Feature Story

Webex enables Facebook and the United States Golf Association to thrive in a challenging year

by Kevin Delaney

Webex enables Facebook and the United States Golf Association to thrive in a challenging year

What do social media and golf have in common? Both need great collaboration tools.

When the pandemic struck this year, every organization faced unprecedented challenges. The successful ones used technology in new ways — especially collaboration technologies. Facebook and the United States Golf Association (USGA) were two that adapted quickly — and thrived. 

This was highlighted at Cisco’s Webex One event last week, in a roundtable discussion titled “the Power of Connectivity.” Moderated by Scott Edwards, head of Webex Storytelling at Cisco Collaboration, it featured Navin Singh, chief commercial officer with the USGA, and Nazareth Vartanian, Facebook’s director of global engineering and operations. 

Both companies depended on Webex and other Cisco technologies for reliable, secure connections as the future of work arrived seemingly overnight. So, both leaders had plenty of insights into their successes and challenges in 2020. And what they believe can be better in 2021 and beyond.

Edwards began with a few questions for Facebook’s Vartanian. Facebook is one of Cisco’s biggest video endpoint customers in the world. And it was already conducting daily Webex meetings with employees, customers, and other stakeholders. Yet the pandemic still represented a major reimagining of how its workforce functions.

We saw a 5x increase across all of our infrastructure as far as meeting minutes. And being able to scale quickly, making sure that people had the right tools, was essential.

- Nazareth Vartanian, Facebook’s director of global engineering and operations

“It’s been really exciting to see the shift of the collaboration space,” he said. “We were large consumers of video as it was. But we saw a 5x increase across all of our infrastructure as far as meeting minutes. And being able to scale quickly, making sure that people had the right tools, was essential.”

As for making that experience even better, Cisco and Facebook announced that they have further integrated Cisco’s Webex with Facebook’s Workplace platform and Portal device. Vartanian had strong feelings about how it will streamline the remote work experience. 

“It’s exciting to see a transformation that has happened quickly both on the Cisco side and the Workplace side,” he said. “Seeing these teams come together to do this remotely during this difficult time was such an empowering feeling. We’re two different large companies with the same mission in mind.”

See also: What’s new in Webex: December 2020

Facebook is obviously a highly digitized organization. But moving an entire workforce home is a cultural challenge for any organization. Vartanian shared some key thoughts on leading remote teams — including the thousands of new employees that Facebook has hired since the pandemic. 

“We had to think about how do we make the experience of onboarding people feel like they were still in the office — getting them the right messaging and the right equipment. And another interesting problem is, how do we have fun around the 2D video world and recreate the social aspects of work while video conferencing? It’s been really fun for the teams to suss it out and put it out in the ethos.”

Spectators, players, and media, connected by Webex

From Facebook, the discussion moved over to golf. Cisco is the USGA’s official technology partner, and the organization counted on Cisco technologies to keep fans, the media, and partners connected — while creating safe, spectator-free championships.  

Singh began by sharing some thoughts on the importance of the Cisco partnership and how it’s evolved during these challenging times. Whereas Webex was once seen as a tool to connect employees, its role has grown immeasurably for events like the U.S. Open, which this year had few live spectators. 

“The paradigm has completely changed,” he said. “How are we delivering value to those fans, so they still feel engaged and part of the championship experience? And that’s where we were able to leverage Cisco Webex technology to bring the course to the fans and media at home and create interactive experiences.”   

No matter how challenging a situation, there are always important learnings to be gleaned. Some of those are being applied to this week’s U.S. Women’s Open. 

“We’re basically doubling down on the success of what we were able to do in New York at the U.S. Open in September,” he said, “basically leaning into the virtual grandstand. The success we achieved in September has created a groundswell of participants from the golf world to lend a hand and engage with the fans and engage with the media and engage with players. So, we're thankful for the partnership with Cisco.”  
Like Vartanian, Singh shared some reflections on managing remote teams through a difficult time. 

“You can imagine in an organization that’s been around 120 plus years,” he explained. “Change happens a little slower in our neck of the woods than in the technology space. But when faced with this challenge, our team stepped up. Part of that was understanding how to leverage collaboration tools to stay connected, to continue to see each other’s faces to ensure that we had some goals in front of us in terms of completing these championships. And then delivering upon our promise to the players and fans.” 

See also: WebexOne: The headline roundup

Given the successes they’ve experienced during a highly challenging year, both men are excited about the future, as collaboration technologies continue to evolve, and the hybrid work model becomes the norm. 
 
“I’m excited because it feels like the collaboration space is taking off even further,” said Vartanian. “And there’s so much opportunity right now to continue to develop and build. I’m excited to see what we’re going to do over the next couple years.”

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