Nicola Buckley, EVP, Park Place Technologies, shares with Sarah three tactics that have enabled PPT to not only survive COVID-19 but thrive and grown during the crisis.
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Sarah: Nicola, thank you so much for being here with us today. I’m very excited for the conversation. So before we dive in to talking about how Park Place has not only survived, but thrived during COVID-19, can you tell us a bit more about Carquest technologies, your role and anything the listeners should know before we get into your story.

Nicola: Absolutely. Thank you Sarah, it’s a pleasure to be here. My name is Nicola Buckley. I am executive vice president for global service delivery in Park Place technologies. Park Place itself has been around since 1991. I’ve been here for about two and a half years. We’re focused on delivering hardware maintenance in large data center environments. So right now we’re hitting on 18,000 customers across the world, across the globe in about 58,000 data centers, supporting roughly 150 countries.

Sarah: Awesome. Thank you. So Nicola and I have recently connected to work on an article that we published on future of field service, and I was really taken with your story because I think… it’s interesting to talk with someone whose business isn’t just surviving, but thriving, as I said. But what’s more interesting is that there are some really specific reasons for that. It’s not by chance, it’s certainly by efforts, and we discussed three particular tactics that were key to the way you’ve been able to manage all of this and even grow. So the first of those is that Park Place had a business continuity plan in place. I’m hoping you can start by telling us a bit about that plan, and what it entails, and why you think that was so important in helping you guys as this all began.

Nicola: Yeah, absolutely. We as an organization made the decision to create a business continuity plan a couple of years ago and quite transparently, the viewpoint was probably more focused on an IT compromise more than anything else, but the team of leaders, and I’ll take zero credit for this, that put that plan together did in fact think about multiple scenarios, not just IT compromise. And one of those scenarios was pandemic and I, myself and I remember talking with you, Sarah, when we talked about this, we’ll never have to exercise a BCP plan for a pandemic and here we are in 2020. So the team had the foresight to think about not only your typical, IT compromise, but other scenarios. And with that, then the plan was created, documented. We then implemented the plan in a test mode multiple times.

Nicola: So we executed the plan in a test scenario across the company, across the globe. So it wasn’t unusual. It wasn’t uncomfortable even for the team. As we started to understand what COVID was bringing to the table. We were observing the situation in [inaudible 00:05:09] from about early February, I would say by mid-February, we had a taskforce for COVID specifically, and that was led by the BCP leadership team. By March 16th, we had pivoted to 100% remote work and Park Place is an organization that’s very open about our preference to be in the office. So again, that could have been very bumpy, but because we’ve exercised the plan in action multiple times and test scenarios, it wasn’t unusual that this is a stressful environment we’re in, in general, but this did not add stress to our team members, which was excellent.

Sarah: Yeah. And I think that’s a really important point to emphasize is, it wasn’t just a matter of having, having it and having it on a drive somewhere, sitting there and having done the thinking behind it. But you practiced it you really multiple times made sure that you had efforts to make sure everyone was familiar with it, knew how to act upon it so that it wasn’t just a document sitting somewhere. It was something that people knew what to do with it when it comes time to put it into action. So retrospectively, companies that are amidst this crisis that didn’t have a business continuity plan… I don’t know how much creating one will help them now, but I do think that it’s important to consider going forward because obviously even though we might think something like global pandemic will never happened or we’ll never need to use it, here we are. What is your advice for folks on important considerations for creating and familiarizing the business?

Nicola: Yeah, that’s a great question, Sarah. So I have to put all the credit and consistency and the execution of this plan to the people that we picked to build the plan to start with. So we created a cross functional team of leaders that wear other hats. You know the BCP lead is a lady by the name of Jan Taylor. She sits up just outside of San Diego. Her day job is vice president of service delivery for them for the West coast, which is a busy job to have. Betsy Dellinger, who is our general counsel and head of HR. We had Adam Brady who is a business process owner and Loretta Brady who’s a quality assurance lead. They brought very different points of view and they built many teams and many tasks force to contribute to the plan, but that really gave the plan depth and really 360 degree view on the scenarios.

Nicola: And again, we had a pandemic as a scenario, as a result. The second piece was execution of the plan in test mode. So not only did we socialized it, we did it via our online learning management system, which was a great idea, we deliver training on that system all the time. It’s probably focused more on process and technical training. The team decided no, we will create BCP training. We will put it in our online learning management system, which we internally call uptime academy, mandate the training and get sent gently reminders to the team that hadn’t consumed the training within a certain period of time until we had a hundred percent consumption. So again, it wasn’t a check the box exercise, we really took it to heart and took it seriously and made sure that our team members understood what it meant for them.

Sarah: Yeah. So the next key area is the use of technology. And so Park Place had a very strong technological foundation and you’ve been able to fall back on that as this crisis has unfolded. So tell us a bit about your digital first approach and how that was sort of in place prior to COVID-19 occurring.

Nicola: Yeah, that again was something that was by plan. We as an organization grew up with a very strong field engineering workforce, but as you scale and you grow as an organization, you need to be able to optimize that workload and that growth and start to use digital infrastructure to deliver on that service capability, not only for internal benefits, but mostly for our customer experience. We’re very focused on our customers. We’re a culture based on people and our customers are part of that. So it’s our job, when we take this very seriously to remove any complexity from engaging with us, for our customers, it needs to be consistent, easy choice. We like to deliver choice and personalization. So after deploying Alliance and standardizing on Alliance, as our platform across the globe, we started a program called E-services, which really started the journey of our digital first capability.

Nicola: We built a customer portal called Central Park that sits on top of Alliance. And that allows our customers to very simply log service events, change their contracts, add assets, drop assets. They can change who their contact administrators are, look at who their escalation pots are. So it’s very, very simple interface, but makes it very simple for our customers, high value, low effort to engage with us. And then on top of that, and this definitely did benefit us as we started to work remotely and our customers started to work remotely, we created a mobile app, PP Tech Mobile, which is the portal in your pocket. So you can do all of those same things on a mobile app. And we’ve seen adoption of that grow over the last number of weeks because customers are in a mobile situation or working from home.

Nicola: We also have a remote monitoring hardware product called Park View. And again, that’s integrated with our customer portal. We call it our portal, our entry point, our single pane of glass. Our customers can get everything from that portion, including a hardware monitoring capability, which remotely monitors hardware, proactively identifies any folds, automatically creates a ticket. We send a field engineer, we send parts to the site more often than not without our customer, even realizing that they’ve had an issue in the first place. And we have less customers in data centers these days because of COVID-19. So for us to be able to tell them, you’ve got an issue we’ve got you covered, you don’t need to worry, it’s just taking a lot of stress out of the situation for our customers. So ahead of COVID-19, it was our plan to have this capability and continues to be, and we will iterate and we will constantly deliver new capabilities and new value added services. But during COVID-19 and the pandemic, it certainly has proven another use case of why you do need to focus on building digital capability into your service delivery environment.

Sarah: Absolutely. So very good point and I think that companies were already on a digital path have been able to really ramp up those efforts and rely on those tools during this time. And companies that weren’t, I think are really seeing the criticality of this adoption and really it’s lowering the resistance to change because those organizations are realizing that they need to get on board. So let’s talk a little bit more detail, particularly about PP Tech Mobile and Park View, about how you already have those. So they’re not new offerings since COVID-19 began, but they’ve really put you in a position of strength as this crisis has unfolded and by giving your customers options as working conditions have changed. So can you just talk a little bit more about each of those and how you’ve sort of seen them benefit your customer base, benefit Park Place and increase in use and adoption since this started?

Nicola: Yeah, absolutely. So as I mentioned at the top of the conversation where we provide hardware maintenance on multiple OEM products, thousands of products, hundreds of OEMs. So we don’t create those products. We’re not a manufacturer, we’re a service delivery organization. So again, our focus is always on allowing our customers choice and the room to make the right decisions for themselves and give them a very simple entry point into how they gain access to our services. So both PP Tech Mobile and Park View are agnostic to the product. They can support Dell, EMC, IBM, HP. So we’re allowing our customers the opportunity to consolidate how they manage their very complicated data center environments, using very simple tools that takes a lot of the stress and worry out of managing those environments. We’re almost like staff augmentation in some respects, we will do that work for you to give you the opportunity to think about how you’re going to manage your business going forward.

Nicola: The new normal is unknown to a lot of people. Budgets are getting squeezed, new decisions are having to be made. And we’re seeing this in Park Place ourselves, we’re making decisions that are different than we originally planned in January to make sure that we’re continuing to drive success into the platform. So what we want to do is make sure our customers don’t have to worry about risk or issues in their data centers. They can engage with us themselves using mobile app very simply. They can adopt part view and allow machine monitoring to engage on their behalf automatically. And again, they’re not worrying about maintenance of their data center. They’re thinking about how they navigate new world order with this pandemic environment upon us.

Sarah: Yup. And then you’ve seen increased production on both of those solutions. And I know no one has a crystal ball, so I’m not asking you for definitive answers. What is your perception on how customers’ adoption of your E-services and digital tools will evolve in a post COVID world? How do you think the impact will kind of continue?

Nicola: Yeah. We’re starting to see a new behavior. Customers…. and we’re all customers right at the end of the day. So if something isn’t pressing or isn’t a priority, but it’s embraced, it takes longer to get adopted, right? These capabilities became pressing. They were already embraced. They made sense, but they became pressing. So we’re seeing adoption jumps significantly. Our customers are seeing the benefit. And although our core competency is hardware maintenance, we’re also growing up the stack in the data center. We have a strategy called DMSO, Discover Monitors Support Optimize. And that means that by having hardware monitoring or having the agent monitoring your assets, we can then move up the stack, monitor your server, monitor your application, and eventually monitor your database across networks, servers, and storage. So again, customers are realizing they have multiple tools, multiple manufacturers in their environment. It’s confusing. They have different teams supporting different aspects of the data center.

Nicola: Our goal is to consolidate the management of the entire data center from hardware all the way up to application, allow our customers to invest their time and their resources into executing on their strategy. But by ensuring that the maintenance aspect of their organization is not part of their day job, that is the trusted hands of Park Place.

Sarah: Yeah. I think the point you made is a good one that we’re all customer, right? And some of the evolution you’re seeing within your customer base with the digital tools that you’re forgetting by them, we’re seeing with companies that are leveraging digital tools with their field forces. So for instance, if you look at Augmented Reality. Augmented Reality, I’ve talked with numerous parties over the years that have deployed it, and it has a very strong value proposition, but there were still pockets of, I don’t want to say resistance, but just kind of complacency. So to your point it wasn’t not embraced, but it wasn’t critical. And so the folks that weren’t accustomed to those tools would just, in some instances, prefer to just keep doing things the way they had always done. Now it’s become a necessary and critical tool for these companies to persist with delivering service to their customers. And therefore employees that may have resisted that change a bit in the pass or embracing it. And I think that that openness to looking at different tools, different systems, different services is something that I think will stick.

Sarah: I think people just are going to be a bit more open minded and be a bit more willing to evolve and change. So maybe that’s a positive. So, yeah. So the final tactic or key to your success during this time that we had discussed and I think you guys deserve a lot of credit for this because very often companies get sort of either stuck in their ways or just stuck in their internal rules. And so the final thing is how you, how you really made a concerted effort to look at how your customer’s needs have changed since COVID-19 came into play and really work to be very flexible in changing internally to meet those needs. As you said earlier, to really make things simple and stress free for them. So I’m hoping you can talk a bit about how some of the ways that you’ve pivoted to be really flexible in meeting the needs of your customer.

Nicola: Yeah, absolutely. So and even for me, two and a half years into Park Place, I came from a much larger organization and I was astounded from day one. The flexibility the leadership team has in meeting our customer needs. Now we have to make the right choices for the company at the end of the day. But during this particular event is another example of that. Our head of sales, Ted Rieple got up with Betsy Dellinger our general consult, the topic on our executive staff meetings around our customers are having a hard time understanding what their budgets look like today and what they’ll look like tomorrow. They still need maintenance. They still need people taking care of their data centers. We need to work with them on that. And very quickly they put together a quick task force again and introduced contracts with shorter terms that allowed our customers to make those choices, short term engagement with Park Place, give them the opportunity to think longer term in terms of strategic decision making.

Nicola: And what we find a lot of the time actually is a customer in need short term, becomes a very loyal customer longterm. And we see that a lot. And like I say I’m an engineer by discipline, but my passion is in the customer experience and we lead with the voice of the customer. We have a very close relationship with all of our customers. We have a customer advisory board. We, in fact, for the services program, they prioritize a lot of the features for us. They tell us what they want and we deliver it in that order. So much like that we spoke to our customers about what does it feel like? What does it look like in terms of their needs from a spend perspective today without putting any you forcing any commitment on them? And that’s really why we turned around these contracts that are very short term, as short as three months to allow our customers the head space to make those longer term decisions.

Sarah: Yeah. Yeah, I think that’s excellent. And I think that I’ve talked with numerous people about the concept of the way you treat your customers right now is something that’s going to be remembered for a very time. So to your point, would you typically offer three months contracts? Probably not, but being able to understand the difficult position there in and being flexible enough to make changes in the short term that will ultimately benefit you long term by creating that loyalty and building all these relationships is very smart. However, in a lot of words, organizations, I think that there is some real fear of introducing that level of flexibility there’s still some real hesitancy around that. So I’m just wondering if you have any kind of insight for folks on how did you guys at Park Place kind of come together and one, work quickly and nimbly to introduce these new terms and these new offerings, but two, determine how flexible are you willing to be and what does that look like? So it kind of the process behind making those decisions quickly, is there any advice you can share on that?

Nicola: Yeah, we are hyper collaborative. So we talk as a leadership team as an entire organization daily and multiple times a day. So the ability to easily gain access to a peer doesn’t, especially now more than ever remote or not, is incredible success of Park Place. We are very open minded. We’re okay to admit when decisions that’ll be made may not be optimal after a certain period of time. We’ll pull back, we’ll course correct, but we’re hyper collaborative. We talk to each other a lot, as I said, Ted brought this suggestion to the table, quickly engage with Betsy, they turned around a product that we were able to deploy to the sales teams. We’re keeping a very close eye on it to understand, are we putting ourselves in a position of compromise or not, so far not.

Nicola: Our Chief Finance officer is holding us accountable to make sure that we’re not also, but I would say it boils down to being able to get on that video call, pick up the phone, call your peer, call your teammate with an idea, put together a good cross functional team with varying inputs for anything that’s new, or might seem a bit unprecedented to really test it out and then make the decision from there. So I put it down to the fact that we’re just constantly communicating and collaborating.

Sarah: Yeah. Yeah. It’s interesting thing when you kind of recap these three frames, right? To talk about that they sound fairly straight forward, right? But when you dig into them they’re not at all. And I think that it’s just a testament of really being well prepared, recognizing the value of technology plays in a business today, an putting the customers’ needs first and finding ways to meet those needs. So they all sound simple, but quite frankly, to execute on those three things in the way that you have is no simple feat and it’s work, right? I mean, you guys have, like I said earlier, not just weathered the storm, but you’ve actually grown, right, during or during this time. So I think that’s incredible. Two more questions for you, Nicola. The first is, in summary of what we just talked about, is there any other words of wisdom you would share on how to weather the storm, how to prepare for recovery, and any closing thoughts on thoughts on that?

Nicola: Yeah. I mean, I think we’ve all got a lot of time to think these days. And I think about the return to office scenario, for example, and again, Park Place have created a cross functional team that have been working that plan. I would think for four weeks now and we get weekly updates and what that plan looks like. We’re global, so we’re very aware that we need to align with government regulations in each of these locations that we’re present in. We’re not out of the woods, so we’ve had daily executive leadership calls, daily team calls to make sure that people are feeling safe and protected. I think in the United States, people are starting to feel a bit better and there’s returned to office scenarios being built out. Latin America and not in that position. So we’re not forgetting about the other parts of the world that are continuing to be in a situation like this.

Nicola: So I suppose my point is don’t become complacent, don’t get too comfortable. Our BCP plan is going from working remotely to how do we go back to the office and, oh, by the way, what if the virus peaks again? So we’re not, we’re not shortsighted. We’re thinking about all the scenarios. We are really open minded in terms of making sure that our leadership team across the globe are given the wherewithal to manage the business they need to, but we constantly communicate with each other. So it’s communication, it’s collaboration, don’t be shortsighted, think about the what if scenarios, be able to quickly pivot again if we need to, and make sure that our team members understand every decision that we’re making and why we’re making that decision. Blank communications without context can create concern, especially in an environment like this, so I definitely want to make sure that people really embrace the communication aspect now more than ever as we work remotely.

Sarah: Yeah. Yeah. There’s a couple of good points there. One is like you said, kind of balancing the need to continue meeting present day needs, right? Continue evaluating what’s going on today. How do we react? What do we need to do? While also thinking longer term. And the reality right now is that longer term is a bunch of what ifs, it’s a bunch of how do we manage the unknown, but you have to try, right? You have to run those scenarios. You have to think through the different aspects of what could come and make sure that you’re not caught off guard again and again and again, right? The other thing that’s interesting that you said that I thought I’ve had discussions on recently is how this situation has sped the pace of decision making. And so not just in being flexible, but just internalized. To your point, perhaps at Park Place, you were already communicating every single day, but a lot of companies maybe might be meeting weekly or every two weeks or monthly to kind of look at data and decisions.

Sarah: And that pace of decision making has sped to having to being daily because the circumstances are changing every day. So that’s an important adjustment that people need will make. And if you fail to make that adjustment you’re going to miss a lot of important conversations and collaborations to your point.

Nicola: Yep. And I do think take the human element seriously too. So we’ve encouraged all of our teammates to have happy hours on video meetings. We created a global Park Place cookbook. So our wonderful HR organization solicited for recipes from everybody across the globe. It was such an amazing product, and it got people excited and you got to know people in a different way. And again, it just naturally takes the stress out of the situation. So we’ve been doing a lot of funky, cool stuff too, that are keeping everybody happy and engaged. I would say a lot of us feel a lot more engaged now than we ever did because you have to put a lot more effort into keeping that relationship alive when you’re not talking to them physically. So I think the connection points are feeling a lot more solid these days, too.

Sarah: Absolutely. The cookbook is a really cool idea. We were talking when we got on today about we both have kids in the house, right? You can’t keep those interactions at bay all of the time, but I think it’s made us humans one another, and going back to positives, I think that’s another positive out of a very unfortunate situation. Last question for you for today is for you individually as a leader, what do you feel is the biggest lesson you’ve learned or the biggest way you feel changed as a result of meeting through a crazy time like this?

Nicola: Yeah, that’s a great question. I’m so fortunate because I have an incredible team. I have a team that we consider each other family almost and we’re a global team. So my team represents a good size of Park Place. We’re 450 of 1,300 team members. Sorry. And we’re cross functional too, right? We’re global, we’re cross functional. I meet with my team in Uruguay, in Cork, Ireland, so they all get along so well. And they know how to have fun with each other too because it is very stressful. Service delivery is a stressful thing. You’re not getting phone calls to say, thank you my machine is working perfectly, I appreciate you. But everybody works very well together and I like to interact with my team as a teammate. Leadership is incredibly important, but making people feel comfortable with you, it’s how you deliver and execute on a great team.

Nicola: I grew up playing team sports. I know exactly what I’m good at and I know exactly what I’m not good at. And being hyper aware of your strengths and how you build a team that compliment your strengths and your opportunity areas, it really helps the team feel empowered. So I give stretch projects to team members a lot and they execute and hit them out of the park. It’s just making people feel valued and empowered and everyone works very well together and in an environment like that. For sure.

Sarah: Yeah. Yeah. That’s great. And it sounds like you’ve done an excellent job of continuing to do that in a remote way and virtually leading that team and being a part of that. So thank you Nicola so much for being here and for sharing today. I appreciate it.

Nicola:

No problem.