adapted to more flexible ways of working. But remote work in other environments, like manufacturing, isn’t as straightforward.
Production can’t stop, and not everyone can work off-site. The question then becomes how to make a hybrid work environment that offers safety, flexibility, and efficiency—and allows companies to keep making the goods that millions of people depend on.
Working as One STADA
Although this story begins during the pandemic, it speaks to a larger goal to integrate all our systems into one vendor. is a leading manufacturer of high-quality pharmaceuticals, drawing on our 125-year history that began in pharmacies. We have a global reach: STADA products sell in around 120 countries, and it employs more than 12,500 people worldwide. I have been at STADA for more than a decade, and today I am the Head of Global Network.
STADA holds among our company values the concept of One STADA. We act in the company’s best interests rather than our individual business unit or function. The company is structured into different clusters, among them Germany, Serbia, the UK, and Asia. Each of these clusters used to function independently, with their own infrastructure, priorities, and teams. Today, we have improved communication and cooperation between locations. We now have weekly cross-hub meetings to share problems and find the best solutions. We all benefit from hearing different viewpoints and have gained more opportunities with this approach.
Guided by the One STADA principle, we also wanted to integrate our operations across all countries into one network, one infrastructure, and one cloud partner. Working with a single vendor provides us with a better understanding of our infrastructure and makes it easier to manage. When governments began to implement pandemic restrictions, we saw an opportunity to streamline our operations and move them to a single provider with a single source of support.
A New Opportunity for a Unified Infrastructure
I’m based in Serbia, the South Eastern European (SEE) Hub, and we were an ideal starting point for such an integration. Serbia is home to STADA IT Solutions, a competence-based shared service center that's part of the Global Information System (GIS), an international team. The IT shared service center is responsible for the implementation and support of all SAP and Microsoft projects for the entire STADA Group worldwide. Every pilot project starts here.
Some people think it’s risky to work with one vendor, but we felt confident moving toward our single-vendor integration with Cisco. Cisco offers a wide range of high-quality solutions with high interoperability, we can get support in every country where we operate, and they offer transparency of documentation and certification. They are leaders in networking, and they are constantly working to improve solution functionality. We had also seen successful Cisco implementations at companies of our size, so we were convinced it would work for us.
With the pandemic taking shape, our project was no longer just about the ease of management of a singular system. We knew we had to develop a secure hybrid work model so that as many people as possible could use the system from home.
Since STADA is migrating the majority of services from on-prem to Microsoft Azure cloud, it is very important to provide efficient and effective access to services hosted in Azure. With the help of the Cisco SD-WAN on-ramp for SaaS, all the traffic to cloud applications such as Microsoft 365 would be optimized and therefore provide a better user experience for our employees. Our final goal was to have optimized application and service access in the public cloud for all users.
Then, we worked to provide secure access to those applications using the multi-factor authentication platform Cisco Secure Access by Duo. To enable safe browsing for working from home, we implemented Cisco Umbrella to secure internet access and control cloud application usage across networks, branch offices, and roaming users. We use the Umbrella DNS layer protection, but we also use Umbrella Secure Internet Gateway (SIG). Together with Secure Web (formerly known as WSA), all users can securely browse the web and use internet services, and Umbrella protects roaming users and users in locations without WSA and where SD-WAN branch routers can be integrated with Umbrella-SIG. The goal was to provide complete web proxy security protection for users, no matter where they’re located.
We use Cisco Firepower to manage our firewall portfolio and network security solutions and Cisco SD-WAN and FlexVPN for WAN. STADA chose Cisco SD-WAN for a number of reasons, including:
- optimal usage of internet and SP links and service
- centralized, simplified, and efficient management and operations of WAN network
- simplified and efficient support and maintenance
- the possibility of implementing different network topologies for different types of services and applications
- defining specific SLA and quality of service for different applications using app-aware routing
- the possibility of optimization SaaS traffic (e.g. Microsoft 365)
- integration with other Cisco security portfolio solutions
Cisco SD-WAN provides a complete and unified solution for WAN, and layering all of these solutions, we equipped our colleagues to work from home safely and securely.
A Workplace That’s Easy to Manage
STADA continues to grow through mergers and acquisitions. Just last year, STADA took on two merger and acquisition projects, but integrating new companies into our systems is simple since we have the template for our infrastructure. Cisco core switching has made the entire infrastructure easy to maintain and layer more Cisco solutions across many locations.
Cisco’s zero-touch provisioning has simplified management further and has been useful throughout the pandemic, as people often couldn’t be on-site as frequently as before. Zero-touch provisioning means we can send a new or replacement device to a location and all they have to do is plug it in. Configuration and updates are all done remotely, saving everyone time.
Our Cisco partner, MDS, has supported us throughout the consultation and implementation process. We continue to work alongside the MDS team to optimize this infrastructure in every way possible: to make the most out of our bandwidth, increase cost efficiencies, conserve resources, and improve functionality and business continuity.
How a Manufacturing Company Handles Hybrid Work
When the pandemic started, it was unimaginable to think STADA employees could work from home. We didn’t have the infrastructure to allow for that, especially at the scale of over 10,000 employees. But the pandemic also forced us to figure out a hybrid work model where employees can securely access all the applications they need and stay as productive and efficient as they were in the office. Now, working from home and the office have equal value, and we can offer employees that choice. That makes STADA a better employer and improves the overall work experience for our workers.
Of course, not all STADA employees can work from home. It is the nature of manufacturing to be on-site, and we cannot change that. STADA manufacturing plants are located worldwide, with more than 20 production facilities consisting of state-of-the-art production lines, modern labs, automated storage, and various quality control and safety mechanisms that support the reliable and efficient production of pharmaceuticals. Especially during a pandemic, our work must continue so we can keep delivering medicine to patients the world over.
We’ve established various sets of tests and controls during the pandemic to ensure those who must work in our facilities stay safe. But we have also minimized the number of people in our production facilities at any given time. We increased the monitoring functions in our production facilities using a robust portfolio of devices and software, including SAP, Salesforce, and Savanna.NET warehouse management system. These systems allow for surveillance and monitoring that some workers can control remotely. If something goes awry during production, these systems enable off-site workers to see that and react quickly.
Even as production and corporate workers have moved off-site, our communication has stayed strong. For secure collaboration from home, we use Cisco Jabber, which integrates with Microsoft Teams. Combining the two means we can use a soft-phone solution even to call people who aren’t on Microsoft Teams. For collaboration with production facilities, we’ve integrated Cisco Unified Communications Manager with Microsoft Teams, so when someone calls a colleague’s local extension, it rings on their softphone. Everyone can still reach each other, regardless of where they are.
Our manufacturing process is monitored and automated with IoT sensors that feed real-time data to operations and management. We have also started to leverage artificial intelligence (AI) to build production around predicted medication sales. The ongoing pandemic has complicated this process, as no one can predict anything too far in advance.
To prepare for all scenarios, we have begun to explore various SAP modules that infuse AI technologies into our enterprise. These technologies help us realize operational insights and improvements, reduce operational costs, make better business decisions, and enable new revenue streams. Through our broad portfolio of IT services, IoT, AI, smart devices, and machine-to-machine (M2M) communication, we can better manage when we need to ramp up production and determine who needs to be in the production facilities at any given time.
Increased Agility, Scalability, and Collaboration at STADA
Moving to a single solutions provider has enabled STADA to support a hybrid work model for many of our employees. But it’s also improved security and collaboration, simplified management and operations, provided instant scalability, and improved end-user experience and productivity. Moving to Cisco has also reduced the total cost of ownership of many solutions through simplified, flexible licensing.
We currently have two enterprise agreements (EAs) with Cisco, which set the conditions for price, delivery, and support. This flexible licensing has led to the faster, more secure onboarding of new users, and we also get more room to grow. If our number of employees expands by 200 people in one month, it’s not a problem. We no longer give new employees a laptop and tell them they have to wait to use specific applications because we don’t have the licenses yet. Instead, they can get to work right away, and we know they’re just as secure as everyone else.
At STADA, our core values are integrity, entrepreneurship, agility, and One STADA unified across all locations. We were divided when I came to this company, but now we are unified under one infrastructure. By partnering with Cisco and integrating their solutions, STADA has put our values into action and simultaneously created a modern hybrid work model in the manufacturing industry.