Covid-19 has turned the business world on its head, and technology has become the lifeline to keep society running as efforts to slow the spread of the coronavirus force people apart. Online collaboration and secure communication are especially important, and American Chamber of Commerce in Japan (ACCJ) President’s Circle member company Cisco Systems G.K. is one of
the world’s top providers of such services. They are also a strong community partner and are putting their resources to work to help everyone cope with the outbreak. As we practice social distancing ourselves, The ACCJ Journal sat down with West virtually using Cisco’s Webex platform to learn how the company prepares for crisis, has adapted to Covid-19, and is helping Japan get through the pandemic.
When did you recognize the need to act?
Cisco has a very robust business continuity process. We go through drills constantly, carrying out exercises to test our business continuity across the entire organization and our supply chain. But the red light here was seeing what was happening in my geo.
I’m on the Asia–Pacific, Japan, and China team, and Hera Siu, who is CEO for Greater China, is one of my peers. Talking to her, I got to see firsthand, from Japan, what was happening on the ground in China. As we watched what was going on, we quickly shifted to providing teleworking services to every employee to work remotely and began moving teleconferencing units into hospitals so that physicians could do remote consultation.
In the beginning, nobody knew what this really was. But it started to move—from China to Singapore to the Diamond Princess cruise ship sitting off Yokohama—and this was definitely an indication for us that it was serious.
How were you able to quickly shift the supply chain?
We began a massive supply chain redesign as the United States and China have been going through trade negotiations, just to minimize the impact on our supply chain. Those changes were already starting to go into effect, so as China began dealing with the coronavirus, and the supply chain for parts and materials started slowed down, we had to accelerate in Malaysia, Thailand, Mexico, and other locations. We were always watching this. But I don’t think any of us could have predicted how rapid and dramatic the impact would be around the world.
Many companies had already started to diversify their supply chain and to look at alternative locations for assembly and buying components. I think that will continue, but I think we’ve also learned through Covid-19 that there’s no perfect answer anywhere in the world. No matter where you manufacture these days, there’s no safe place. Companies will really need to think about how they distribute the supply chain and diversify where they get components to make sure they can continue to build, manufacture, and do all of the things they do. And I think many have been thinking about this for a long time and will continue to accelerate their planning.
None of us knows what the world will look like down the road. I do think it will be fundamentally different. How we work, the way we interact, maybe even our social values and beliefs will be a little bit different after Covid-19. And, I hope, for the better.
How has planning allowed you to provide support?
What we try to do is use our culture of planning, in which we are always thinking about business continuity and supply chain as part of our internal processes, to help offset some of the pain that we’ve seen from the start of this. The way that we’re handling it is to make sure that we triage the things that are most important, and right now the highest priority for us is healthcare providers who need equipment to do rapid testing, assessment, and analysis, and governments that need to provide services. We have a methodology that we go through to make sure that we get equipment to the people who absolutely, positively need it today. Then we figure out how to make sure that we get equipment to others as they need it, to make sure that we focus our time and attention on the highest-priority customers so they can support those who depend on them.
Was Cisco prepared for a sudden shift to teleworking?
It’s something we do every day as part of our culture. Every one of our staff already had the ability to work from home. Before Covid-19, we would see at least 75–80 percent of employees come to the office. Not that they needed to, but I think people enjoy coming to the office. They like the culture, they like the environment.
But at any time, 50 percent of the organization will be doing workstyle reform during a week. Maybe they’ll go see a customer and then they’ll go home and work from there. Or they’ll go to a remote facility or to a location that has Wi-Fi and work from there. Everybody has that flexibility across the organization.
It’s just that it has now been put in full speed and it’s not business continuity planning anymore. Now it’s business continuity execution.
Even before Covid-19, we have been promoting flexible workstyles and we want people to work from home. I would love for people not to have to commute in the morning for 90 minutes during rush hour. Work from home and get on the train when it’s easier, when there’s less traffic, when they can get to the office more rapidly. Or go from home right to a customer. That’s our culture. We promote that and have the tools and technologies to allow it.
Fast forward to today. Our entire company is working remotely. In fact, our CEO said he really wants everyone to work from home. And because we had seen clearly what was going on in China—and that there were pockets of issues arising in Japan and across Asia–Pacific—we started to really push it.
We’re at the point where 95 percent of all staff are working from home. I would say it’s 100 percent, but we may need people to go into the office to sign documentation. So, we still allow it for business-critical reasons or if a customer has an issue and we have to go address it.
How has it been working out?
It’s been fascinating to watch. We like to institute video during our calls, because we think it’s much more engaging than an audio call. People have started out in coat and tie, just like they would in the office, and then moved to a little more of a relaxed style. Now we see children, family members, and pets on video calls, and we see people doing video calls at dinner. People are getting much more comfortable in a culture here in Japan that is generally less open to it. People are becoming much more vulnerable, and are sharing more, as all of us work in very close quarters, in smaller apartments and homes.
How are you helping everyone adapt?
We’re doing fun things such as a virtual kampai (toast) at night. Last week, we did virtual chair yoga and brought in a yoga instructor on Webex. I thought we would have a few people join, but we had hundreds! Things such as this just to break up the day. When you’re sitting at your desk all day, working from home, you need a break, you need an outlet. So, we’re promoting all that across the company and trying new things that make it fun and interactive.
Everyone has to deal with the mental issues of sitting at your desk all day, every day. There are the fear issues of what the world might look like tomorrow. You need to find a way to introduce comfort, fun, and humor, and to engage people differently and let them do these things. It helps them be mindful, focused, and to concentrate. We’re very into that and think it’s really important—now more than ever—for our employees, customers, and partners.
What security issues need to be considered?
When you’re working on a campus or in an office, all your devices probably adhere to a certain policy. Data flows are well known. But when you work from home, many of the applications you’re pulling down are coming from the cloud.
Because you’re going over the internet, how you secure data and how you grant access to information is important. You must make sure that each endpoint does not have malicious code that could cause issues for your organization.
You also must ensure privacy and make certain that people are secured as they access information either from your data center or from the cloud. If you’re going to use tools such as Office 365, Salesforce, or Box, then how do you make sure that—as people access their personal information on that same device—there’s separation? This is important not only so that they adhere to the policies and procedures for business privacy and security requirements, but also so that people continue to have what they want in terms of personal privacy.
Did preparation for the Olympics play a role?
Over the past couple of years, we’ve been trying to promote telework in Japan, pointing out that the Olympics will force us all to work in different ways. With 600,000 people potentially coming to Tokyo for the Games, the staff of Japanese companies and multinationals wouldn’t be able to commute into Tokyo anymore. How are you going to work? And how are you going to do it over a period of several months when mass transit is inundated with tourists?
So, we’ve always been thinking about this, and our belief is that every company needs to have a business continuity plan for workstyle. They need to enable their staff to work from home or from a coffee shop—to be able to continue to do business no matter where they are. It just so happens that Covid-19 put everything into fast acceleration. Even if you didn’t want to do workstyle reform and flexible work practices, we’re all forced to implement it and allow work from home.
Has postponement of the Olympics impacted Cisco?
It’s been fascinating. We’re the network equipment partner for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games, so over the past few years we have been preparing to support the most digitized Olympics in history. It was always necessary to be prepared to adapt, to make sure that, no matter what happened—if it was a virtual Games, if it was a physical Games, or if the Games were delayed—we’d have to be ready to support that.
Clearly, with Covid-19, things changed overnight. Now we must prepare not only to deliver the most digitized Olympic Games in 2021, but also think about new innovations and new capabilities that could potentially make the Games better a year from now instead of a few months from now.
How are you helping the community?
First and foremost, our culture is about giving back. I think that’s what makes Cisco the best place to work. It’s about helping society by making a contribution to the world and making Japan a better place. Right now, that’s what we’re focused on—doing everything we possibly can to help businesses, students, teachers, and governments find a way through this. If technology can help create better connections as people are sitting alone and self-isolating, if it can help them collaborate and solve problems faster—and help make Japanese society better over the months ahead—we’re going to do everything we can to contribute.
For example, since we don’t have anyone in the office right now, we are sanitizing a lot of our telepresence and desktop units for video and making them available to our customers. So, as government needs video units to go interact, to have these rich conversations, as healthcare entities want to do remote screenings or testing using video to assess a patient’s health, they can use these.
We’re doing everything we possibly can to help society. It’s a new world and we’re in unprecedented times. We’re in a battle. We want to give everyone the tools they need to feel as comfortable as possible in this environment and to have the mechanisms to win the fight.
What tools is Cisco making available for free?
During this crisis, and for the foreseeable future, we’re making all our security software capabilities available to all our customers. So, whatever you need, go use it. Whether it’s multifactor authentication, cloud security, or endpoint security, we’re making it all available. Customers are struggling right now to figure out how they keep the lights on, pay their employees, and make sure that business continues in this very challenging environment.
We want customers to be successful. We want them to continue to pay their employees, while we ease the technology burden on them. So, we’re going to help them do that. We’ll worry about the rest later. For right now, we want to focus on making sure that our customers can collaborate and are secure.
We’re doing the same with Webex. We’re making it available to every customer for free for the next 90 days. I hope, at the end, they love it and the experience was fantastic; but we just want them to be able to collaborate and be successful right now.
We’re also making Webex available free to all education customers across Japan for 180 days. None of us know what the next six to 12 months will look like. Students need to continue to learn and teachers need to continue to teach. They may do it physically or virtually—especially in this new world.
And it’s not about being a Cisco customer or not, it’s about being a human being and helping society. It doesn’t matter how big or small your business is, or if you’re a Cisco customer or if you use somebody else. I don’t care so long as we can help make Japan better, help solve problems, and help people interact. At the end of the day, I hope you will feel good about Cisco, but if you go back to what you were using before, that’s fine. As long as, over this period of time, we help make life better in some way, shape, or form, we will have achieved our goal. We’re just trying to reach out and give everybody access to these tools. And as customers come to us and ask for more, we’ll do it.
Custom Media publishes The ACCJ Journal for the American Chamber of Commerce in Japan.
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