When face-to-face training came to a screeching halt, organizations of all kinds scrambled to continue functioning under unprecedented conditions. Virtual meetings and remote access have been invaluable, but is there anything out there that can truly replicate hands-on, technical training?
HP Inc. found themselves wrestling with this question last March. When the company was forced to cancel a major technology consultant (TC) training, hundreds of consultants worldwide were left without the firsthand experience required to do their jobs. These TC’s advise their clients on how to securely integrate HP’s multi-function printers (MFPs), HP software solutions, and other products into the client’s network architecture and workflow processes, and then facilitate roll-out after the sale.
Simply replacing the cancelled event with remote training wasn’t a viable solution – the TCs needed to interact with the MFPs, walking through the kinds of scenarios they would encounter in the field. HP turned to Intracon for help and by the following month, we were ready for the first training session. Our team pulled together technology from a variety of sources, developed some custom tools, and combined them in a new way to create a Virtual Training Environment (VTE) especially for HP.
How did we make it happen? Intracon set up a lab with MFPs, servers, and strategically positioned web cams. Each student has access to their own network, a physical MFP to work with remotely, and a hands-on lab guide. This one-of-a-kind environment marries real-life hardware with a virtual environment, effectively recreating the experience of working on a local network – the kind of infrastructure many TC’s clients utilize. The in-house VTE also eliminates many of the connectivity issues we would have encountered if we had tried connecting dozens of MFPs to a public cloud.
Prior to a training session, students are sent a prep guide, as well as a personal VPN client to access their own local network (think of it as their dedicated company network they can work with during the training session). Once in the VTE, students can see each other’s MFPs but can only control their own. The lab guide is customized to work in this environment, utilizing tools that mimic real-life interaction with an MFP. For example, students can remotely authenticate to the assigned MFP by scanning a proximity card, control front-panel buttons, and much more. As they work with their dedicated PC, servers, network architecture, and their MFP, tasks are executed just as they would be in person.
One of the most valuable aspects of a face-to-face training experience is the naturally occurring knowledge sharing. Our VTE enables normal conversation, with instructors and students exchanging ideas and working through issues together. Students can screen share and discuss best practices. Instructors can help students one-on-one or work with the entire class. If a student misconfigures and is struggling to get back to a stable situation, the instructor can simply reset their environment so the student can start fresh.
Since April 2020, 500+ students around the world have received training in our VTE. Feedback has been overwhelmingly positive, with students telling us the experience comes very close to in-person training. Here’s what some of them had to say when asked what they enjoyed about the class:
“Every single thing. We need more hands-on training like this and more frequently. I am an inside technology consultant and when COVID hit, we had to work from home. We lost access to both our hardware and solutions lab.”
“The structure of the lab guide was very efficient, and the virtual environment was easy to set up and connect to.”
“This environment allowed me to have remote access to hardware and learn tasks I’ve never seen in a face-to-face training!”
Even after the threat of COVID-19 has receded, this unique mix of the virtual and physical will continue to benefit HP. Large, annual training events (conducted either face-to-face or in our VTE) can easily be augmented by short sessions throughout the year. Students can attend, then get right back to their workday without missing a beat — no travel required. We are fortunate to have helped HP with their training needs, and we’re excited by the endless possibilities our VTE has to offer!