The mission statement of Hitachi Data Systems' global learning team includes not only building the skills, knowledge, and attitudes of its employees, but also of its partners, suppliers, and customers. Why? Because, at times, partners are the conduit to market for certain products, so it is critical to Hitachi's business strategy to have partners that understand aspects of the product. Similarly, unless customers are well-equipped to operate the hardware and software that are part of the solution, full value will not be realized, Hitachi insists.

The learning team assigns business interlock (BI) professionals to keep tabs on company strategy and learning needs. These BI pros conduct outreach with product marketing managers, engineers, sales, and others to understand the vision and direction in each of the areas. This extends to working with partners if the route to market for a particular product is through that partner. The BI team meets with the partner to understand the necessary skills and knowledge that are needed to tie in with Hitachi's business strategy.

One of the programs the learning team leads is the Global Sales Boot Camp for recent hires in sales, presales, and solution consulting. The program includes face-to-face training at the company headquarters. After the five-day class led by sales leaders, technical presales employees stay on to attend an additional four-day class, providing an in-depth dive into Hitachi's products and solutions.

A second initiative is designed for sales engineers with internal and partner solution consultants. This program delivers extensive product training that gives solution consultants the knowledge to speak with customers about IT architecture, position against competition, and deliver product demonstrations. Courses include online, self-paced prerequisites in support of in-person events, which are followed by manager-driven exercises.

A third program, also available to both internal employees and partners, but targeted to field engineers, is the deployment training program. It gives engineers the knowledge and skills they need to go on-site to customer locations to install software, run cabling, configure networks, set up servers, and integrate solutions into existing processes.

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A pressing challenge for Hitachi is the scale and diversity of its workforce—the company has thousands of employees who cover more than 100 countries. In response, the learning team has organized online learning assets, developed cloud-based labs to allow for virtual training, and implemented adaptive learning technologies to deliver personalized online training.

Product learning spaces—integrated, collaborative online portals—guide learners to a variety of learning assets. An explicit strength of the program is the deliberate collaboration between the learning team and subject matter experts, so that "the people who best know the product and business needs are responsible for content creation. This drastically reduces development time, improves accuracy and relevance, and ensures alignment with quarterly sales goals and regionally specific use cases," explains John Kostek, learning and performance consultant for global learning.

View the entire list of 2017 BEST Award winners.