Social Tools Shouldn't Threaten Corporate Training

Social technologies capture value and allow learning to occur in real time and at scale, in ways traditional training tools can't. Social tools pose an opportunity for corporate learning leaders.

Nick Howe, Contributor

July 23, 2013

4 Min Read

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As the head of learning and collaboration at Hitachi Data Systems, I've been on a nine-year roller coaster journey, learning first-hand what works and doesn't in corporate education.

I lead a global team that trains 30,000 employees, resellers and customers in 100 countries, face-to-face and online. In the last two years we've adopted new social technologies and engagement strategies. Through targeted projects, we've increased revenue, decreased turnover and support costs, increased onboarding efficiency, and broken down walls between functions. Social technologies -- when executed correctly -- enable knowledge and skill-building in a way that formal training cannot.

In the same ways that BYOD and the consumerization of IT are giving CIOs nightmares, Google, YouTube, MOOCs and social media should be giving corporate learning leaders, if not nightmares, cause to fundamentally reevaluate corporate learning visions and strategies.

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Clay Shirky has spoken eloquently about the long tail -- the vast numbers of individuals who have unique, powerful contributions to make if given the chance. Think about your own company and the subject-matter experts who help design your courseware. What percentage of your employee base do they comprise -- perhaps 1%? Does that mean that 99% of your employees have nothing to contribute to building skills and knowledge, or is it simply that your current systems and processes have no way of capturing, codifying, and disseminating that value?

Done well, corporate universities deliver amazing value to an enterprise -- arguably, they are the engines of innovation. But rarely are they designed to capture knowledge at the edge of the enterprise, and to do so at scale. Value is created at the edge, and it evolves in real time. How real-time are your courses? How long does it take for a stakeholder request to turn into a delivered program -- weeks? Months? Years? Did your business stand still while that was happening?

Back in 1950 Gordon Packard said, "If only HP knew what HP knew." Does your company know what it knows, and does it take advantage of the value being created at the edge? If not, what are you going to do about it?

Social technologies -- online communities, wikis, expert discovery, group collaboration -- provide mechanisms that capture value and allow learning to occur in real time and at scale, with little or no intervention by the corporate university team. Are they therefore a threat, in the way that some CIOs see BYOD as a threat? No! Rather, they are an opportunity to be grasped by forward-thinking learning leaders.

I'm not (yet) going to discuss what it takes to "do social" successfully, but I will argue that it must be the responsibility of the training organization to drive implementation and adoption of these technologies, because this organization is in a unique position to view the enterprise holistically.

If you define yourself as the head -- or a member -- of a training organization and you are not utilizing social technologies, I believe you are on a road to failure. That road may be long and winding, but it leads to failure nonetheless. YouTube is less than 10 years old, yet you can use it to learn to do almost anything. When you have to perform an unfamiliar task outside of work, what's your first reaction -- to find a training course, or to jump on Google? What do you think your company's employees are doing, or would like to do, at work? Stop thinking about training and start thinking about building skills and knowledge by any means possible.

In future columns I'll explore key concepts in the social/collaboration space and suggest how you can use them to drive business success in your organization. Until then, take a long, hard look at your strategy for building skills and knowledge. Are you a 20th-century leader or a 21st?

About the Author(s)

Nick Howe


For the last nine years, Nick Howe has been the vice president of HDS Academy, the global learning organization of Hitachi Data Systems. He is responsible for employee development, the education and certification offerings for customers and partners, and internal and external online communities. Hitachi Data Systems, headquartered in Santa Clara, Calif., is the global IT solutions company within Hitachi, Ltd. In his previous role at Hitachi, he was director of the global solution services division for Europe, the Middle East, and Africa. Before joining Hitachi in 1999, he was leading outsourcing teams at EDS Corp. He began his career at Bechtel Corp., working on engineering projects throughout the world. He received his degree in chemical engineering from the University of Newcastle-upon-Tyne in the UK.

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