TARGETING INNOVATION: BIOTECHUSA

The BioTechUSA group of companies sees the future in the technology of Cisco and Meraki. Case study from Syswind's largest Hungarian partner.
WHAT IS THE BLOG ABOUT?

BioTechUSA, Cisco Meraki, SD-WAN hálózatfejlesztés, kibervédelem

Anyone who exercises regularly, eats consciously, and considers fitness important, is guaranteed to have encountered the multitude of dietary supplement products, functional foods and clothing products of the BioTechUSA group. In addition to their 286 own-brand stores, they are present in more than 100 countries worldwide in the range of 4,500 partners, and they also operate 50 self-owned webshops.

Their current range consists of more than 2,000 products, thus supporting a wide variety of customer goals, whether it is weight loss, muscle mass increase or a complete lifestyle change. Few people know that BioTechUSA is one of the largest exclusively Hungarian-owned dietary supplement manufacturers and distributors, who now employ 1,800 people and have a huge share in the international market. In 2020, with the acquisition of Scitec Nutrition, a brand for people committed to gym training in the long term, the parent company’s portfolio, which now integrates 5 brands (BioTechUSA, Scitec Nutrition, Builder, ShakerStore, Vitaminshop) was expanded, which enriches the dietary options of those who lead a conscious lifestyle with new excellent domestic products.

THE MARKET NEVER BRINGS WRONG DECISION

“On the market, the BioTechUSA group of companies is probably the fastest growing company in Europe that does not focus exclusively on online communication or, for example, a single product. He’s in the top three for sure. Maybe they are second only to Glanbia,” said Garyth Stone, an acquisition expert at the American investment bank Houlihan Lokey, to Forbes magazine in 2021 in connection with a dietary supplement market overview. BioTechUSA faced many challenges in 2022, yet ended the year with more than 40% growth: its sales exceeded HUF 80 billion. It responded quickly and efficiently to industry, foreign policy and economic changes: it expanded its network with 17 new stores in Europe, launched more than 300 new products, is constantly strengthening its international position, and achieved record sales in its French, German and Austrian stores. Last year, the company group launched the largest investment wave in its history, setting up a new plant suitable for the production of premium protein bars, and building related warehouse and social building parts. BioTechUSA put its automated warehouse into operation in the logistics center, built a new raw material warehouse, and reached the final phase of rebuilding its former office building and expanding it with additional workstations. It continues to pay special attention to social responsibility and customer education, and owners of the group won the Businessman of the Year award.

The company group’s mission is to use its products and expertise to motivate millions around the world for a more conscious and sporty life. Its primary goal is to prevent the mass obesity of people, which is an increasingly significant global lifestyle problem. The BioTechUSA Lifestyle Program, which is available online and helps you change your lifestyle – which has been proven by hundreds of thousands of consumers – creates a personalized exercise and meal plan, broken down into 48 personas, as well as an optimal dietary supplement package. Education plays an important role in its strategy, and in its stores and online, it helps its customers change their lifestyle and increase their sports performance with professional advice. On the free Expert Answers website, consumers can easily ask their questions on various topics on a transparent interface.

The central office building, which won the Office of the Year award in 2020, was built in Óbuda, its production plants and logistics centers in Szada and Dunakeszi on a floor area of more than 80,000 square meters. Maintaining product quality and customer satisfaction is a key part of its long-term strategy. Customer needs are monitored by own product development team of the group, and an own team of specialists constantly controls quality in close cooperation with production. The company pursues an omnichannel strategy, and sells on all possible platforms: its products can be accessed online in own and partner web stores, as well as offline in stores, gyms, hypermarkets, grocery store chains, drugstores, filling stations and pharmacies.

“In an environment that is changing even faster than before, where we are faced with new and new challenges, our answer is constant innovation. This starts already at the job interviews, because we only work with professionals who, regardless of their position, have a high level of need for change and development. Few companies in the world that produce and distribute dietary supplements can say that they have their own factory, which gives us the opportunity to serve the rapidly growing consumer needs quickly, flexibly and with high quality. Over the past few years, we have continuously established the conditions for this, created the necessary background systems, in which the introduction of efficient and secure IT systems and technologies played a prominent role,” says CEO and co-owner Bálint Lévai.

THE RATIONAL DEVELOPMENT DIRECTION

Innovation has been present in the company group’s philosophy from the beginning, be it production technology, marketing or the IT infrastructure. In recent years, the company has been developing IT infrastructure together with Syswind Kft., and thanks to large-scale acquisitions and continuous growth, the IT department was looking for a consulting integrator providing with flexible, advanced technologies as a collaborative partner for projects. In addition to the dynamic development, the decision was also justified by the IT coordination of the acquired units. The new IT supporter took over the operation as the first step of the developments, and then started consolidating the IT infrastructure. The basis of the cooperation was a more favorable TCO, i.e. a reduction of the total cost of ownership. In addition, standardization, centralized manageability and the use of technologies that provide premium services compared to systems in the classical sense were a fundamental aspect of the developments.

NETWORK RENEWAL WITH CENTRALIZED MANAGEMENT

Cisco Meraki network devices already proved in the first tests that the amount of man-hours dedicated to monitoring and operation can be drastically reduced, and thanks to the cloud-based technology, security updates and automatically arriving manufacturer technology developments have also opened up new horizons.

The consolidation of the infrastructure started more than two years ago, the cornerstone of which is the construction of the Meraki device park and the integration of Cisco Secure services. The IT developments started in the office and local data center environments and continued at the factories. The concept, which can be implemented with Meraki, was easily accepted by the company’s IT management and administrators. Compared to classic network implementations, the cloud-controlled system introduced a completely new way of network administration with its much simpler handling and solutions that use automation during installations.

CLOUD-BASED ADVANTAGES FROM MERAKI

Despite its convincing installation, surprisingly, this was not the biggest advantage of Meraki network products in terms of design and construction. The special capabilities of Meraki devices played a significant role in the step-by-step implementation of the developments. They effectively cooperate with legacy, classic Cisco devices, or even with other manufacturers’ products for security regulations and access authentication. Of course, the Cisco ISE network access control contributed greatly to this, which is the link in the common, centralized authentication of classic Cisco WiFi and Cisco Meraki WiFi devices. The classic Cisco DMVPN and the Meraki auto VPN also proved to be a well-cooperating couple for progressing in steps, which eliminated service shutdown constraints caused by the change of technological generation during the implementation.

“Cisco Meraki’s revolutionary new solutions transformed BioTechUSA’s network operations. System installation is simple and seamless, while cloud-based management allows for easy access and control. The combination of the Meraki device park and Cisco Secure services allowed us to build a very strong defense line that ensures the protection of our data. Our system is easily scalable, so we can grow without problems or stress. The support of Syswind Kft. is invaluable to us, whether it is implementation or subsequent support.”

Péter Csathó, Head of IT  –  BioTechUSA Group

Another advantage of the centralized management interface supported by new tools is that it is possible to create configuration samples that reduce the time needed to configure and expand networks at new sites to a fraction. Since the company group has office, production and logistics sites in several locations and has 279 stores in Europe, the implementation and operation of the SD-WAN network is naturally greatly facilitated by Meraki’s cloud-based management concept.

SECURITY BEGINS WITH DISTRUST

The network units of extensive infrastructures of the size mentioned above greatly influence business continuity, their failure can cause serious disruptions. Regardless to any kind of firewall service integrated, they are not expected to completely eliminate Internet threats that could shut down a manufacturing plant, office, or data center. Neither IT decision-makers of BioTechUSA thought otherwise, and based on Syswind’s standardization proposal, they requested rational options from Cisco Secure portfolio to implement the Zero Trust concept. Among several solutions, endpoint protection and Internet traffic filtering and monitoring were included in the first round of protection developments.

CISCO XDR MAKES A FRAMEWORK OF PROTECTION

At the BioTechUSA group of companies, the Cisco Secure Endpoint solution is now used to prevent the end-point devices of the infrastructure from being victims of attacks. And with Cisco Umbrella’s DNS-based service, they further enhanced security and increased transparency. For maximum central manageability, security solutions have been integrated into the Cisco XDR – formerly SecureX – platform, so that in addition to centralized monitoring, decisions can be made more quickly regarding emerging security problems and response steps can be initiated.

Csathó Péter és Király András

FROM MOTIVATION TO GOALS

The easy scalability of Meraki tools and the availability of the related premium services were a big help before the implementations, even in the planning phase. The cloud-based user interface and functionality of the network devices, as well as the automation of manufacturer updates, greatly facilitated the fulfillment of the goals. A centralised, yet easy-to-interpret, intuitive operator environment was a basic requirement, and priority was given to longevity, the possibility of flexible expansion and the guarantee of continuous technological development during the entire life cycle.

The preparation of project has already promised a noticeable change on the cost side. Life cycle costs, the TCO of Meraki network devices and Cisco Secure products and operation, and the relationship between technologies and services available during the life cycle showed a measurably more favorable level. Another significant effect of the standardized infrastructure comes from the manufacturer’s support. On the one hand, the detection of errors is a smaller task in a device park monitored in a centralized system, and on the other hand, in the event of any device failure, it is easier to replace it thanks to the uniform technology.

THE RESULTS ACHIEVED

In the case of networks of this size and complexity, it is easy to determine the evolution of costs to a certain extent. If we compare Meraki network devices with other enterprise-level devices, the purchase price and the license fee for the product are average, but rather in the more favorable price category. If, on the other hand, we examine how much technological development and security updates it receives during its life cycle and what level of knowledge it has after 5 years with the devices compared in terms of purchase price, then a huge difference can be seen. It is difficult to express this in numbers, because in reality we are talking about a device after 5 years, in the specification of which the technological features can practically multiply.

Thanks to continuous product development and remote, cloud-based support, the total cost of ownership (TCO) of network devices is especially fair even without operation. At the same time, its operation significantly reduces the IT budget. The main reason for this is the aforementioned cloud-based management, continuous vendor updates and, last but not least, automated orchestration. The creation and expansion of the SD-WAN network is extremely simple and fast thanks to the use of prepared templates. The network development of the locations and stores of BioTechUSA could thus take place without increasing complexity, so the network integration of the nearly 300 stores did not increase operating costs at all. The project proved that, with Meraki’s concept, it is possible to conserve operating expenses affecting the network even with continuous network improvements.

In the case of Cisco Secure products, it is difficult to talk about the results in money. However, it is clearly visible that the recognition of security incidents has increased, while the risk of damage resulting from incidents has decreased. The daily need for cyber security investigations has been replaced by stricter prevention, and the task is mostly to review visits to websites with blocked access. With the endpoint and user protection solution, it is also possible to impeccably enforce keeping devices and applications up to date, which guarantees a high level of security against Internet threats.

“Nowadays, the most important aspects of IT infrastructure are security and cost-effectiveness. We feel lucky to be able to work with such a conscious client as the BioTechUSA group of companies. We believe that the client turns solutions into success, we only provide professionalism and strategy to it.”

András Király, CEO  –  Syswind Ltd.

FOCUS ON SECURITY

There are already plans to continue the security line of the project. Cyber security is an IT branch that is difficult to define well. Today, companies are characterized by a commitment to cyber resilience. In light of this, tests are also underway at BioTechUSA for the integration of additional innovative technologies. Cisco Kenna Security’s risk-based vulnerability platform and Secure Network Analytics service can bring the entire IT system, including all digital devices and machines connected to the network, under maximum surveillance. The efforts are explained by the reports and forecasts of the Cisco Talos intelligence center regarding cybercrime, which do not guarantee 100% cyber security in the future, but neither do they guarantee the reduction of threats. The BioTechUSA group of companies does not take the compliance and application of the goals formulated by cyber resilience lightly, therefore they are moving towards the goal on a well-trodden path with consistent steps.

Syswind Ltd. participates as a Cisco Premier Integrator in the infrastructure development project of the BioTechUSA group of companies. Cisco network and security products are provided by ALEF Distribution HU Ltd.

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