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Hallmark Media stabilizes and secures its cloud environments with the help of Xalient

Gary Flood Profile picture for user gflood June 11, 2024
Summary:
The IT services expertise from Xalient was seen as critical to two major Zscaler rollouts at the media production arm of Hallmark Media

An image of two people watching TV with the Hallmark Media in the foreground
(Image sourced via Hallmark Media)

Two major branches of Hallmark - both Cards and now its film and TV series offshoot, Hallmark Media - say they have successfully implemented enterprise-wide rollouts of cloud security with the help of IT consulting and managed services organization Xalient.

The first iteration of cloud security was in the pandemic.

Benefits included a successful transition to first fully remote and now hybrid work with minimal disruption, with a 95% reduction in network connectivity issues.

But so successful had the Xalient intervention been in that case that when connectivity and reliability issues across another Hallmark business became a problem, the same partner was brought in to achieve a second Zscaler win.

In that case, after a thorough assessment and reconfiguration of the environment, poor performance and user complaints were resolved and stability secured.

According to the Hallmark IT leader involved in both projects, Lusha Bodie, that third-party aid was invaluable:

Our partner came in and provided stability, as well as best practices, for us to get to a secure, stable environment where our business is no longer impacted.

As a result, Hallmark says it is now looking to explore working with the company beyond the Zscaler projects. 

He says:

They've obviously proven themselves as a great professional services organization, which allows for to look to see where they might be able to help solve other business problems.

Along came COVID-19

In both cases, Hallmark was looking to implement Zscaler Zero Trust Exchange. Zscaler claims to be the most widely used SSE (security service edge) platform for workforces, workloads, devices, and third parties.

Since 2020, Bodie has been a senior IT leader at Hallmark. Hallmark Group is a privately held, family-owned American company based in Kansas City, Missouri.

The acknowledged U.S. market leader in greeting cards and holiday and gift stationery, the company has approximately 27,000 employees globally.

Apart from its main Cards and Media arm, it also owns Crayola crayons, markers and colored pencils.

Bodie originally came in as VP of Technology & Digital Workplace at Hallmark Cards, where his task was to help the firm implement endpoint protection across Hallmark’s entire environment.

The organization had decided that cloud-based security was the best way to both protect and support its newly remote workforce and maintain business continuity

Before too long, Bodie was also having to use this tech to help it deal with a bigger problem: the global health crisis. Specifically, Hallmark’s leadership decided it had to rapidly transition 8,000 of its world-wide employee base to remote work at the start of COVID-19.

He says:

Prior to COVID we had 2,000 employees in the office, where they were protected by firewalls and the traditional technology security protection of endpoints.  

But all of a sudden, now we had to set 8,000 endpoints remotely, and that was really the problem statement: How do we simultaneously protect all of our employees in the midst of COVID and allow them to function seamlessly as if they were in the office?

Bodie says his cloud security supplier recommended its partner to help achieve that:

Zscaler recommended Xalient because they said it had the subject matter expertise to onboard customers on their platform and had the right methodology to ensure minimal-to-no disruption to the business - both on the endpoint side as well as the server and environment side, where a lot of our business-critical applications reside.

However, he didn’t just take his supplier’s advice without checking for himself. In fact, several Zscaler partners were interviewed, with “very detailed security, network, and endpoint-related conversations” with each being conducted.

In the end, Bodie chose the one that convinced him had the most comprehensive plan timeline relative to execution, had the most convincing references, and came in at the most attractive price point.

‘Nothing but problems’

Looks like he made the right choice, as he says the plan was implemented “flawlessly” - even more impressively, on a 100%-basis remotely for all parties.

With a fully stable working environment secured for his users in Cards, In April last year Bodie switched over to lead IT for a sister company of his employer, Hallmark Media.

Hallmark Media is the home of family streaming content like the Hallmark Channel, Hallmark Mystery, Hallmark Family and Hallmark Movies Now.

 There, he became the new Sr Vice President/Head of Technology - and found a new set of problems:

Hallmark Media had its own IT, and it was kind of doing their own thing.

The team had implemented Zscaler but had configured it in a totally different way - in fact, in a sub-optimal way that Hallmark Media users were not happy about:

When I came into the organization, there were nothing but problems. Through poor configuration, both our users and our applications were having challenges.

The deployment was just not working.

So, he turned once again back to the team that had helped him transition to remote work in Cards:

Because of the relationship that I had previously, I reached out to them and said, Hey, here's my problem - you guys did an outstanding deployment on the Cards side, and we have some business challenges here on the Media side.

An added stress factor: timing, as Christmas and the holidays is the peak trading period for the company, and workflows all had to be optimized to support that in time.

The good news is his partner came through again - working closely with the Media IT team and users to see what could be fixed:

The guys really did an outstanding job and were able to say, ‘Here’s your current state, here's where you should be, here are the gaps, and let's peel back each one of these layers based on risk, criticality, and how it's going to improve performance for your end-users and your application landscape.’

Next steps

The result, he says, was a methodical, well-thought-out plan to reconfigure the environment. Delivering on those recommendations and reducing user complaints took around two and a half months.

Next steps for cloud security and the Xalient relationship at Hallmark, he says, center on moving away from firewalls to more of a zero-trust posture.

Other options include exploring the company’s solutions beyond security.

As he says:

We have supply chain, we have retail, we make movies, we have a lot of data relative to our customers. So, we are looking at what they have to see if it could provide some type of either product differential or speed to market or other capability.

Summing up his endpoint protection, hybrid working, and cloud security experiences, for Bodie:

This is a networking story - but it’s also a security and an endpoint protection story.

It’s also for sure a story about how you transition traditional in-office workers to what we all now know as remote work.

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