Hello, everyone. And welcome to DataEndure’s TECH Talk. We are delighted to have Elizabeth Whamond from Second Harvest of Silicon Valley, joining us for our June session. Elizabeth, welcome. Second Harvest is near and dear to our heart, not only because they’ve been a customer for a number of years, but because they are an organization that DataEndure supports, just their mission and what they are doing in our community is so awesome. And so we’re delighted to have them here. Welcome Elizabeth.
Thank you. Thank you very much.
We’re also joined by Shahin. And we thought we’d take this opportunity, Elizabeth has a pretty amazing story to tell just with everything that’s been going on over these past few months, obviously Second Harvest is critical to our community on any given day, just based on the DNA of the Silicon Valley, and with COVID happening, and people in such great need, they are more important than ever. So Elizabeth, why don’t you tell us a little bit about what’s been going on with Second Harvest of Silicon Valley, and we’ll take it from there?
Sure. So things changed for us pretty quickly in March, like it did for everybody else, as the virus was spreading around here. Our organization relies really heavily on volunteers. In a typical year, about half – I’m sorry, in a typical year, the overall hours that volunteers provide to us more than doubles our workforce. We rely on them to come into our warehouses and source food, as well as to distribute out at distribution sites in the community.
We do have distribution sites that are run solely by volunteers. And so right as COVID was hitting, we started to see some of these sites close down because they didn’t have the volunteers to run the distributions. So in turn, the food bank took it upon ourselves to go out into these high need areas and actually open up our own new drives through distribution sites that we were staffing with our staff, as well as volunteers that we were able to recruit.
Up until COVID hit – up until February, the end of normal times, we had focused on our distributions being very farmer’s market style, where clients were able to go up to a table and pick and choose what they wanted to get. But since the shelter in place was put in place, and we wanted to make sure that some of the more vulnerable populations that we serve were able to stay healthy, we had to change that. And we had to change that pretty much on a dime.
So we started pre boxing a lot of the food that we distribute. At first it was primarily for the drive-thru distribution sites and the senior populations that we were serving. But today about 70% of the food that we’re putting out now is pre boxed. We’ve been really fortunate, the National Guard did come in and by virtue of doing – so they’re actually doing the bulk of that pre boxing work for us. And so we were able to repurpose dollars that would have gone into hiring temporary staff to do that work.
We were able to repurpose that money for food and to support our distribution and logistics to get that food out into the community. We talk about February being our baseline as to what normal used to be. So just for comparison in February, we distributed six and a half million pounds of food. And that was out to about a quarter million people in the community. And in May we distributed 11 and a half million pounds and served over a half a million people. So we’ve really ramped up operations.
That’s an incredible uptick. What have you guys – from an IT – you run all technology and IT for your company?
What have you had to adjust to be able to support that kind of ramp? Especially given that COVID’s hit and it’s harder to get onsite.
Yeah. Yeah. So our organization is considered a second responder and so we were allowed to remain open, so that we could have skeleton operations in order to get the food out the door. But we did institute a work-from-home policy which we didn’t have in place prior to COVID. And so we had to quickly be able to support having half of our workforce, about 100 people working from home.
Thankfully we already had a lot of projects in flight that were beneficial in us supporting that staff working from home. We had just done a hardware refresh and moved a lot of people off of desktop computers to laptops so that they were able to quickly transition. Additionally, we just upgraded our firewall so that we were able to support a greater number of VPN users. We had a couple of years ago actually, with DataEndure, we implemented your security operation center as a service.
So we felt like we were covered from a security point of view, which was actually really important for me. That’s one of the biggest concerns that I have is what could they introduce into our network from out there in the world. So we’ve also had to implement a new cloud-based phone system, which we just got in place last month so that our call center has the ability to now work from home. We have a call center that people can call into in order to get food referrals. And we’re in the midst of migrating our file share to the cloud right now. So we’ve been busy. We’ve been busy.
Yes, no sleep for the weary. We’ve seen a lot of challenges for folks, similar to what you described, had not planned in advance that a firewall upgrade needed to happen. Or they had firewalls that had limited licensing associated with VPN, because they assumed only 25% of the staff would need to ever work remotely. And overnight, you go from 25% to 100% having to VPN, and that’s where some of the moves you’ve made in advance of COVID coming, were great foresight on your part.
Because being able to consume cloud services, being able to have the firewall there, and the capacity there to support you, all those things are really an advantageous move that you made in advance. We’ve had customers that we had to scramble to help to get additional licensing for, new equipment for, because their productivity was coming to a standstill.
Yeah, that would have been a nightmare scenario for us. So thankfully we had a lot of these things either in flight or we had just implemented them. So we were able to pivot pretty quickly.
That’s great. Go ahead.
I was just going to say that the operational changes that you all have had to make, whether it be on the food distribution site, working with all of your community partners, IT, all of it is so dramatic. What do you think the future looks like? And I know that’s a really loaded question because none of us know the timing of when people can go back into work. There’s so much unknown, but based on what you’ve learned through all of this, I think first of all kudos to you and your team, for thinking about the what could happen or what should happen way before this. But what have you learned from this, and what are you going to take away going forward from this experience?
Yeah, I think as an organization that we’ve learned that we can institute change a lot more quickly than we thought we could. We were able to just get done what we have to get done. From an IT perspective, I think that what we’re learning is we’re probably going to need to invest more in technology training for our staff. That’s been one of the sticking points that we’ve seen. Although our staff has done a great job, they also had to transition to working remotely on a dime as well.
In terms of the need for our organization, we don’t expect that there’s going to be a massive drop off of the need out there anytime soon. Yes, people will be able to go to work, but the unemployment rate is so high. And the wealth gap is so large that we anticipate that we’re going to still be seeing quite a high level of need for at least the next year. But we’re very fortunate, we have great community support. We have really strong partnerships with companies like DataEndure.
Cisco has been another one that’s really had our backs through this. They helped us acquire a fourth warehouse really quickly so that we could get back stock of food that we knew was going to be flooding into another location. We have great support and we really appreciate that.
There’s a thought that there’s two camps, obviously like most things, that this is the new normal, and we’re going to be in a situation like this for a long time. And many companies are starting to think that it’s not so bad. Maybe we’ll reduce our office space and go to a more remote support workforce. It’s a little bit different for you guys, because so much of what you do is hands-on, but what are your thoughts in that kind of dialogue?
It’s funny. Pre COVID, we’ve always been a really face-to-face organization. Before this happened, we had three different warehouses, three different offices. And even though we use technology to videoconference, people would still drive between buildings to see you face-to-face. But we’ve successfully proven that we’re able to do our work, and then some, times too with half the workforce remote. And so I think those are the questions that we’re asking ourselves right now.
But half of the organization is made up of people who need to physically come in to do their job. And so there’s also we want to be thoughtful about how we approach that question because equity is really important to our organization. And I think we will see a future where we will offer our employees the flexibility of being where they need to be in order to do their work. And I think that we will very likely, longer term, see a lot of our staff being remote as a result.
We’re also a very social company, meaning that we like to interact with each other, very family first kind of mentality. And so it’s been a challenge for some of our employees in a similar way to be remote switching to this less than tactile interaction. We are also in a similar place where we’re starting to say, you know, it’s working and where everybody seems to be the – I would say the negative right now is I feel like I work more hours now than I did when I went into the office.
You can’t disconnect. Yeah.
Exactly. And Kirstin and I actually have the experience of shutting down our corporate office at a previous company we worked at together. And both of us were out of corporate, so we went completely virtual corporate. And the same thing happened. There was no pandemic going on at the time, it was just a business decision. And we had massive operation centers on each coast of the country and we were the only people – like 30 people in San Jose. So we shut down the San Jose office and went completely virtual. And again, I felt like at first, I loved it for the first week. The second week I was in complete depression. And then I adapted and what I ended up finding was I was not stopping work. I was working from the moment I woke up to sometimes up until dinner when I realized I’m starving.
That’s not good.
I know. I find some of those bad habits coming back and I keep forcing myself to get up and go get water and go get a walk in, go get whatever. Are your people having to deal with any of that as a first-time remote?
Yeah, definitely. My team in particular, half of the IT department is actually able to be remote. And the other half need to physically be in the building because they’re managing servers or help desk for the people who are physically here. And so even within our department we’ve had some challenges around that, some disconnect, right? But we’ve done things like had group social hours. We’ve gotten together on Zoom and played rock paper scissors with each other, silly thing just to keep connecting.
It’s tough. So coming back, you mentioned that you adapted our SOC offering a little over a year ago and first off, thank you for being a customer. I think that one of the things that makes us proud as a company is not just that we contribute in the food drives once a year and do what we can to help, but also to provide you support, to be able to do what you do and keep your people and your technology safe. It makes us feel better when it’s a company who’s making an impact on the community.
So I think it’s reciprocally where we’re very happy to be working with you. And I wanted to get your sense of, you mentioned peace of mind in terms of I can sleep at night knowing there’s people effectively watching the logs, watching the events that are happening. Have you seen a change in terms of what things you focus on as a result of what comes out of the SOC? Or are things pretty much consistent and you’re just more comfortable?
Yeah, initially we did have a larger signal-to-noise ratio, where we were getting alerts. And every time we’d get one, I’d have a little bit of a panic attack, like what’s going wrong now. But we’ve been able to dial those in. And so when we do hear from the SOC, which is really not frequently at all now, I’m trying to think of the last time we heard something. It’s something that’s actually actionable. It’s something that we really need to pay attention to.
Thankfully, we haven’t had any actual things we needed to worry about, but they passed someone else’s test. Someone else has already put their eyes on this and said, wait, we better actually get this in front of someone at the food bank to investigate further. So I really appreciated that because again, I think endpoints, our end-users are – they’re the ones that keep me up at night. And so I feel like you’ve given us a layer of protection that we didn’t have before, which how can you put a price on that?
We talk about it and I think we’ve talked about this before, too, the concept of a FourFecta, or it used to be a trifecta, and now we’ve added a fourth which is DNS protection, endpoint protection, and then the SOC underneath it, all three of which you have. And we’ve added a fourth layer, which is anti-phishing protection, which is blocking the phishing attempts before they get to the user.
All of which is designed as layers and while we felt that this was a good defense in depth, layered security approach prior to COVID, it’s become even more relevant now, because to your point, now all of a sudden your tech service is distributed and people are working out of their home offices where there isn’t a managed network, it’s their own home network and hopefully they have some sort of firewalling. And hopefully, the things are working as you expect them to. But if not, these layers of defense are really helpful in identifying things.
For companies who are out there who are challenged with how do I secure this remote workforce that I don’t control? I would say some of what you have implemented with our help and ahead of our help, is really helpful in terms of making sure that those endpoints are all – let’s say your edge has distributed. There’s no edge anymore. And how do you make that distributed edge continue to provide telemetry metrics and information that you can use to find an event?
I think what’s interesting too, Elizabeth, and you had mentioned this in a separate conversation that people might think that given your size, or given your technology, that Second Harvest itself isn’t a wildly technologically savvy company. Why on earth would you need to do all the things that you do? And your comment was well, gosh, we have the same challenges, the same exposure.
Why is it – I think you really are a leader in your space and a leader in your thinking that you didn’t necessarily look at it well, based on size or anything like that, but hey, here, here’s the exposure here’s what’s going on out there. What compelled you to really be a leader in your thinking around this and saying, hey, this is something we got to invest in?
Security has just always been I think, from a technology point of view, the one thing that keeps me up at night, just where can someone poke through? Yeah, and being a nonprofit, a lot of nonprofits don’t have the budget to be able to invest in technology and keeping things current, keeping things up to date, staying on the edge of what’s going on. We have the resources to do that, thankfully. But I think that even given this pandemic, we’ve gotten lots of press. And so the wrong person hears about all that press and they’re like, oh, wait a minute. Let me go see if we can get in there. And all it takes is just one bad actor.
We’ve often said, and I think when we first started talking about the SOC, we talked about this, you and I, Elizabeth, that the whole notion of what the SOC is trying to bring to our customers is to put time back on your side. Normally a bad actor can be inside of a network for up to six months, poking around, trying to figure out how to take advantage of something, compromise data, put ransomware on the system. And our goal has been to put that time back on your side in terms of investigating, finding the bad actors. And to your point, when we send a note, it’s the hackles go up, is there something going on? That’s really our goal. So again, thank you for being part of our network and part of our family.
Yeah. We’ve been really happy with you guys. Thank you.
Did you – from a wrap perspective, is there any last words you’d like to give our listeners?
It’s a Friday afternoon.
Well, we just so appreciate Elizabeth, you as a partner, we appreciate what Second Harvest is doing. I just can’t imagine what you all have been able to pull off, having almost literally an 85% increase in what you need to do overnight. I think it just speaks to the passion that you all have. It speaks to the investments you’ve made. It speaks to the relationships you have here in the Valley, like you mentioned. And I think, you’re really a Silicon Valley icon. That organization has been around 45 years, you’ve done so much good.
And we’re happy to see the success that you’ve had, and happy that we can be a small part of it, but certainly your mission of ensuring that people who need a meal can get one. We are on board with that and we just thank you. And we thank your whole team for all that you’re doing to take care of our Valley.
Thank you. Yeah, it’s really humbling to work for such a great organization. And like I said, we’re really grateful for partners like DataEndure. So thank you.
Well, thank you for joining us. We appreciate it. Have a great weekend.
And everybody out there, we’ll see you next month. Thank you all.