Across all industries, companies around the world were left wondering how they would handle the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic earlier this year. For most, it was a question of scrambling to establish a business continuity plan as their employees transitioned to full-time remote for the remainder of the year into 2021. However, the transition was actually quite seamless for Yamaha, since it had already moved its technology to the cloud and had an established business continuity plan in place.
Yamaha Corporation of America (YCA) is one of the largest subsidiaries of Yamaha Corporation Japan and offers a full line of award-winning musical instruments, sound reinforcement, commercial installation and home entertainment products to the U.S. market. YCA markets innovative, finely crafted technology and entertainment products and musical instruments targeted to the hobbyist, education, worship, music, professional audio installation, and consumer markets.
Vimal Thomas, Vice President of IT at Yamaha, recently participated in a panel of Fuze customers during our virtual productfest 2020. During the conversation, he shared more of his perspective on Yamaha’s transition to the cloud, and what the experience has been like during his tenure over the last 30 years—especially this year with COVID-19.
Yamaha knew that transitioning to a full-time remote workforce would be a big change, but using Fuze and the remote flexibility it affords have been a game changer. The organization saw the volume of chat messages increase 3x and audio and video conferencing increase 8x at the onset of COVID-19.
Below are Thomas’ transcribed answers from the customer panel, moderated by Fuze CMO Eric Hanson:
Eric Hanson: Can you introduce yourself and do a brief introduction? Tell us about not only your experience, but also some of the things that you've been thinking about as it relates to COVID and how you've been able to respond with your teams.
Vimal Thomas: Just a quick introduction of myself. I'm the VP of IT for Yamaha. I've been there for about 30 years. We had launched in preparation for an event that is similar to COVID, but a BCP (business continuity plan) event like this. We had launched our migration into cloud-based apps back six years ago or so. So when this whole thing hit, in about 24 hours or so, we were able to take all of our 600 employees, those with laptops and those with desktops, and move them all to working from home. So they went home on a Friday, came back, and we're fully productive on a Monday morning. It's a combination of Fuze and the EFSS (enterprise file sync and share) systems we put together, the cloud servers and storage that we put together. All of those came together and Yamaha did not have any problems getting back up and running when all employees were asked to go home.
Eric Hanson: One of the things that I think is really interesting about the Yamaha story is you have a very diverse mix in terms of employee demographics— both in terms of tenure, age, technical sophistication, etc. Maybe you could just talk about some of the changes you experience when moving to a more modern form of communications, where maybe some employees weren't tech savvy, or using the chat capabilities as much, or they weren't using video— it wasn't quite as ubiquitous. Obviously, some of those things have changed. Can you comment on what your experience was even leading into the pandemic, but probably since the pandemic hit as well?
Vimal Thomas: Right. As I mentioned, we started moving all of our systems into the cloud back about six years ago, on a stated objective of being able to allow access to all of our systems from anywhere at any time on any device. I mean as simple as that sounds, we did not want people accessing systems over the VPN, because then any device piece would not work very well because who knows what device somebody would use, right? Connecting over VPN was going to be an issue.
So what we did was we took all the systems that could be offered over the cloud and over the internet and we moved them into that kind of an application. For example, for voice, we moved to Fuze, for Windows file servers, which don't work very well in the AWS environment, we went into an EFSS solution. For those applications that we did not have a software as a service solution, we offered them to our employees on a Citrix VDI platform.
You could actually access all of our systems, you could never access any of our core systems like ERP or Tableau directly over the internet, but you could do that by using Citrix. You could do that with any device by just downloading the Citrix lines. This was the stated purpose. This is what we told the business that we were going to do this so you can access the systems from anywhere.
One of the key issues when we put Fuze into place was that we made it a point to say that you are no longer going to have a hard phone on your desk, you would be using a soft desktop phone with headsets, and that because of the mixture of demographics, some adapted to it very quickly, they understood what we were doing. They said, "Hey, I can take my desktop with me wherever I go, my office goes with me." There were others who said the headsets actually ruined my hairstyles, so I don't want to use that.
Eric Hanson: What about when COVID hit?
Vimal Thomas: But then COVID hit, and even before COVID hit, I think people got over the fact that they had to now use this Fuze desktop instead of a hard phone. What we noticed was that the chat messages between employees went up quite a bit. In fact, the previous solution we had did not have any chat capability so as soon as we put the Fuze in and about six months or so after that, we noticed that our chats between employees went up, and on a monthly basis they were exchanging between to 30,000 to 40,000 chats between each other, but when COVID hit and they all went home and started working from there, what we noticed was that the chat messages tripled. People were eager to talk to each other, that was one thing.
The other thing was what you call the audio and web conferences went up. They almost went up about eight times on Fuze and that probably because we made that as the main way to communicate with our customers, our dealers. That's the change we noticed after COVID-19 and, of course, all of the other systems were available to them. They could use it on their home computers, on their cell phones, so that's in short what we experienced at Yamaha. The adoption is no longer an issue by the way, just so you know, across the demographic.
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Eric Hanson: One of my questions had to do with standardizing on hardware, right? Whether it's headsets, cameras, now that a lot of people are working from home, how are you handling sort of centrally managing that, making those recommendations, ensuring that people have the best experience?
Vimal Thomas: Right. So as I mentioned, we basically standardized across the board for all employees that they were going to use the Fuze Desktop, not hard phones on their desk and along with that came what kind of headsets to use. What we did when we rolled it out was we provided headsets to all employees. We came up with a standard headset and we provided headsets to all employees.
These were wired headsets, and then along with that, of course, everybody's not going to like the things that we proposed, right? So some of them wanted Bluetooth headsets that were wireless, so we came up with a standard set of Bluetooth headsets that would work. AirPods were not one of them.
Eric Hanson: What about how this will impact your organization’s collaboration in the long-term?
Vimal Thomas: On the issue of collaboration, so I think for the way it is right now, the way it is right now, as long as this is a short-term thing, I think the web conferencing et cetera would work just fine, but I think from a long-term perspective what's likely to happen is that I don't know about your organizations, but we have a lot of creative people at Yamaha, because it's a music company, and a lot of creativity happens, it's not scheduled. It's not scheduled as a web conference.
People used to just walk around the hallways, talk to each other and come up with ideas, create, so that's the one piece that I don't know how collaboration technologies are going to be able to solve where you can just be… It could just be calling somebody or just walking by somebody's office and getting into a long conversation where six ideas come up and before you know it something good comes out of it.
Eric Hanson: What would you go back and do differently in response to COVID-19?
Vimal Thomas: Here's the thing. We have had a BCP or business continuity program in place since 2001. We have been testing all of the different scenarios of disasters and events that would be, and one of the things that we had tested was, what would we do in the event that everybody inside, that there was a breakout of a disease.
We had done all of that and we knew from an IT perspective, we were ready to launch as soon as a pandemic was declared. But one of our problems was that the whole Yamaha leadership is brand new and they came in, so all of those people that have been involved in the testing of this situation, they were all gone, and the only management that knew how to respond to that was in IT.
Eric Hanson: I have a good quick question just for this panel. How many of you from the IT side were the one to lead the business continuity strategy transitioning to remote work?
Vimal Thomas: We were at Yamaha.
We have done many surveys asking people what they think about coming back to work and I think the response has been, "We like being at work. We like being at home and we would…" They're scared to come back to work. Actually, we have that from a business perspective, we have changed our strategy on that. We were going to build a new building to house all of our employees in California, and that whole project has not been changed to where it will be, it will only keep a few people. We will go into a hoteling type environment, and most people will be working from home for the foreseeable future, even with a vaccine I think it's not going to change that. This is a permanent change for us.
To learn more about Yamaha Corporation of America, you can visit their website.