Dec 10 2020

CDW Tech Talk: Chicago Bears Refine IT Processes in Support of Unique Demands

Justin Stahl, Chicago Bears Vice President of IT, explained how the organization embraces digital transformation.

The Chicago Bears are planning for a virtual NFL draft again in April 2021, leveraging its experiences with working remotely across the sports organization to refine its processes, said Justin Stahl, Chicago Bears Vice President of IT, during an online conference on Thursday.

Addressing a CDW Tech Talk in a session titled “How Technology Leadership Fuels the Chicago Bears’ Success,” Stahl explained how the Bears have embraced digital transformation to support a globally recognized organization with a very small IT team.

“We have a very collaborative relationship across IT and our business partners but also across football,” Stahl told Bob Bragdon, CSO senior vice president and worldwide managing director, in a conversation. All levels of the Bears’ organization exchange ideas as to what might best enable business.

And to make things happen, the 10-person IT team must rely on a coordinated group of vendors to achieve its goals.

Over his five years in charge of the football club’s IT department, Stahl said, “we have transitioned from actually coding and truly developing our business applications to management and configuring of tools.” The accompanying shift to cloud computing and acquiring services demanded competencies in vender management and monitoring performance with an emphasis on Microsoft Azure skills.

Club Successfully Orchestrated First-Ever Virtual Operations

Relative to peers, Stahl described the Chicago Bears as a very collaborative organization with regard to IT requirements.

“In a lot of organizations, IT is seen as a cost center and a commoditized service,” he said. “Over the years, the Bears have come to understand the value and the power of technology. That’s made my job and my team’s job over the past five years a lot of fun.”

Regardless, no one was prepared for the pandemic and the sudden need to handle unique requirements of the NFL remotely. “We had to grapple with the reality that we were going to have a virtual NFL draft for the first time ever,” Stahl said.

Thanks to strong relationships across the Bears’ organization, IT was able to call people and make plans for a decentralized draft instead of gathering key executives in a “war room,” he said. “We were challenged with things we would have never even have thought through.”

But the Chicago Bears made the transition successfully, supporting employees working from home by deploying Microsoft Teams, Zoom and other applications.

Now, as some people return to the work site, the IT team looks for every opportunity to keep people safe, deploying digital signage with building operations to warn folks of restrictions or to direct them to appropriate places. The IT organization also deployed thermal scanning and facial recognition to take employees’ and visitors’ temperatures and clear them for entry into the facility.

Small IT Team Manages Cybersecurity for National Brand

Despite the teams’ small IT workforce, the Chicago Bears are a large, public brand, Stahl noted, which makes the organization a target for cybersecurity attacks.

“Sometimes we are the same level of target as a Fortune 50 company,” he said. “We have to leverage vendors, tools and services to defend that level of risk.”

Senior leadership has a very conservative approach to any new initiative or new contract with upfront assessments of vendor practices and diligent reviews of contract agreements in part to mitigate cybersecurity threats and vulnerabilities.

“We always prioritize mitigating the risk to the club over business opportunity where possible,” Stahl said.

In addition, the Bears’ IT team educates remote employees about the cybersecurity risks of working from home.

“With decentralized workforces, emotion is at an all-time high,” he said. “There is more risk associated with hacks and phishing attempts.”

Follow BizTech’s full coverage of CDW Tech Talks here. Insiders can register for the event here.

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