How One Company Used Technology to Improve ‘Always On’ Capabilities

By Sue Doerfler

Heidtman Steel’s processing facilities operate 24 hours a day to meet customers’ demands. However, the company, headquartered in Toledo, Ohio, found that its cloud backup and recovery systems were too slow and unreliable to keep up with the always-on business model.

“We were doing a lot of manual intervention to get our backups to work and running initial tests with recoveries on our own,” says Ken Miller, electronic data interchange (EDI) and database administrator at Heidtman Steel. “This had a real impact on our business, with the time invested in manual support taking away from product completion time and quality.”

Like Heidtman Steel, companies and supply chain organizations are turning to technology solutions to (1) gain visibility to make better and more strategic decisions, (2) automate processes, (3) improve quality and speed, (4) modernize operations, (5) optimize and gain efficiencies and (6) reduce downtime, among a host of other capabilities. For many, interest and investment in digital technologies have accelerated during the coronavirus pandemic, which has made real-time or near-real-time supply chain monitoring an imperative.

Heidtman Steel got an earlier start at looking at digital technologies. In 2013, the company realized that its backup and recovery processes were in direct conflict with long-term business needs and goals, he says. One challenge was that the company’s custom ERP system is highly specialized to its production processes. “Each operation builds on the previous one,” Miller says. “If our ERP system was unavailable even for a short time, we would have to resort for manual production recording and then have to enter these transactions when the system became available again.”

Of late, the company has faced other issues: A concern over the increase in supply chain cybersecurity threats and the disruption caused by the coronavirus pandemic that potentially threatened operations.

To modernize its data protection strategy, avoid interruption in processes and become more strategic, Heidtman decided to look for a new solution that could facilitate the company’s “always-on” needs. “We were looking for something fairly easy to use,” Miller says. “We just wanted it to run and alert us if there was a problem. When it came time for updates, we wanted it to be as automated as possible and have the solution easily integrate.”

He continues: “We process more than 5 million tons of steel annually for customers, including the Ford Motor Company, which has used Heidtman Steel products in automotive manufacturing in its supply chain for more than 40 years. Because we are a service center and don’t produce steel itself, it’s difficult to get downtime windows for IT (information technology) maintenance. We’re an always-on type of business and if we need to shut down systems for backups or general updates, we’re losing a lot of ground and business because it takes a long time to boot back up again.”

From a cybersecurity perspective, the supply chain has always been a high-risk source for threat actors, Miller says: “Ransomware and intrusion attacks are at the top of our list, and coordinated approaches across supply chains that combine endpoint security, identity and access management (IAM), patch management, zero-trust frameworks, and backup/recovery can all work together as a best line of defense.”   

To determine the necessary features, Heidtman Steel first looked for vulnerabilities in its prior solutions, “which led us to not have full confidence in their recovery capabilities,” Miller says. The company’s existing data security measures were basic. The solution it chose, through backup and data management platform Veeam Software, enables such security measures as endpoint protection and system intrusion monitoring and alerting components. “We now have a multi-faceted data security strategy,” he says.

The company also can now recover data quickly and efficiently through an ERP system “that is one of several Tier-1 systems that play a critical role in our business, and where we’ve seen the most success,” Miller says. “We’ve also expanded our backup and recovery capabilities to other facets of our IT business, such as Microsoft Exchange, SharePoint and OneDrive for Business. We’ve had quite a few teams that have developed at our company in the last few years. Support for Microsoft Teams and SharePoint were especially beneficial to make sure that data was being properly backed up and we had restore points.”

Although supply chains, Miller notes, “are the backbone of business operations, many businesses are still unable to achieve complete visibility and control over them.” But increased cybersecurity threats and pandemic-induced disruptions have shown the need for quicker decision-making and data protection — and the benefits that technology solutions can provide.

(Photo credit: Getty Images/Nitat Termmee)

About the Author

Sue Doerfler

About the Author

As Senior Writer for Inside Supply Management® magazine, I cover topics, trends and issues relating to supply chain management.