Sandeep Bhanot - Vice President, Global Learning at Microsoft
As we resume our “Exploring Learning Journeys” series, we continue to highlight the learning journeys of our customers, partners, employees, and future generations. In today’s post, we showcase the culture of continuous learning at Unit4 and how the organization’s creative approach to learning motivates its teams to skill up for the future. Plus, we learn how that culture benefits not only the organization’s workforce but also its customers.
For 40 years, Unit4 has created software that delivers a better “People Experience” for services organizations whose purpose is to help others. As the company transformed its business by moving its offerings to the cloud, it was its own workforce that needed help learning the skills required to be successful in a new, agile business model.
The global company provides a suite of enterprise software for people-centric organizations, focusing on the professional services, public sector, nonprofit, and higher education industries. With this cloud-first company that follows a cloud services model, Unit4 customers benefit from the latest technologies and solutions and from continuous improvement and responsiveness.
But supporting that business means upskilling its people, and change takes time, notes Helen Aivazian, Global People Development Manager at Unit4. “We promote a culture of continuous learning, but we’ve been on a really quick journey to the cloud,” she explains. “Everything that we’re doing is about becoming a more agile organization and delivering excellence in every interaction with our customers.”
Unit4 has worked closely with cloud partner Microsoft to support the company’s skilling efforts. “Becoming a true cloud organization is a big mindset shift, and we needed to prepare our teams,” Helen adds.
Helping people shift gears and embrace challenges
Helen’s group developed new role-based and level-based learning paths, using in-house training materials and Microsoft Learn resources. “We found that people are more proactive about learning when they know they have a path to follow,” she observes.
The learning paths help individuals find the right type and level of training to meet their new job demands. For technical staff, that might mean a focus on advancing to a role like Azure administrator, DevOps engineer, or solutions architect. Or it can mean learning about new technologies for security, data engineering, or AI.
“The great thing is that all the Microsoft resources slotted into our learning paths,” Helen says. Before long, people were posting newly minted Microsoft Certification badges on their LinkedIn profiles.
The company doesn’t require certification, but “it gives us some quality assurance,” notes Ebba Ekstrand, Unit4 Global Learning & Development Officer based in Stockholm.
Helen agrees. “Certifications tell us that people have done the training, they do have the knowledge, and they’re working with the product in the best way that’s been taught to them.”
That knowledge is transforming the way Unit4 does business, as teams apply the latest learnings to their projects. According to Helen, “The business areas that work with the Microsoft stack have definitely benefited from having access to the learning materials provided through our partnership with Microsoft.”
Advancing a career: Amine’s story
No one represents the learning culture at Unit4 better than Amine Sahal, whose ambitious learning journey helps him meet job demands and advance his career. Six months ago, he was promoted from DevOps Lead to Cloud DevOps Manager, with responsibility for a team of 10 operations engineers and developers around the world. The role comes with a new level of decision-making responsibilities, and that means staying on top of Azure. He attends webinars, workshops, and Microsoft instructor-led training (ILT).
The Microsoft ILT is a favorite “because there’s interaction,” he points out. “You can talk to the instructor in chats or on team calls with all the other people in the class.”
The hands-on labs are “the best part,” he observes. “I could start implementing new things like automation using Azure Functions.” As a developer, he appreciates how easy it is to incorporate code from the labs, which is made available on GitHub. “It facilitates the work and makes the task simpler and faster to achieve.”
“I learned so many things that help me do my work and perform better on a daily basis,” Amine reports. “After finishing a [Microsoft] course and setting up things myself during the labs, I knew how to make the technical decisions required in my role as a manager.”
What he learned also fueled some creative brainstorming sessions with colleagues. “We came up with a lot of brilliant ideas after the course!” His team found new ways to take advantage of Azure services while developing the next generation of the company’s flagship product, ERPx.
Amine is focused on the next set of skills he wants to learn and on the certification exams that will help him achieve his goal. “I learned something about myself,” he observes. “Certification for me is more than a badge or the proof of knowledge for your career. It’s very important for forcing me to learn, especially when you don't have a lot of time.”
The learning paths developed by Unit4 in partnership with Microsoft have made his journey straightforward. “Microsoft has a solution for everything!” he concludes. “The courses organized internally by Unit4 in partnership with Microsoft for the management and engineering teams really helped us to be successful in our new roles.”
A challenge with prizes
To support employees in their ongoing training, Helen’s group developed new learning paths in partnership with Microsoft. This year, the company also hosted a spring and a fall Learning Festival based on those paths. Each festival included around 70 sessions of in-house classes, alongside training based on Microsoft Learn materials—a new addition for 2021. “It was a big success!” Helen remembers, noting that participation grew nearly 20 percent compared to last year.
A popular item on the agenda was the Cloud Skills Challenge, a gamified experience where participants use Microsoft Learn guided, hands-on, and interactive content to gain skills in Microsoft cloud technologies. One challenge focused on mastering Azure skills and the other on Microsoft 365.
“We saw people who don’t necessarily work in technical roles sign up for the Azure challenge,” Helen recalls. “They were curious about it, and that really created momentum for our learning paths based on the Microsoft Learn content.”
A learning culture can help future-proof a people-first company
Helen reports that the company is on track with its learning and development plans. As the teams at Unit4 deepen their understanding of Azure and other Microsoft technologies, they find new ways to improve products—just as Amine and his team have done—and to keep Unit4 competitive in a tough market.
It makes sense at a company for which “Choose curiosity, embrace challenges” is a core value.
“It’s empowering for our employees to get the benefit of Microsoft courseware and certifications within the organization for their own future growth and personal development,” Ebba says. “We want to create more of that for our other learning paths.”
As people gain skills, they “connect the dots,” as Helen puts it. “People really take the time to focus on their daily learning and to embed that in their work. And that's what we want to encourage. It’s making us a more agile organization and giving us better answers for our customers.”