Leading Strategies

The Need for Speed

Yamaha Motor Co. goes full-throttle into the era of the “connected vehicle.”

By Rob Preston

Fall 2018

Yamaha Motor Co., the world-class manufacturer of motorcycles, ATVs, outboard motors, watercraft, golf cars, and other power sports products, is starting to make a name for itself as a cutting-edge developer of always-connected, technology-enhanced machines.

The company has made a bold statement with the 2018 model of its dirt competition race bike, the YZ450F, which packs what one trade press reviewer called “the most innovative technology available to the consumer to date.” The coolest YZ450F advance is its Power Tuner app, which riders can download to their iOS or Android smartphones to make fueling and ignition-timing changes to optimize the bike’s performance for current track conditions.

Cutting-edge technology is also starting to change Yamaha Motor’s customer service model. Starting around the third quarter of this year, the company will deploy Oracle Knowledge Advanced, a module of the Oracle Service Cloud suite, to give its support organization quick, repeatable access to a centralized, curated repository of service manuals and other reference artifacts.

Looking even further down the road, a proof of concept that Yamaha Motor and Oracle developed shows how Oracle Knowledge Advanced, supplemented by augmented reality (AR) glasses and bike sensors plugged into Oracle Internet of Things Cloud Service, could transform the way field service technicians and owners maintain and repair a power sports product such as a motorcycle. In a demo at Oracle’s Modern Customer Experience 2018 conference in Chicago in April, an individual wearing the AR glasses just had to look at the bike’s vehicle identification number for a digital overlay to be displayed with key component metrics, such as coolant temperature, oil pressure, and battery voltage. Metrics displayed in red indicated a problem; variables displayed in green were within the normal range. The idea is to let technicians and, perhaps eventually, consumers view bike components from any angle and discover issues without having to take the vehicle apart.

Profit recently talked with Glenn Coles, general manager and CIO of Yamaha Motor’s North American operations and an evangelist for the company’s “connected vehicle” vision, about the lessons he learned as a motocross pro early in his career and while driving the “art of the possible” at Yamaha.

Profit: You bring a unique background to Yamaha: not only more than 30 years of experience as a programmer and IT leader, but also your experience as a motocross racer. How do those experiences intersect?

Coles: I started riding when I was 9, I started racing when I was 10, and I stopped racing when I was 22. I turned pro at 16. I was a local pro, not a national pro, but I was very serious about the sport. I had sponsorships and all of that good stuff, mostly with parts distributors and dealerships. I was very serious—that’s what I wanted to do. I came into Yamaha through the IT door, but I desperately, when I was 16 to 22, wanted to come in through the factory-racing door.

I came into Yamaha through the IT door, but I desperately, when I was 16 to 22, wanted to come in through the factory-racing door.”

I know exactly what it means to be an enthusiast, living the lifestyle and being a consumer of numerous power and marine sports products. That has a real power to it, because I know what it means to be on that track, to sit on the other side of that parts counter buying accessories. I know that because I lived it.

Profit: How does the Oracle Service Cloud Knowledge Advanced application you’re rolling out later this year fit into your existing application infrastructure?

Coles: Since 2008, we’ve been an Oracle Siebel customer for our contact centers and for incident management, helping support mostly the field for all of our different products. We’ve also expanded that user base to our Canadian business.

Glenn Coles, general manager and CIO of Yamaha Motor’s North American operations
Yamaha Motor Company
Headquarters: Iwata, Japan
Industry: Power and marine sports products
Employees: 53,500
Revenue: About US$15.5 billion

Glenn Coles, General Manager and CIO, Yamaha Motor Co., North America
Length of tenure: 12 years
Education: University of California, Irvine
Personal quote/mantra: “Be relevant, and innovate relentlessly.”

But what we don’t want to do is throw the baby out with the bath water. There’s an investment there. The product works. So the strategy is pretty simple: let’s layer modern cloud apps on top of that and grow with Oracle, and at some point Oracle Siebel will be swapped out for a cloud-based app. Meanwhile, it’s kind of a best-of-both-worlds strategy.

Profit: With regard to the ambitious proof of concept your team developed with Oracle involving augmented reality combined with the Internet of Things, how far down the road do you think something like that is for commercial use?

Coles: We might be two or three years out with the price point to reach down low enough that our partner network and our consumers would entertain something like that. What has to be done, price aside, is getting buy-in for changing the way service delivery happens. That’s, I think, even more critical than the technology we’re looking at.

This could represent a huge leap forward from today’s approach. This isn’t vaporware or a PowerPoint product. This was created as a real proof of concept for us to be able to show what can be and for me to help drive the art of the possible within Yamaha Motor.

Profit: Is the motorcycle industry still behind the car industry when it comes to the “connected vehicle”?

Coles: It absolutely is. Automotive companies are now in Gen 2/Gen 3 types of products with platforms such as GM’s OnStar. They’re no longer questioning if the connected vehicle or product makes sense. They’re no longer questioning if they have to charge for it. Hyundai gives it away. They know that IoT sensor data is invaluable for product development, warranty, you name it. My challenge is just speed. Everything just takes longer than I want it to.

It would then be very easy to take that leap to the customer as the price of virtual reality/augmented reality devices becomes more reasonable. We’re talking about very real, very tangible benefits.”

But it’s starting to happen with recent executive leadership appointments at Yamaha Motor USA and across Yamaha Motor Co., our parent company based in Japan. Technological advancement is a core focus for the company moving forward.

Profit: Broadly speaking, what is Yamaha’s vision for emerging technologies, and how might that vision scale?

Coles: Let’s start with augmented reality and virtual reality. Everyone can think of 100 different use cases. What we’re seeing is how we can change our engagement with both our dealerships and, ultimately, our consumers.

The proof of concept we developed with Oracle will, first and foremost, leverage what’s in our knowledge management system to help a technician—maybe with a product he’s never seen before—through a valve replacement or adjustment. You have the convergence of digital technologies: you have IoT data coming back; you’re pulling in warranty information and maybe parts information. You’re overlaying augmented reality to walk the tech through. And imagine that it would then be very easy to take that leap to the customer as the price of virtual reality/augmented reality devices becomes more reasonable. We’re talking about very real, very tangible benefits.

Imagine then putting under all of that support by an AI engine, with machine learning, based on the IoT information that’s coming back and big data analysis, and now you’ve got a full suite that’s helping the dealers and/or the consumers be able to manage and support their vehicles or products. The sky’s the limit. That’s why I said we’ve got 100 use cases, and probably 1,000 more right behind them.

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Photography by Raffi Alexander