“So, you know the Microsoft Teams deployment we have planned throughout this year? We need to deploy that to everyone this week. We’re also going to need to ramp up our remote working capability ten-fold and make sure the entire IT team can work from home without any issues. And the business is running at full capacity so we need to do this without any disruption to the business”.  That wasn’t the exact conversation I had with my team in March but it was along those lines. Like many businesses, we had already started making plans for dealing with lockdown and in many functions, we were already working differently; then the lockdown came and we were forced into action. The challenge for the ABP UK IT team was to enable remote working for all our colleagues with new and existing technology and with no disruption to a business that was running at unprecedented levels.

ABP UK is part of ABP Food Group, which was founded in Ireland in 1954 and made its first venture into the UK food industry in 1981. Since then, we’ve gone from strength to strength, working with some of the biggest names in retail and foodservice, and some of the most forward-thinking experts from across the agricultural industry. It’s always our goal to be the best at what we do. As pioneering food manufacturers, we always embrace the very latest ideas in innovation, animal welfare and sustainability – so that we can continue to adapt to the shape of the market and lead the UK food industry on key issues.

ABP UK has seventeen sites across the UK with the group head office in Birmingham. Our IT systems have been designed and implemented to give our sites the maximum possible uptime with the ability to run independently. As a result, most IT demand comes from colleagues who use local IT services. We have implemented solutions to allow our colleagues to use their IT systems on the road but the demand for remote working was relatively low. When lockdown came, we had to make sure we kept our factories running so we could Feed the Nation and we had to extend our remote working capability for the hundreds of people who now needed to access vital IT services from outside the office, making sure those individuals who could work on-site were able to collaborate with those colleagues who were working remotely.

The IT team stepped up to this challenge tremendously well. There are hundreds of years of business knowledge within the IT team and this is blended with a strong desire for learning, particularly from new members of the team and the graduates. A strong can-do culture and great technical expertise meant that in less than a week the team had increased our remote working capability from 40 to 700 and deployed Microsoft Teams to more than 1200 people. The bigger challenge was educating people on how to use these new services and we were able to do that in bite-sized chunks through the local IT teams. We know we’ll be back later this year with more training as part of our modern workplace digital transformation which will plug any gaps.

Demand on the business continued to grow significantly in the early days of lockdown as we strived hard to feed the nation and as the demand on the business grew, demand on the IT team and the IT systems also grew. It was challenging making sure we got the balance between implementing new solutions to support new ways of working, keeping our systems running and continuing to deliver the projects that add business value. We were able to deliver the right things at the right time by working closely with the business (using new remote working solutions) and transforming our ways of working using digital solutions which we use to ensure we are focussed on the most important initiatives for the business.

Even after we had established solid ways of remote working the demand didn’t relent. We had delivered remote working capability and now we had the challenge of using technology to help keep our workforce safe. Along with all the excellent measures put in place by the business, we very quickly identified that thermal cameras may help reassure people and be yet another way to help keep people safe. These were implemented at pace, linked to turnstiles (they lock if an abnormal temperature is detected) and our CCTV system and are used to monitor the temperature of every person at a site before they get on site. We are now looking at our options for biometric security and will be implementing facial recognition systems at our sites.

Throughout lockdown we have continued to deliver other significant initiatives, delivering an extensive Office 365 pilot to one of our sites, launching a brand new corporate Intranet and still delivering dozens of business initiatives each week, all of which continue to add value. As lockdown lifts, we are now focussed on how we can get the right blend of remote working and office-based working in place. Working remotely for many at ABP has been challenging, but it has been incredibly successful. Now, with a balance of office-based and remote working, we will continue with our digital transformation for one of Europe’s leading food producers.

Gary Allwood