Cybersecurity is becoming more critical to business success than ever before. A decade ago, organizations were more likely to think about the security of their information and data only after a breach. Now, it’s front of mind – or it should be.

That was one of the hot topics at the inaugural DairyTech conference in Austin, Texas, from May 18-19. The event was put on by the International Dairy Foods Association (IDFA) and by EverAg, and tackled topics relating to the intersection of the dairy industry and technology.

Expert presenters and panelists were in agreement: Information Techology (IT) and cybersecurity isn’t optional and it’s good for business. Investing in the protection of sensitive data means safeguarding businesses and protecting people.

“I think for the first time, IT is really taken seriously,” said Jeff Hurley, chief information officer, Dairy Farmers of America, Kansas City, Kan. “It’s a whole changing dynamic and paradigm now that we have with the business than we had probably five or 10 years ago.”

Cybersecurity and compliance are safeguarding the bottom line. They’re a smart investment that actually protects and promotes profitability. A data breach can cost millions of dollars in damages and cleanup, loss of clients and sales, and inflicts years-long damage to a company’s brand and reputation.

“At DFA, in 2019, when I took over, we had one person in our cybersecurity office, and now we have nine,” Hurley said. “So over that span of time, we’ve invested, not only in people, but in technology monitoring systems, things like that, because the world itself is changing.”


Competitive advantage

Companies also want to know technology is top of mind when working with other organizations, keeping up, not just with security, but with the tools to ensure efficiency.

“In order to remain competitive and be a crucial supplier … you need to have some sort of stickiness with them or some sort of competitive advantage that you are offering that maybe somebody else doesn’t have,” Hurley said. “Even if you’re a medium-sized company, technology has advanced so much now in the application side, the hardware side, infrastructure side, even with just tools that merchandisers or drivers use today that they didn’t have a five, 10 years ago, really is not just the nice to have anymore, it’s a need to have.”

Keeping IT as part of the strategic plans of the business sets your company up for greater success and profitability.

“There is a tremendous amount of opportunity, in terms of where IT sits,” said Richard Scheitler, CIO, Darigold. “What I see has evolved over the last several years and continue to do is, I have, frankly, less and less technology and conversations and more and more business conversations, which is the way it should be.”

Companies are defining roles related to IT to remain competitive, which means earning to stay up to date with rapidly changing technology.

“We had some visionary leadership within our C-suite that said, ‘What can we do to really make IT be the competitive advantage?’ And so we started looking at the modernization effort and the digitalization effort as well,” said Jenny Drake, vice president, business technolgy at Grande Cheese Co., Fond du Lac, Wis. “As we started that progression, we got lucky. Right before COVID hit, we were far enough along that we were able to take full advantage of some of our infrastructure and investments that we had made, and it’s really just catapulted us to have the competitive advantage that the organization was looking for. So, we’re able to prove that the investments we’ve made over the last few years are helping the organization and providing the return that we aspired to get.”


Staying secure

According to Cyber Security & Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), as of 2021, there is a ransomware attack every 11 seconds which has risen dramatically from every 39 seconds, as reported in 2019. Small businesses are the target of nearly 43% of all cyber attacks, which is up 400%.

Getting hacked isn’t just a direct threat to the data companies need. It can also ruin relationships with customers and even place them in significant legal jeopardy. With new technology being implemented throughout an organization, from self-driving vehicles in warehouses to systems monitoring product safety, the dangers of cybercrime becomes even more serious.

Cyber attacks can happen in many different forms, including ransomware, malware, phishing and viruses. Being aware of the dangers are all part of developing cyber security awareness.

International research and advisory firm Gartner Inc. predicts worldwide security spending will hit $170 billion by 2022, an 8% increase in just a year.

Businesses want to know that whoever they are doing business with are secure. Many companies will only do business with organizations that can show they’re doing their due diligence. They want to know that they are taking security as seriously as they do. Now, prospects are vetting their vendors. It’s not enough to simply say you’re compliant anymore.

“Cybersecurity, it’s part of our every day DNA now. It’s not just a project here and there, it’s part of daily processes that we do, it’s a part of the daily monitoring, it’s partly about the quality of people that you have to have in those roles to protect the organization against the threats that are out there,” said Hurley. “I think with that as an explosion over the past three or four years has really shown our leaders and other people in the organization, this is something new that we have to do with, that we have to have the right people, processes, technology to deal with it.”


Making the investment

It has never been more important for companies to make the right investments in technology. Studies show there is a strong correlation between profitable growth and well-aligned technology.

The Global CIO Survey reports that 57% of technology budgets are used to support fundamental business operations, while only 26% of the spending focuses on needed business changes. Just 16% supports innovations that will power the business into a successful future.

“When we embarked on our (digital) formation, we really looked at it as a what the return on the investment was going to be,” Drake said. “We had 32 legacy systems and it was painful for the IT department to continue to support it, nevertheless try to figure out where all the data was for the users to make decisions. So, we were quickly able to prove the inefficiencies in those systems and talk about the return that we can get if we consolidated into one modern toolset, moved us into the cloud, where we can also start to see labor savings, and see where can we get rid of some of the repetitive manual work and allow associates to provide value-added work across the organization instead. So our conversations were really around how are we going to return the investment on this investment.”

Prioritizing technology investments is not a simple process. There can be conflicting opportunities and constraints. If too much is allocated to maintenance of existing systems, new projects and innovations may be pushed off. This can impact competitiveness and revenue.

A spending balance across innovation, growth, productivity and maintenance coupled with a mix of targeted investments based on business objectives, time constraints and risks will yield an excellent outcome. Always verify that technology investments are closely aligned so they support the strategic goals.

“I think as things become more evident and they become more impactful, I think IT has been given a much different lens that they look through and look at,” said Hurley. “It just gives us an opportunity to really come to the forefront of the organization and have a seat at the table with the executive to say, now IT is part of the fundamental basis of how a company needs to operate today.”