CIO Playbook: Rapid IT Response at the Texas Rangers

The global health crisis forced organizations around the world to shift from office to remote work from home rapidly. Learn how the Texas Rangers baseball team managed this transformation overnight.


Jun 17, 2020

The global health crisis forced organizations around the world to shift from office to remote work from home rapidly. At the Texas Rangers baseball team, this transformation took place overnight.

We asked the Texas Rangers’ Vice President of Information Technology, Mike Bullock, to explain how the team made that fast change without missing a beat. We also discussed change management lessons learned business continuity, crisis management, and crisis response.


This transcript was lightly edited for length and clarity.

Michael Krigsman: We're in a time of rapid business change. We're speaking with Vice President of Information Technology at the Texas Rangers, Mike Bullock.

Michael Bullock: Good morning. How are you?

On the Texas Rangers

Michael Krigsman: I'm excellent. Mike, tell us about the Texas Rangers and tell us about your role.

Michael Bullock: Obviously, we're a baseball club. I'm responsible for all of the IT infrastructure, IT systems, applications, cloud, cyber products, kind of the entire spectrum of IT for Texas Rangers baseball.

Michael Krigsman: As an organization, how large are you?

Michael Bullock: We support approximately 500 full-time employees. We have about 1,800 to 2,000 seasonal staff. My department consists of 11 people, including myself, divided into 2 functional groups. We have an infrastructure group and a customer and operations group.

Just an awesome group of people. I am so fortunate to have the staff that I have. They've done just a tremendous job during this kind of transitionary time that we've been through.

You may be aware that we just built a new ballpark, Global Life Field. We actually moved into Global Life Field on February 24th, so we were in our new home for less than a month before the kind of COVID transition hit us.

Our last normal day in the office was March 13th. We found out over the weekend, that intervening weekend, that, March 16th, everyone was going to be working from home. You can imagine building a ballpark in itself, a $1.2 billion stadium was certainly a challenge and challenge enough. Then on top of that, we were faced with the prospect of working from home, basically overnight, when we'd been in our new home for less than a month.

On Golden Life Field, the new Ballpark

Michael Krigsman: Mike, tell us about the new ballpark.

Michael Bullock: The new ballpark is spectacular. Global Life Field is a $1.2 billion project, 40,300 seats. It's about 1.8 million square feet. It's significantly larger than Global Life Park, our former home. It really is spectacular.

I've been asked before what the coolest new technology is at Global Life Field. Literally and figuratively, the coolest new feature is the air conditioning and that retractable roof that comes with it. It is climate controlled, which is going to be a great feature for our fans, but just a spectacular stadium.

Michael Krigsman: You build a new stadium. It's now open. It's a $1.2 billion stadium. It's now open. You've moved in. Everybody is happy. Friday, you're at work. You get the call and, Monday, we can no longer be at the stadium.

Michael Bullock: Step one is panic. Then I guess step two is marshal resources, so lots of communication with the IT team kind of checking boxes about things that we know we need to do. There is a handful of staff that needed computers to work from home.

Fortunately, we were well situated there too. We had a very mobile workforce. Lots of people worked on Surface products, so we were already pretty well situated for people to be mobile.

I think probably the biggest challenge was making sure that people had access to VPN. Since these were all new tools, we had the added challenge of helping people learn how to use new tools if they had not worked from home before. Just a whole cascade of kind of circumstances from the timing of this being coincidental with the opening of a new ballpark.

On Cloud Infrastructure and Business Continuity Planning

Michael Krigsman: Mike, it seems that your technology and infrastructure played a crucial role in enabling you to move so quickly. Tell us about that infrastructure.

Michael Bullock: The infrastructure that we were using prior to the move to the new ballpark was insufficient for us to orchestrate a work-from-home strategy with COVID and all of the new Internet capacity, all of the new storage and compute infrastructure, new cyber tools, and also our new UCaaS platform from Mitel were kind of very instrumental in us being able to work from home. Fortunately, we were well situated with mobility. With most of our workforce on laptops or a Surface platform made it really much easier to transition to work from home. Capacity was a huge issue.

Another big issue was the ability to simulate being in the office. One of our key elements was the ability to operate call centers so that we could stay in touch with our customers. I have to say that the Ignite platform from Mitel enabled us to essentially operate a call center with remote workforce working from home just as if they were in the office.

I did hear from our senior vice president of sales. I guess she had had a conversation with some of her peers. I guess they were amazed to hear that we could so seamlessly work from home and orchestrate a call center, which is really a very difficult thing to do, so we were very happy with that.

Michael Krigsman: When you put this infrastructure in place, did you anticipate business continuity needs or disruptions? Was that part of your planning?

Michael Bullock: Really, in our planning, we anticipated that, in the lifespan of this building, we would have needs that we could not conceive of. I think people talk about trying to build things that are future proof, which is kind of a fallacy. For anyone that's tried it, they know that.

We really tried to build things that were future flexible. We wanted to make sure that we didn't have to worry about the fundamental infrastructure for the next four to five years. We tried to build things from a capacity viewpoint and an architectural viewpoint so that it had legs beyond year one.

On Seamless Communication and Collaboration

Michael Krigsman: You've mentioned seamless communication and collaboration, of course, goes with that. It seems like this was a primary goal.

Michael Bullock: I think a big part of the job of IT is to deliver great productivity tools for our employees and enable their communication not only with each other but with our patrons and our fans, our customers. We have a collection of tools to do that, tools like Zoom and Slack.

Obviously, the Mitel platform has played a key role both in internal communication and in communication with our customers. The MyCollab app really has kind of revolutionized the way that people communicate. We have probably about 100 of our staff that opted not to have a traditional desk phone and chose to opt for the MyCollab app.

Obviously, that helped them immensely in the transition to work from home. It's very easy for them to just open up their MyCollab app and they're able to work from home on Ranger's telephony very easily with no special accommodation from us. Just a really good outcome there and very appreciative of the fact that we had just rolled out that platform prior to this kind of transition to work from home.

Frankly, I guess, and kind of ironically, this gave us an opportunity to work more closely with staff because they needed more support. A little bit counterintuitive that people being out of the office would actually lead to maybe more interaction than we had had with some groups before.

On IT Leadership and Collaboration

Michael Krigsman: It really enabled IT the opportunity to forge a closer working relationship with folks in the organization.

Michael Bullock: That's definitely a benefit. I've heard other IT leaders express this as well that we kind of get to prove our value, prove our worth, prove the tools that we've selected. I think that's especially true for us.

IT has a consultancy role to assist the organization in finding the best tools. Sometimes, we direct people to tools and they don't quite understand why. I think that's a validation that's come from this is that a lot of those selections, not only were they good selections, which I'm thankful for—we picked a lot of the right tools—but the opportunity to use them in this circumstance kind of validated the reasons that we selected certain tools and hopefully kind of validates us as a consultant to the organization and gives us credibility.

Michael Krigsman: From what you're describing, it sounds like there are really two layers. One is, you have that technology infrastructure but then you have the processes and the interaction that rests upon the technology.

Michael Bullock: Yeah, it was very important for us to have as close a working relationship with departments as we possibly could, as we were allowed to return to the office, we noticed a lot more interest in audio/visual tools. We had implemented new smart boards from Avocor. Those had not gotten a tremendous use prior to COVID and the three weeks that we had been in the office prior to the transition to work from home.

What we noticed is, after people had transitioned to kind of this new disruptive form of working, we had a lot more interest in using technology after the fact, so people using Avocor boards to orchestrate Zoom meetings, smart boards for touchscreen. I think the one, I guess, productive thing that has come from this is kind of a transition and approach to technology and maybe more acceptance of technology as a core part of communication and collaboration. It's just another tool in the toolbelt relative to productivity in the office.

Michael Krigsman: There's a cultural dimension to all of this as well.

Michael Bullock: I really think so. There's a Dallas CIO summit that's put together by Evanta and had kind of a community call to talk about the ramifications of COVID, maybe a learn a little bit from each other, and talk about how to adapt to some of the change that we saw. A lot of people made the observation that these not only are disruptive changes but they may be changes that stick and change the way we work in the long term.

On Culture Change and Change Management

Michael Krigsman: What about resistance to making the change? Everybody was forced to change literally overnight. That kind of change is really hard.

Michael Bullock: Yeah. Surprisingly, much less resistance than you might have thought. I think, just because of the circumstance with short notice and work to be done and, obviously, still need to communicate with our fans and patrons, there was so much work to be done that we really didn't have time to stop and think about the disruption nor resist. We just had to adopt the tools and move forward. Really, I'm amazed and kind of proud of how all of the staff were very flexible and adaptable and quick to accommodate the changes – very productive.

Michael Krigsman: Mike, you mentioned Mitel. I'm grateful to Mitel for making our conversation possible. During this rapid transition, how did you work with Mitel, and what's the nature of your relationship?

Michael Bullock: Mitel has a great relationship with Major League Baseball, a sponsorship relationship, and also with the Rangers. I'd actually been a fan of Mitel and ShoreTel products in the past. Mitel made it easy for me when it comes to technology selection. When they acquired ShoreTel, that really made the technical preference pretty easy for me.

We've worked with Mitel for about 2.5 years in the process of integrating UCaaS for Global Life Field. They did a spectacular job in project management.

I've always said that the perfect salesman is persistently patient and patiently persistent. That's exactly the way that Mitel approached project management. They pushed just hard enough. Obviously, we were busy with a million different aspects of this project going on. The Mitel team consistently pushed us just hard enough to keep us moving forward but always were cognizant of our priorities with building the new ballpark.

I can say that something like a phone system is so high touch. It can be an oops in a big project. In fact, it can be a pretty catastrophic failure if it's not orchestrated properly. I have to say, I didn't have to worry about the implementation of UCaaS and that's due to our project manager and the Mitel team just doing a spectacular job in delivering product for us.

Michael Krigsman: Mike, what's next for the Texas Rangers from an IT standpoint?

Michael Bullock: Obviously, we're anxious to play baseball. That's our principal focus and objective. We've spent three to four years in the design and construction of a new facility. We want our friends and fans and guests to come visit us so that we can show them what we've built.

We're working on some new infrastructure upgrades to 5G for cell service, which should be completed very shortly. Then a raft of other projects for several of our departments here that we're going to have to complete in the next couple of months and certainly hope to be playing baseball in July or August.

Michael Krigsman: It's a busy time for you right now.

Michael Bullock: It is.

Michael Krigsman: Mike Bullock, Vice President of Information Technology at the Texas Rangers, thank you so much for spending time with us today.

Michael Bullock: Thanks, Michael. This was great.

Published Date: Jun 17, 2020

Author: Michael Krigsman

Episode ID: 657