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Creating an ‘Anytime, Anywhere, Any Device’ Workplace: an Interview with Epson CIO Michael Wang

When the COVID-19 pandemic took hold in mid-March, companies across the world were caught off guard by a seemingly overnight switch to remote working. Missing from their ranks? Epson.

The days of Lotus Notes and Sametime long behind us, Epson entered the pandemic equipped with leading collaboration software and tools, including Zoom, Microsoft Teams, SharePoint, and more. Not only that, but many employees were already seasoned pros with these tools.

We sat down with Michael Wang, Epson’s Chief Information Officer, and Vice President, Digital Innovation, to discuss how Epson’s forward-thinking approach to technology helped us work together during this time, and what’s ahead for our company.

When local and state officials began issuing stay-at-home orders in mid-March, Epson was prepared with Zoom and Teams, which we had introduced months earlier. Can you talk about why your team chose these products — and to implement them when we did?

One of the pillars I established as part of the IT strategy starting a few years back was to enable the “anytime, anywhere, any device” workplace. Epson America operates in many different facilities across multiple states and countries, and as part of Seiko Epson, we are a global, multinational corporation with the need to communicate and collaborate across globe.

In line with this, we’ve worked hard to either retrofit or roll out new computing resources which are easy to use, secure, and accessible — whether you are in the office or working remotely. Security and ease of use are often seemingly at odds with one another, but we’ve tried to make securely accessing these tools as easy as possible with single sign-on services like Okta to ensure a consistent, simple experience for our workforce.  

The introduction of Teams and Zoom was part of this strategy, and they met the criteria of tools that were easy to use, secure, and helped enable “anytime, anywhere” work. Many people did not realize this, but both of these technologies were in pilot use for many months prior to companywide deployment. That allowed us to ensure the proper governance and security standards for these tools, in addition to ensuring they were easy to use. This preparation made our transition to these tools relatively seamless and we were able to deploy the tools very rapidly throughout the organization.

Are you seeing or hearing about employees utilizing these tools in surprising or innovative ways?

Collaboration tools by nature, when implemented correctly, allow for the natural creativity of the workforce to bloom, but in a way that remains organized and secure. A lot of thought and planning and thought went into striking that balance between giving our workforce the freedom to work with these tools in a manner that doesn’t stymie creativity but ensures we have the governance and security guardrails in place to prevent chaos to the point where the value of the collaboration tool is lost.  

Our people at Epson are extremely creative — I have seen different departments come up with ways of automating workflows using SharePoint, or serving our customers by holding Zoom or Teams webinars or training because we can still connect, even though we are not in person.  

Do you think we would have been as successful in our transition to working remotely if we hadn’t introduced new tools like Zoom and adopted the Office365 suite?

I think without tools for collaboration and communication, our transition definitely would have been much more difficult. I personally know of a couple of companies that had to scramble to implement Zoom, Teams, and VPN when COVID-19 forced most companies into remote work, which made an already difficult and chaotic situation much worse. Fortunately for us, we were able to focus fully on resolving our business challenges during this time without worrying about technology.

In our new HQ, each conference room will be a “Zoom Room.” Can you talk a bit more about that — and how these rooms might help us as we begin returning to work? 

In our Zoom Rooms, which will combine projection and video camera technology, you will be able to join scheduled meetings with “one touch” and the same ease of use as you do from your laptop or mobile device. Likewise, if you’re working remotely, you will be able to join the same meeting as someone in the office, just like you are able to do today.

How do you see our other collaboration tools like SharePoint and OneDrive assisting the organization going forward?

I see SharePoint and OneDrive as complementary tools that are all part of our collaboration “toolkit.”  Having the right tool for the right job will help you get things done faster, more efficiently and more collaboratively.  The easier we can help our people communicate, collaborate and work together, the better we will be able to serve our customers.

We’re in the midst of an ambitious digital transformation strategy for Epson. Are there any technological trends you’re seeing among other organizations that you feel might apply to Epson America in the future?

Broadly speaking, the trend toward “digital transformation” is an imperative for companies that still want to be relevant in the near future. Digitization, whether of internal processes or of customer-facing products and services, can bring about transformational opportunities for growth. The companies that embrace and move quickly toward this new reality will have a competitive advantage over their peers. Companies who stand still will become the next Blockbuster or Kodak.

At the same time, digital transformation presents a huge challenge for IT. IT organizations and the tech that they build and support are central to everything that any modern company does, which means they have to innovate, learn and adopt new technologies at traditionally unheard-of speeds. All the while, systems must remain easy-to-use, stable, secure and compliant.

Fortunately, digital transformation, or “DX” as we call it at Epson, is a key strategic imperative for our company. I expect that as we ramp up activities, every department in the company will contribute to this goal. 

 

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