MS. PASSARIELLO: Hello, and welcome to Washington Post Live. I’m Christina Passariello, technology editor for The Washington Post, and I’m very pleased to present today’s program on the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on digital transformers.

We'll first hear from two of the nation's leading public school administrators. Austin Beutner, superintendent of the Los Angeles Unified Public School District. Welcome, Superintendent Beutner.

MR. BEUTNER: Thank you. Good morning, and thanks for having me.

MS. PASSARIELLO: Thanks for joining us.

And Dr. Joris M. Ray, superintendent of Shelby County Schools in Memphis, Tennessee. Welcome to you, Superintendent Ray.

DR. RAY: Thank you so much. I'm glad to be here.

MS. PASSARIELLO: Thank you both so much for joining me.

Education is something everybody wants to know about these days. So maybe we can just start. So, our viewers understand, tell us where both of your districts are at in terms of reopening. Maybe, Superintendent Beutner, we can start with you.

MR. BEUTNER: Sure. We've outlined a plan to open in the next couple of weeks, depending upon three things happening. The first would be continued progress in decline in the rate of COVID in the communities we serve.

The second would be a confirmation, which we already know that we've done everything we can to mitigate risk in schools and put the safest possible set of measures in place. So, we've changed air filtration systems in 80-million-square-feet buildings.

We've built the nation's most comprehensive school-based COVID testing system. We most recently launched, with Microsoft, the system to integrate all the information on COVID testing and vaccinations, and as our educators, school staff are provided with vaccinations, we've got a specific schedule to open schools when they're offered the opportunity to be vaccinated, so a matter of weeks.


And, Superintendent Ray, how about you?

DR. RAY: Well, thank you. Actually, our teachers are starting back March the 1st, which is Monday. We have teachers, as we speak, getting vaccinated today. I just want to thank our local health department for really prioritizing teachers and really working with us.

So, we've seen a big decline in the number of cases and decline in the positivity rate here, but also, now we're putting our plan into action. Our buildings are just well equipped with the proper PPE, and we have signage. And our air quality systems been checked and rechecked, and now we are ready to go.

MS. PASSARIELLO: So that feels like tomorrow, Superintendent Ray. Monday is really soon. So, after all of these months of distance learning, now that you're preparing to get everybody back, tell us a little bit about how you're using technology with the return to in-person learning.

DR. RAY: So, our teachers still will be using technology. We have one modality to provide instruction. Many of our parents, they're choosing to remain virtual. I want to say 75 percent of our parents still remain virtual. So, our teachers will be teaching in person as well as virtual. So, we're excited about the opportunity, and we just wanted to ensure equity in the classroom. That's why we didn't want to have a different way of delivering instruction in person than virtual since the majority of our kids will remain virtual.

MR. BEUTNER: You know, Christina, throughout--


MR. BEUTNER: --we've had to take some steps to make sure the tools were in place to connect. So, we had to make sure a half a million students had a computer. We had to make sure all students and their families were connected to the internet. We think of the digital divide as often occurring between South and North Dakota somewhere, but actually, it's in Memphis or Los Angeles where families may not be able to afford internet access. So, we had to do that first.

Like Memphis, we'll continue with dual-mode instruction because families can make a choice that's safer for their family to have their student stay online, and we continue to use the technologies to do things differently. So, we've created classes with Fender Guitar where we send guitars home to students, and they participate with teacher-led instruction online.

We had Snapchat work with us in a book club where Alicia Keys introduced our students to books they could download and read on their own. So, we'll continue to innovate and use the technology to complement what happens in the classroom, but there's no substitute for being in a classroom with a teacher and engagement that can happen within that space.

DR. RAY: Absolutely.

MS. PASSARIELLO: I'm sorry. Superintendent Ray, go ahead.

DR. RAY: Oh, I'm just agreeing wholeheartedly. All means all, and here in Shelby County Schools, I was asked when we garnered devices, was I willing to put my career on the line for these devices, and I said I'm going to be putting it all on the line for our students and families in the name of equity.

And I'm just thankful to our school board and our digital advisory committee and their invaluable input, because we had to do some hard work to ensure students had access to these devices.

We had a historic vote during a special called meeting back in June 2020 where our school board approved 1:1 digital--our 1:1 digital device plan that put more than 95,000 new devices in the hands of every student within our district, and we provided internet hotspots. And we provided approximately that to 25 percent of our families who expressed the need that they need the hotspots because we had internet deserts here. So, we had to mitigate that risk.

We spent upward of $100 million on digital devices, and that includes devices, teacher supports, initial configuration costs, and device insurance. And its success will be measured based on student academic gains and literacy improvement. So, we spent approximately $100 million over the next four years to ensure that as Superintendent Beutner said here that we had to put systems in place for our students.

MS. PASSARIELLO: And so, Superintendent Ray, the first few months of the pandemic when it sounds like maybe you didn't have that same kind of one-on-one device allocation compared with now, what kinds of differences have you seen in terms of just attendance of your students as well as their performance academically?

DR. RAY: Yeah. We, of course, take attendance every day, and making the transition, being all virtual, our attendance, it's pretty much the same. I think it's right at 91 percent, 92 percent. We're not far off from our average, which is around 94 percent.

So, again, these devices, we talked about having the 1:1 strategy prior to the pandemic. Our team was talking about this February 2019, and then March '20, when the pandemic hit, I was so fortunate to have a great team who rolled out our plan that we've already had. And we didn't get funded for it, but with the CARES dollars, we were able to fund the devices.

Again, our parents have adjusted well. Our teachers, you know, had to receive professional development over the summer. We had to roll out 95,000 devices, which usually takes approximately three years to really implement a full 1:1 strategy. My team did the work in eight weeks. So, we've had our challenges, but they've been minor with the younger children having to adjust with the devices. But our teachers have been great. Our teachers give their all, 100 percent, every day.

And so, our biggest challenge, we know that nothing is like in-person instruction. We don't argue with that at all, but when folks would ask a question, "When are you guys returning to school? When are you going to school?" my answer is we've been in school since August 31st, and our students and teachers, they haven't missed a beat.

MS. PASSARIELLO: Superintendent Beutner, I understand that L.A. Unified also had a very large-scale distribution of both devices and internet connections, and yet 80 percent of the students in your district are below the poverty level. So, can you give us a sense of if the devices and the internet connections are enough for these kids who are really in need?

MR. BEUTNER: Well, we know it's table stakes. As difficult as it is for my colleagues in Shelby County or around the country to make sure a student had a device, that that device is properly connected to the internet, that's just table stakes. And so, the question is, what are we able to do to use those to help students not just recover learning loss, but move forward?

And I'll give an example of what we started, again, back in August, because the process of recovery started for us last August, not next August, and we launched a program called the "Primary Promise." We brought on an extra 250 early literacy instructors because we're providing the promise of literacy, math, critical thinking skills, while in elementary school, and we're able to use the technology to do a real-time quick little diagnostic, not the bit summative year-end state test, but rather work with each student and their unique needs.

So, we were able to assess the shortfalls to start the year, and we were probably about 10 percent behind in reading proficiency from a normal reader of our first graders, for instance, and we might have expected that because a kindergartner from a family struggling to get by, where 80 percent of our families were living in poverty before this pandemic, surveys have told us about three-quarters of the families had someone lose work due to COVID. So, the struggle is very real in the communities we serve. It's very real when we've served 110 million meals through schools, and if you stood outside a school, you would wave to the same family who bring their children to the school. So, the struggle is very real. The support may not be there at home in that family to help the child logon, to help them learn.

And so, we've started a recovery process, going back to last August, and it's working. We've already helped students get to where we hope they would have been in more normal times, and we wanted to see them accelerate their pace of progress. But the conversation has to quickly get to how do we accelerate the path of recovery.

What the superintendent was able to do in Shelby, we're able to do in Los Angeles, was do something that in normal times, three years, they did in eight weeks. Three years for us, we did in eight weeks. We just had a terrific set of colleagues rise to the challenge and get that done.

But the next challenge has got to be how we use these tools, technologies, and accelerate the path of recovery while many of our students are in a classroom and many of our students remain in online learning, and that's the challenge of the moment. And I think we'll rise to that occasion. We're trying different things. I'm sure they are in Shelby as well.

DR. RAY: Absolutely.

MS. PASSARIELLO: And, Superintendent Beutner, can you tell us some of the things that--since you made the return in August with this new plan, what are some of the things that you've realized haven't been working with remote learning, and how have you adjusted to those?

MR. BEUTNER: Sure. You could see almost at every level, there's a challenge. So early literacy, pretty hard to learn to read over a computer. I've yet to see that a student, seven-, eight-, six-year-old child doing it by themselves. So, you have to provide that extra support, the one-on-one tutoring, the extra teachers to be one-on-one in small groups with students. So, we see it at those levels.

We see it all the way towards our graduating students. We see lesser completion of FAFSA forms, college aid forms, probably about on par with the state or national averages, maybe 15 percent lesser, and that's going to take an all-of-government approach, because even the forms that we're trying to help students complete so that they can receive financial aid for college, they're still in those forms referring to 2019 incomes. So, I got the wrong numbers. The federal government hasn't updated their own forms, and if we know three-quarters of our families have lost some work due to the crisis, we've got bad data that we're being asked to populate into forms like that.

So, at each level, Christina, we're seeing a different sort of challenge, and as we problem solve for it, problem solve early with more instruction, problem solve at the high school level with additional counselors to work on completion, graduation, and the bridge to college and everything in between, I think part of the recovery process we'll start talking about soon, we should have been talking about and should be talking about now is the mental health side, again, families living in trauma. Just think of those young children who each day go to a food bank with their family for food. The communities we serve have been the hardest impacted in the nation by the virus itself.

At one point, as recently as December, where we are conducting weekly tests of students and school staff, asymptomatic children, showing no symptoms, no non-exposure, one in three children were testing positive with the virus. So that trauma, that anxiety is very real, and as we look forward, we have to make sure an all-of-government approach, a Marshall Plan, if you will, is in place to make sure that schools have the resources they need, the people they need to support our students.

MS. PASSARIELLO: Superintendent Ray--

DR. RAY: I agree with Superintendent--

MS. PASSARIELLO: Sorry. Go ahead.

DR. RAY: Go ahead. I'm sorry.

MS. PASSARIELLO: No, you go ahead.

DR. RAY: Yeah, I agree with Superintendent Beutner.

We had to undergird the learning here. We actually had to give out millions of meals to just ensure that our students and families had food. We had a breakfast, lunch, and dinner program here.

But not only that, he hit on social-emotional learning and hit on the emotional needs of our children. Same as there, the virus has had a tremendous impact on Black and brown people here, and our kids and just listening to them and having a student roundtable, they talk about the fear of just being people in masks. They talk about the fear of family members dying and the fear of folks getting sick.

So, we've put supports in place to ensure that our students receive guidance and counseling to help them overcome their fears, but we've had some virtual victory to where our teachers really adapted to the digital platform well.

Same as Superintendent Beutner, it's very difficult to teach reading via online instruction. However, our teachers have done a phenomenal job.

So, we have Data Nights--or had Data Nights to really dig into the data and speak to parents about where the child is performing. We have data dashboards that we constantly mine the data, look at the data, see how we can improve instruction here, but what I'm really concerned about is the mental health and well-being of our students and our teachers. And we're doing all we can to ensure that we're supporting them and doing all we can to ensure that we're providing a safe place for students to return in person or remain online.

MS. PASSARIELLO: Dr. Ray, to that point, as you think about reopening next week, many of your students, I imagine, will have led for nearly a year a large part of their social life online and their social interactions on Zoom, on video games. So how are you thinking about that, the social element of not being as dependent on technology when they're back in the classroom?

DR. RAY: You know, when they're back in the classroom, of course, our students have to remain socially distant. That's why we have family meetings to go over all the background for students so they understand that school isn't school as we once knew it, and they're going to have to adjust.

But we're going to give students opportunities to interact, but not interact physically. Just this morning, I had a parent email me and one of the board members to really speak to the fact about recess, and the parent was misled to think that we weren't going to have recess, and so that students wouldn't have the opportunity to really get fresh air, go outside, be normal, play. However, the parent learned that, you know, we can't use playground equipment. They can't climb and do some of the things and swing as they used to do.

We had to take every precaution it is to keep students safe. However, we want students to just have as much normalcy as possible. We provided "Day-in-the-Life" visuals for our parents to show them how they will look from the time they leave their home until they return home and everything in between.

We're going to have mask breaks for students. It's very difficult just to think. I think of myself and I look at my cabinet members sometimes when you have on masks for long periods of time, and just think about a kindergarten student, first, second grade student with masks on. So, we built in mask breaks to where students can go outside, get fresh air, take their masks off.

But we're trying to do things for them to interact with one another at a distance so that we can provide as normal of a school experience as possible.

And then online, I know many of the schools, they form online chat groups for students to talk about things they have in common, whether it's extracurricular activity or whatever it is, to give students just an outlet just to speak freely, because this virus is robbing us of social interaction, if you will, and that's one thing we try to provide as much as possible at schools to get students to interact with one another and for them to be as normal as possible.

MR. BEUTNER: Let me echo Dr. Ray's comments about that. I think what I'm sure they'll see in Memphis, we'll see here. Because we serve more than 80 percent live in poverty, 85 percent Black and Latino families who have been the hardest hit, the fear and the concerns and frankly the dissonance from health authorities at all levels for so many, many months has a cost, and that institutional memory lives on.

So, what we expect is more limited in-person attendance in the spring, to prove we can do it and manage risk, to give all families a sense of what the environment is like. We'll have summer school for all, and for those children whose families choose their participation, we hope to have more in-person participation. By the time we get to August, we hope we will demonstrate through our actions what it looks like in a school setting, but as Dr. Ray said, it won't be exactly what it was a year ago. It can't be. The health authorities have still made pretty clear the masks are going to beg with us for some time. Distancing will be with us for some time, and all of the things that we're going to need to continue to do to make sure schools are the safest possible environment for children and those that work in schools.


Let's finish up with an audience question. We have a question from Lori Sears from Maryland who asks, how are schools managing absent programs for their students and teachers so that they are not overwhelmed? Superintendent Beutner, let's start with you.

MR. BEUTNER: Sure. What we did right out of the box was put together a group of educators, because one of the things that we found within days was since the use of technology had never been the center of the plate--it always was an extra. It wasn't something the district had the dollars to make sure all had access to, so it was an extra. So, we brought together a group of classroom teachers and principals and our technology team and some outside partners, the Microsofts, the Amazons, the providers, to say what do we have.

We did a quick inventory. We were supporting more than 400 different uses of technology in an average school, 400 differences. So, we had to streamline that a little bit. We listened to the voice of those in the classroom to say which, which are most helpful to you, the got-to-haves versus nice-to-haves, where can we provide the training on those?

So, we provided three or four rounds of training now, 35,000 teachers back in March, another 20,000 again before the end of last school year, all teachers, again, to start the new school year, so training in the tools and technologies, and we brought in the partners to help provide them the benefit of our thinking because we're a pretty big customer for many. And so, they're responsive to us when we say it works like this, but, boy, if you could change this feature, folks in the classroom tell us it's much more valuable to us.

So, we've integrated all those tools and solutions now into a much more streamlined set and wash, rinse, repeat. We continue to offer training for our classroom educators and our families and students. So, we have a YouTube channel which shows how to use all the different tools and technologies that classroom educators can access, families can access, students can access. We have a tech hotline. People can call with questions because it's new in schools.

And as Dr. Ray said earlier, we would have taken years to plan for this. We didn't have years. We had days and weeks. So, we're building the plane as we fly it, and one of the things has to be to streamline the use of technology, figure out which tools provide the greatest impact, and make sure you're making sure all in the school community can access them, which is what we're doing.

MS. PASSARIELLO: Superintendent Ray, do you have a quick thought on that to close us out?

DR. RAY: Yes. You know, we use Microsoft Teams. We streamlined that process for all of our students and teachers to access and use the Microsoft Teams where, again, all of our teachers, they were trained. We trained parents. We trained students.

But one thing we wanted to do is to ensure that we had digital safety and privacy. We've had robust data protection guidelines and strengthening protocols to ensure data and privacy is protected. That's what I was most afraid of.

So, we had to ensure that our devices had tracking software, federally approved content filtering and strict guidelines for acceptable use for our teachers and students. And also, we provided a guide, so to speak, of what to do and what not to do on devices. That's so important. We had digital ambassadors from each school to really help our teachers and students navigate the system, and again, this was work that we had to do in a blink of an eye. And I'm just so thankful that I have a great school board who allows me to lead and gives me the opportunity to be as creative as possible for our students, but we use one modality of instruction. And that's Microsoft Teams.

Of course, our teachers had other different things that they wanted to use, of course, but we couldn't support that. We had to support something that's going to ensure safety for our students, and we want to thank our partners at Microsoft for really working with us and really, really supporting us.

And as Superintendent said, when you're a large customer such as Memphis Shelby County Schools, you do get some great treatment.

MS. PASSARIELLO: So many issues to talk about. Unfortunately, we are out of time, but, Superintendent Beutner--

DR. RAY: Oh, no.

MS. PASSARIELLO: --Superintendent Ray, thank you both so much for joining us.

We'll be back with two leaders in digital transformation of manufacturing, the CEO of MxD, Chandra Brown, and the chief digital officer at Mars Inc., Sandeep Dadlani. Stay tuned. Thank you.

[Video plays]

MS. HUMPTON: Hi. I'm Barbara Humpton, CEO of Siemens USA, and I'm here with Jill Savitt, the president and CEO of the National Center for Civil and Human Rights in Atlanta. Welcome, Jill.

MS. SAVITT: Hello, Barbara. Thank you.

MS. HUMPTON: In the video that we just saw, it's clear that you were deeply impacted by the coronavirus, as so many were, and yet you managed to reopen your doors with the help of technologies that helped with air purification and other monitoring that needed to go on.

Here we are a year later, and we are deep into dealing with the rollout of vaccines and what may happen as things reopen. What I'd love to do is get some insights from you about the decision-making processes you went through and what advice you would give to others. Let's start with your initial decision to reopen the doors. What affected your thinking there?

MS. SAVITT: So, we were among the last cultural institutions to reopen our doors, and we were really concerned about our ability to give people confidence that they would be safe inside the center.

You have to remember we tell Civil Rights history, and a group that was hugely impacted by coronavirus was the Black community, which is a major part of our visitorship. And so, we wanted to be able to say with confidence that we would be able to keep them as safe as we possibly could, and it was through our partnership with Siemens that we actually got the confidence that we could do it by making sure we were taking every step possible.

And the air purification system that we now have, state-of-the-art, an institution like ours doesn't always have access to such things, but our longstanding relationship with Siemens helped us secure that as well as the temperature scanner at our front door, so that everyone coming in, we wanted to not only make sure that people had the confidence, but that we were taking every step and being seen to take every step that we possibly could to keep people safe.

MS. HUMPTON: I know that your visitors really appreciate that.

We all know that the pandemic spreads more easily. The virus spreads more easily indoors, and at Siemens, we're working hard to pull together technologies that will help make buildings actually a first line of defense, where we know that we have to engage in mask wearing and distancing. Those are actions we can all take, but the buildings themselves can play a part.

Tell us a little bit more about what visitors might experience when they come and visit you in person.

MS. SAVITT: So, we've taken all the steps that one needs to take outside the building, which is that we are only allowing a certain amount of people in at one time to come in. You can't just walk up to the box office. You have to buy tickets in advance with time tickets.

But from the minute you come up to our building, there's signage outside that says all the steps we've taken. We have on our website a list of things that we recommend people do. We're mask mandatory. Not all of the institutions in our area are, but we definitely are.

And so, from the moment they walk in and see the temperature scanner that we are able to have through our partnership with Siemens, it's right at the front door. So, you can't get past the threshold without having your temperature taken, and then you get the go sign, and you can come in.

We also have stickers on the floor that show where people can stand, what six feet is. I think six feet is often a little bit bigger than people think it is. So, we have the six feet stickers, and then we made a new path through our exhibitions that makes it so people don't walk past each other, that you can only walk in one line through, so you never pass another visitor. That's another step we've taken.

We have constant cleaning throughout the center. So, we actually stop letting people in, do a round of cleaning before we let the next group of people in, and you are spaced out within the exhibitions themselves. So that's all the things people can see.

And then in addition, we have monitors that allow us to check the air quality that you saw in the video, and we also have an entire filtration system that happens behind the scenes to keep the air pure.

So, I think you're right. There are all the steps that human beings can take, but we have the extra security of knowing that there is technology working for us in the background to keep the air fresh and pure.

MS. HUMPTON: That's absolutely essential as we think about opening up so many of the facilities that we need, from hospitals to schools to the office buildings, where, frankly, people being in city centers are keeping vital service providers in business.

So, with so many different enterprises thinking about how they will use their built infrastructure going forward, I'm curious. What advice do you have for others?

MS. SAVITT: I think the most important advice I would give to others is how you communicate with your constituency, and once you think about, well, what am I going to tell people, you start to make the list. Well, what would I want to know as someone visiting an institution, that steps we could take to make sure that people are secure?

And I think being able to open up indoor spaces and to do so with confidence, you need to really map out the visitor experience--well, in our case, visitors, but it could be employees. It could be students. What is that person's individual path through the building? And from there, you can start to take really obvious steps to keep people apart, to have hand sanitizer stations throughout your building, to make sure that the bathrooms are cleaned and cleaned often and that you're only letting a certain amount of people into any small space at one time.

And then I think finding partners who have expertise. We run an excellent history museum, but you have to get help from your friends who know a little bit more about engineering and technology. And we were very fortunate to have partners, specifically in this case Siemens, to help advise us on the steps we needed to take.

I think as we've seen throughout this pandemic, no one person or no one organization can solve everything by themselves, and it takes expertise being married, coming together to help give advice and insight as to what any individual institution needs to do based on how it is laid out and how people interact in that space.

MS. HUMPTON: Well, Jill Savitt, fantastic advice to all of us, and let me say on behalf of all of us at Siemens, how proud we are to be affiliated with you. Thank you for all you are doing to help us understand, address, and grow as we learn more and more about civil and human rights. Thank you so much for your time today.

MS. SAVITT: Thank you, Barbara. My pleasure. Thank you for your support.

[Video plays]

MS. PASSARIELLO: Hello, and welcome back to Washington Post Live. I'm Christina Passariello, technology editor at The Washington Post, and it's great to have two leaders in digital transformation of manufacturing joining us now.

First, we've got the CEO of MxD, Chandra Brown. Welcome, Chandra.

MS. BROWN: Thanks so much, Christina. Pleasure to be here.

MS. PASSARIELLO: And we're also joined by the chief digital officer of Mars Inc., Sandeep Dadlani. Welcome, Sandeep.

MR. DADLANI: Hi, Christina. Hi, Chandra. Good to be with you.

MS. PASSARIELLO: So, I'd like to kick it off with the news this morning. This morning, President Biden ordered a 100-day review of potential vulnerabilities in U.S. supply chains. We've heard a lot about how semiconductor shortages are slowing down auto manufacturing, but I'd love to hear from both of you. If President Biden's team called you and asked you about supply chain shortages, what would you say?

Chandra, maybe we can start with you.

MS. BROWN: Absolutely. Well, I would say good start, and thank you very much for that article today. I think it's a fantastic way to start out this.

We at MxD, we're the nation's national digital manufacturing institute, and so supply chain has been an issue near and dear to our heart, even pre-pandemic. So, I actually would say one of the bright spots, if you will, that's come out of the pandemic is this increased focus everyone is talking about. Where do you get your toilet paper from? Where is my supply chain? Where is it located? Critical goods like PPE. So, it's one of the things that I would tell the Biden administration, "Great work. Doing these studies is an incredible start," and as you said in the article, then we need to implement the lessons learned, because this is something that is going to take an all-of-government approach. So, I really think it's a fantastic start.

For us at MxD, as I said, we're doing things like supply chain risk alerts, and so this mapping and the data they get will be able to really flow directly into ongoing work and technology that we're doing today. So, I would say keep at it as fast as you can go.

As you know, I used to be in the government with the Obama administration, and I know things crank a little slow in the federal government, but super excited to see this work. And there are some topnotch people working on it. So, I'm very excited.

MS. PASSARIELLO: That's encouraging.

Sandeep, what about you? What would you say to President Biden's team if they called you?

MR. DADLANI: Well, first of all, the previous session of the two superintendents of schools, my god, I feel compared to all these challenges--they have all the challenges, the real challenges.

Now, Mars is a $40 billion, large, privately held family-owned company with operations is more than 88 countries. So, this is not just a Joe Biden-U.S. challenge. For us, it becomes a global country-by-country challenge.

And from a supply chain perspective, our first priority, believe it or not, has been the safety of our associates. These are factories that provide essential goods to our consumers, pet care lovers--you know, pet lovers, and candy, confectionary snacking, food lovers, and we are responsible to getting them out to our consumers on time.

And through the pandemic, frankly, we've been fortunate that our products and sources have been in great demand, and so one thing that has happened that I think all governments will agree and all manufacturers will agree is that the value of data through the pandemic has just been amplified. The data scientists got into the middle of the boardroom. Where do we have inventory, which suppliers are in stock, which channels are still open, how can consumers order food in different ways through WhatsApp, online, and other ways has just been magnified.

So, I think we've done a reasonable job in getting our consumers hold of our goods and services. In fact, we were struggling with rolling out augmented reality in our factories before the pandemic, but suddenly, because we had only critical staff in the factory and other staff at home guiding them, augmented reality took off in our factories. And that helped the supply chain and so on.

So, we should do all kind of gap analyses and more vulnerability analyses. I know there's a lot more to be done, but the pandemic, in a way, has made our supply chain much more resilient, much more digital than ever before.

MS. PASSARIELLO: That's so interesting to hear about what it's like in the factories.

Sandeep, can you tell us what's been the biggest sort of crisis that you faced in your supply chain since the pandemic started?

MR. DADLANI: Well, I mean, first of all, this is a 110-year-old company, which means you survived two World Wars, five recessions, and many natural disasters. So, there's a lot of experience to go with managing crises like this.

I think the first concern we always had was the safety of our associates. Just like all of your organizations, our associates were impacted, either personally or someone known to them. So, the first challenge we sought to work on is to make sure that we had the right facilities, the guidelines and medical procedures, the health procedures to keep our associates safe. Once that was clear, then we shifted our attention to using digital and data to enable fast moving of goods and services.

There were times when in certain markets in the world, retailers were shut down. We had to pivot very quickly to different forms of ordering. We launched about 18 direct-to-consumer websites in the last 12 months, something that we have not done in the previous 10 years put together. We had to reinforce e-commerce channels in a very, very different way.

In the end, it came down to visibility, visibility of where the consumer is and what she wants, where our channels are, where our factories are, where our distributors are and so on, and that visibility has been perhaps the biggest enabler through our supply chain journey in the last 12 months.

MS. PASSARIELLO: That's so interesting to hear about those, the changes in how you're selling to consumers.

Chandra, maybe can you tell us a little bit about what this fourth industrial revolution has been like from your perspective over the last year? We've seen rapid digital adoption, everything from the classroom to the workplace, because of the pandemic. So, tell us what it's been like from your perspective, and what are the kind of biggest hurdles that your clients come to you for advice on?

MS. BROWN: Yeah, absolutely. As this public-private partnership, we have over 300 members, big and small. We have academia and government. We're bringing them all together really to solve problems that are kind of too big for any one company to solve. So, this has actually made us be incredibly busy.

But what I would tell you that we've seen--and I do have some big worries and big concerns--the good news is, to start with a happy story, the reality is we are moving faster, particularly as the nation along the digital threat and through this digital journey.

McKinsey, one of our great partners, they recently did a study that said that digitization has been accelerated, and supply chain interactions have increased by three to four years because of this pandemic. So that's a great sign. I think people--and especially, I want to really shout out to our small- and medium-size business. One of my concerns is this is a big thing for them to invest and to figure out where is their return on investment. Not everyone is a large multinational. So, we're here to help them kind of start their path and move on that journey.

My concerns are really twofold, and these are what keep me up at night. I am so passionate about manufacturing and what we're doing, and I have two major worries. Honestly, one is on the technology side, and that is when we talk about supply chains, we talk about virtuality, digital twins. We must mention cybersecurity as well, especially, again, you're as vulnerable as your weakest link, which is in your supply chain normally.

So, we are also the National Center for Cybersecurity in Manufacturing, and on our floor, we demonstrate hacking and all the vulnerabilities that are on your manufacturing floor. So that keeps me up because manufacturing--most people may not know this--is the most targeted sector, and we're all about IP. So, you can sink companies so quickly, and we've seen this in example and example in the news. So, I would always say along with digital, we want to be talking about cybersecurity in the same breath.

And my other big concern is--it's not about technology. It's about the people. Again, let's be clear. Manufacturing has had a pipeline issue--we all know this--for 100 years now probably. We don't have the skill of manufacturers, machinists, fitters, right?

While we at MxD are really focused on the next looming pipeline issue, which is here today, is where are our skilled digital workforce of the future, where is the skilled cyber workforce of the future. I mean, we already know there's a 2.4 million gap in terms of what we need, and so we must be embracing more diversity. We must be bringing more people back in.

I know that's a lot, but those are the two big areas that I think a lot about and that I worry about our future, and we need to be addressing that right away.

MS. PASSARIELLO: Yes. Those seem like very--those are big challenges. So, can you tell us a little bit about how you're thinking about cybersecurity going forward, and how do you advise a company to get trained up for that? What kinds of additional skills do companies need?

MS. BROWN: So, there is some good news. Again, I like to be both. I am an optimist at heart. The reality is a lot of these cybersecurity jobs, we can reskill and upskill the existing workforce. So, there is some incredibly trained people, and I especially look towards veterans and other sometimes underserved populations that can really fill a critical role for this nation in terms of cyber.

I would also say for us, we just put out--and again, it's free, a resource at It's a cybersecurity hiring guide for manufacturing. Think about this, Christina. There are jobs that don't even exist now, like job titles. We did a digital job taxonomy a while ago talking about digital ethicists, jobs that we don't even think about today that haven't even been created. So, we have to be really thinking futuristic.

So, we put out these guides that have like 300 different positions on how you can upskill and what's the training that's needed. We do our own training. There's tons of great educators and providers out there in this space. I just think we need more, and it needs to come faster.

So, the good news is there's a lot of work being done in this area. The bad news is, honestly, it couldn't be done fast enough.

MS. PASSARIELLO: Sandeep, tell us what it's like from your perspective. How do you think about cybersecurity in Mars' supply chain?

MR. DADLANI: Look, I think Chandra is right. Cybersecurity was always a big issue, and I think the pandemic accelerated it.

We got hit hundreds more times than before during the pandemic, and that's natural. Companies like us are targets for cyber attackers.

Now, we've made intentional investments in cybersecurity with the right tutelage, with the right infrastructure, but as Chandra said, the weakest link is always the awareness of all our associates and the responsibility with which they work and handle our assets.

So, our big focus on cybersecurity is, of course, to be at the industry norms and beyond in terms of NIST frameworks and the regular industry benchmarks there are, but our biggest focus has been awareness in education of our associates.

Frankly, whether it's cybersecurity or the other digital skills that Chandra talked about, in the end, we want every associate, which is a Mars employee, a Martian, to be digital. This digital or cybersecurity is not about creating a small department in the center. We want the entire company, and that is a journey we are on. We feel very good about the enablement we are trying to do, the education, the awareness. We feel it's like a digital armor you put on and convert a good associate into an Iron Man, a Wonder Woman, a superhero, effectively, and that's what we are out to do here.

MS. PASSARIELLO: Sandeep, could you give us an example or two about how you've been training employees, whether it's in cybersecurity or just to be more digital? What's it like actually on the ground to get that kind of change?

MR. DADLANI: You know, Christina, one of the basic skills we think in going digital is around design thinking and user centricity in terms of whatever job you're on, finding the problem very clearly with the consumer at the heart of the problem or your customer at the heart of the problem, depending on the business you're in.

The second thing is around use of data analytics in everything you do. You could be a factory operator or a truck driver or a brand manager or a vet in one of our vet hospitals. The use of data analytics is omniscient everywhere.

And the third is automation, automation of menial repetitive tasks so that you and I and Chandra can focus on finding the next problem creatively.

So, what we've done is we've rolled out these basic skills as part of our Mars University curriculum across Mars. We have now 20,000 associates trained in design thinking, which I think is one of the largest movements in any large global company.

We have 30,000 associates trained in the basics of analytics, visualization, Power BI, Tableau, and framing basic analytics solutions, and we are just beginning to roll out a large automation skill set and drive, in line with cybersecurity training and awareness. So, this is level zero.

Then we get to level one and level two, depending on your function. If you're an e-commerce manager, then you really train on search and other sort of content optimization and so on. If you're in supply chain, you're training on digital twins and digital factories and how IoT works and so on. So, depending on your function, you can then move on.

I'll share a simple story with you. I was about to roll out a machine learning training to about 50 technical associates, and accidentally, the email went out to all Mars associates, which is horrific to find in your In Box so many out-of-office responses in the morning from all of Mars, that sort of influx. But a few days later, to my surprise, we found thousands of Martians, whether they are in factories or vet hospitals or R&D labs, signing up for that machine learning training.

You see, the propensity of all our associates in different functions to want to be digital is often underestimated. Everyone wants to be digital, and we are here to help them get there.

MS. PASSARIELLO: That's a great story, Sandeep.

Chandra, the U.S. Department of Defense is a founding partner of MxD, and together, you have a massive research and development portfolio. Can you share any details about upcoming projects that you're working on together?

MS. BROWN: Oh, thank you so much for that. Yeah. We actually do--and we're really grateful for the U.S. Department of Defense because, I mean, the defense industrial supply chain is the basis of much of the rest of this country's supply chains, and so they have been an incredible partner to us.

Right now, we do a three-year roadmap, and again, a lot of this is available to the public. We call it our "strategic investment plan," and you can see the over 100 projects that we have kind of in the queue, in the lineup. And what the pandemic has done is it's kind of allowed us to reprioritize. So, all of our members, literally big and small, academic, other government institutions, they all come together. We find these pain points, and then we devise how we can solve this in the quickest and best way, because as you started out, we are in the midst of a revolution in manufacturing. So, we need to come to better solutions faster that can help the majority of our folks.

So, I would tell you one of the ones I'm pretty excited about--there's, again, a ton of them, but I am really excited about our supply chain risk alerts. Well, supply chain is kind of the talk of the day. It's in the news. You guys did that great article today.

We actually started this pre-pandemic in a phase one, and now we're expanding on that. Basically, think about it. You're going to take in all these sources of data. This is the great use of AI and data analytics. We're going to bring together all these different folks, big companies, small companies, and we bring in things like weather, logistics, transportation, and in the future, probably things like health care, social media. So, we can redo a predictive algorithm that helps people figure out--because that's what we want to be is predictive, not reactive, and we know there's going to be more supply chain disruptions in different areas. So, I'm super excited to get this done and get this in the hands of the manufacturing community, because I think it's going to be a huge asset.

And, again, yes, a lot of the large companies have incredible logistics and distribution, but we need to help even the smallest of companies as well figure out how are they going to get their goods and supplies, because, again, everyone is reliant on someone else in a different tier here. So that is one I am really excited about and can't wait until we get to show that to the public.

MS. PASSARIELLO: That sounds great.

Let's go to an audience question. We have a question from Steve Belochi from California. So, he asks, do you study the effect of new technology on workers when it is introduced to the company or their workflow?

Sandeep, maybe you can take this one on first.

MR. DADLANI: Absolutely, Steve. Actually, we started before that. There is no technology project that begins without deeply studying the worker first. How does she work? What does she feel when she works? What are her main pain points? Frankly, framing the problem that you're trying to solve, which is just framing a technology project. Once we've done that, we are now designing technology to enhance that human experience or to improve it or to solve a pain point and then observe how that technology iteratively improves it.

So, we love doing projects in short sprints of 4, 6, sometimes 12 weeks at max, and rolling out technology iteratively, because you and I know almost every technology decision you take today for a project you do today is irrelevant three years from now, which means this is going to be a continuous refresh going on. And the more human-centric we get, the more purpose-led we get, the better technology becomes in amplifying your and my potential.

So, yes, we have a lot of observation going on before and after a technology project.

MS. PASSARIELLO: Just to follow on, on that, Sandeep, can you give us any examples of what's the kind of data that you look at? What are the kinds of questions that you're asking? Give us a little sense of what it's like by example.

MR. DADLANI: You know, there are businesses sometimes that--the traditional way of doing technology projects used to be to frame these large ambitious statements. How do we create an omnichannel, connect it, end to end, delightful consumer experience? But when you get consumers into a room and ask them how do you feel about the consumer experience or you get factory workers talking about how do they feel about running a production line, the user responses are different. The consumer says, "I don't know what you're talking about. Your PayPal button didn't work last time. The package came chipped," or the factory worker says, "Actually, if this is introduced at the end of the shift versus at the beginning of a shift, it might make a complete difference. I may not need augmented reality glasses. Actually, an iPad will do for now," or something like that.

You get an "aha" or an unmet need that we don't then jump with technology, because if you go in with a hammer, then everything will look like a nail.

So, in these situations, the best thing to do is then to solve for that particular feeling or need in a short four-week burst, and after four weeks says, "All right, my friend. You work with an iPad. You work with a video call. Now, how about you try on these glasses and see if they work? And if they don't work well because of certain things, then we iterate again for a different kind of augmented reality glass and so on."

So, this sprint-based approach helps us improve on the floor or with the consumer versus trying to build a large machine and then give it back to them in the end, and those projects never succeed.

So, speaking out of some failure and some successes, we've kind of unlocked this iterative sprint approach, and that has excited the user then not just to adopt the technology, but to train on this technology.

I mean, in December, to Chandra's point, we had a Mars AI festival where we invited everybody. All factory workers went, everybody, to the AI festival, and more than a thousand of them signed up to learn the basics of AI. So, Chandra's challenge of upgrading the skill sets of the future factory worker, well, game on. We're trying our best to upskill them through both a pull and a push movement in driving this journey, and of course, partners like Chandra are always inspirational to us.

MS. PASSARIELLO: Well, thank you both. Unfortunately, that's all the time that we have. So, thank you both so much for this interesting conversation and for taking the time to meet with us.

We have a great lineup of interviews this week at Washington Post Live. So, head to Check out the schedule, and register to watch.

Once again, I'm Christina Passariello, and thanks for watching Washington Post Live.

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