True online community successes are cause for both celebration and examination. For that reason, it is with great pleasure that I am focusing this month’s blog on outstanding case studies and interviews with the best of the best. My hope is that through these examples, ideas, and best practices, online community leaders can gain actionable inspiration.
Today we have with us Nick Howe, Vice President of Learning and Collaboration at Hitachi Data Systems (HDS). Nick and his team recently launched HDS’ first global online community for customers, partners and developers and it is causing quite a stir due to its’ innovative approach to collaboration. The HDS online community has already been widely recognized by the media and a candidate for a number of industry awards in less than 6 month’s time post-launch. (Disclosure – HDS is a client). However, magic didn’t happen overnight, as many months of strategic planning and development were dedicated to the formation of this online community. It is likely that the online community’s solid foundation may be one of the main reasons why it is experiencing such rapid and ongoing success.
I recently interviewed Nick to help bring to life the vision and the process of building a B2B online community. 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, for the education and certification offerings for customers and partners, and for internal and external online communities. Hitachi Data Systems, headquartered in Santa Clara, CA, is the global IT solutions company within Hitachi, Ltd.™ Hitachi, Ltd. is a Japanese multinational engineering and electronics conglomerate company headquartered in Chiyoda, Tokyo, Japan with revenues that exceed $96B.
Below are highlights of our conversation.
Vanessa DiMauro: How did you get involved in leading the online community initiative for HDS?
Nick Howe: I have been at HDS 14 years and in my current role, global head of learning, for 9 years. I have found a real home leading the learning organization and enjoy it immensely. My organization is unique in HDS in that we are the only group that touches the entire value chain: every employee, supplier, reseller partner and customer. This experience offers a unique vantage point to understand the enterprise. The capstone to all of this is our online community.
VD: Can you provide some background about the HDS online community? What was the case for community?
NH: The journey goes back to 2009 when the head of services recognized that our product portfolio was getting more complex and we are strongly committed to providing high touch customer care. As the product deployment needs become more complex, the high touch support model becomes increasingly demanding. Meanwhile, there were numerous repeatable customer needs and questions. It therefore made sense to introduce some measure of customer self-service to free up our services teams to perform the more complex work. He also recognized that we needed a better way to capture best practice information from client engagements and make it available globally. The self service approach was so different to the high-touch model we decided to deploy Jive internally first to become familiar with it before we deployed it externally. After the initial internal deployment into the services organization I took over the internal community and rolled it out to rest of company with the intention of expanding on it. I began by asking the business questions- namely “what will be the key business outcomes of community?” and “Clearly the community will assist technical support, but what are the additional business outcomes that can come to bear fruit?”
VD: What are some of the pillars of the HDS Community business case?
NH: There are three main pillars of the HDS business case for online community. First and foremost the reason why community exists is to serve our customers! Community needs to have a demonstrable impact on both a top line (revenue generation) and bottom line (cost savings). When a customer or prospect is looking for information or answers to questions the #1 most trusted source is other customers. If we are going to be successful we need to facilitate that interaction. Enabling trustful relationships drives revenue. When customers are making a buying a decision they need to learn about our products and solutions. What better way to learn about them then through real customer experiences! Our customers are smart – they constantly think about new ways to our technology and they are willing to share their expertise with their peers.
So the three main pillars are:
1) Connect customers (and prospects) with each other so they get answers to their questions;
2) Generate more visibility to our solutions and successes and ultimately lead to more opportunities via peer-peer interactions to spread trust in our solutions;
3) Improve Sales force productivity Questions are a natural part of the buying cycle, and through community, prospective and current customers can get answers from their peers, freeing up sales resources to other tasks.
Beyond these core uses cases we worked with you (Leader Networks) and other stakeholders to develop a list of the critical business needs. We translated these needs into core scenarios and capabilities. We believe that if we can deploy a core set of capabilities now through the base online community, we can apply it to a multitude of business cases.
It only takes a few positive experiences to give us ROI. The nature of our business is such that if one or two customers make a decision in our favor as a result of an experience they have in the community, whether that is becoming more comfortable with our innovation, or because of a tactical answer they got in the technical area then the community has more than paid for itself.
Though loved by our customers, one of the problems with a high-touch model is that it is difficult and expensive to scale. If we complement the high-touch approach with a highly-engaged community we can scale to levels that we never thought possible. If we do it right, we have ability to get our message out and to connect customers in ways we have never been able to do before. If we are going to differentiate ourselves we need to understand their needs, listen better and collaborate more agilely.
VD: What areas of the online community do you find to be most transformational for the company?
NH: The HDS community offers different public community areas –– Products and solutions – this is the area where people get answers to their questions, Developer Community – which is a new use case for us and enables a way for us to engage more deeply to ISV developers, and the third area is the Innovation Center. While each one has a unique offer, the Innovation Center has been the most surprising in the way it has taken off. In this community area, showcase innovation from around the Hitachi group, and engage in future-oriented discussions with our customers.
We also see great value in our Partner/ISV Community – which is a private, closed community for partners. It is still at an early stage, but it is helping us advance the conversation with our partners. Part of our challenge, is that we have a complex ecosystem of a global employee base, global multi-tier reseller channel and global complex customer base that all have different needs. We are working now to meet all partners’ unique requirements.
VD: What was your biggest surprise from the experience of leading the online community initiative?
NH: The reaction from our parent company, Hitachi Ltd, to our pilot has been very positive. Consequently, we are exploring ways to connect some of the 900 different divisions within Hitachi for business and customer benefit. One of the main drivers why online community resonates so strongly with Hitachi is because the fundamental philosophy of community – being open, sharing and connecting – core to the spirit of the company. When you build community on a strong business foundation, the possibilities for leverage are endless.
VD: Thank you Nick Howe for sharing the details of HDS’ online community approach and congratulations on your ongoing success!