Embracing Digital Transformation – Salesforce Einstein Analytics Academies go Virtual

Ziad Fayad 16. September 2020 Summer 20, Thought Leadership 0

2020 is arguably the year of digital transformation. Covid-19, lockdowns, and the swift shift to a virtualized world where employees work from home and many basic activities from shopping essentials to school tutoring have gone virtual. This has put us through first-hand digital transformations at many levels of our daily lives. What follows is one of these very stories from within Salesforce, specifically the Einstein Analytics Academy Program, and how we progressed through this timeline. It’s an opportunity to share and reflect on ideas learned around Fear of Change, Digital Transformation as a Journey, and Digital Transformation as a Culture.

“Change is a journey, you don’t need to change everything at the same time“

– ZF


Einstein Analytics Academy Program started in 2017 in the format of two days on-site training workshops, kicked off & fully sponsored by the product General Manager at the time, to get customers jump-started on Einstein Analytics (aka Wave). Academies were meant to empower customers and drive adoption by simplifying product usage, spreading best analytical practices, establishing direct relationships with the product team, and growing a trailblazer community around Einstein Analytics (today the Einstein Analytics group is 60k+ members). Academies (at first called campfires) were a quick hit: customers loved to be onsite (mostly at Salesforce locations) to learn first hand the new product, meet and get to know other trailblazers, and actively get their voice as a customer (VOC) to the product team directly shaping future features, as well as establishing user groups and growing the community around Einstein Analytics (EA).

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The academy program went from modest 35 events conducted in 2017 to a whopping 230 global sessions across the world by end of 2019 (3x growth YoY!) with five flavors catering to different levels, customers & partners. This was accomplished with a pool of excellent delivery resources (Analytics Center of Excellence a.k.a ACE), volunteers from Sales Engineering and Product teams, and a smaller team handling complex logistics from dates & locations planning, booking rooms, catering, managing campaigns, and nominations, communicating with customers and internal field teams, coordinating with internal resources delivering the academies, followups with customers, and data collection for analytics reporting. A complex process indeed but one that the team has mastered and felt excited going into 2020 with a matured experience and a familiar plan of how it is going to work and grow!

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Geographical distribution of conducted academies by end of 2019

Enter Covid-19

Almost overnight, cities were put on lockdown, companies announcing work from home, and physical activities were canceled including events on-site. Suddenly, the imperative to go virtual became so urgent and critical for everyone in every sector. The initial “shock phase” had us question the fate of scheduled events, the effective way to do things, and the new operations and delivery mechanics with the mandate of virtual sessions.

Digital Transformation & Fear of Change

A fundamental and foremost barrier of this digital transformation is the fear of change i.e. the fear of leaving a comfort zone and a successful formula the academies have had, and switch to something new with unknown results. One can have the most talented team but fear of change can paralyze in the crucial phase of the response and immobilize the transformation process. It is necessary to address this at both individual contributors and team levels. A powerful catalyst is when the market and dynamics of a business permutate due to an external reason: in this case, the urgency of the Covid-19 situation demanded the virtual transformation.

Fear of change is a human character. It is greater when we have gotten accustomed to certain ways of doing things (on the opposite spectrum, think how kids are always daring each other and willing to try new things). Typically, it is presented in doubtful or ‘change-resisting’ questions such as: “Will a virtually-delivered academy work? How will customers respond? The physical academies have been a great success; how will the virtual ones keep the bar high? Am I going to lose my job because of fewer tasks or how am I going to learn new ones?”

Change is hard: as hard as starting to go to the gym. One will find all different excuses not to go. But once convinced or forced to go, taking that first hard session and subsequently first week’s ones, first month’s, and so on is vital. As you get into your rhythm, your trip to the gym and the sessions adjust, and you find your own routine as in what best suits you and your goals. This is a Journey.

For academies, as the realization of the necessity of a prescribed change settled in, the team was able to spin ‘change-resisting’ questions to positive ones by 1) embracing the problem at hand and 2) addressing it just like the previous issues during the last few years: getting creative and innovating, leveraging tools, and trusting the collaborative experience of the team. More importantly, addressing this new change as a journey; while the goal remains the same, experiment to adapt and try things to adjust until a new successful formula is found. In a sense, this is getting at peace with the “shock phase” while rallying the team on creative thinking and contribution to the new solution.

Digital Transformation is a Journey

All scheduled onsite academies for March and April 2020 were canceled with notifications sent out late February. Converting to virtual sessions was the goal but, treating the transformation as a journey, the priority was to get out as a critical minimum scheduling for March with a working window of about two weeks for the announced new virtual sessions. The three main tracks the academy program needed to transform where logistics, content, and delivery, which is explained in detail below.



Going virtual meant no booking rooms, catering, facilities, etc… But nominations, reservations, and welcome emails with pre-work were still the same. A prototype schedule was released for March with a focus on communicating the alterations and new expectations to the field. From that prototype run, the team gathered feedback and enhanced logistics processes to get back to a full delivery from April onwards.

New schedules with a reduced number of events did not mean less work, but rather relocating effort. New tasks demanded the team spend more time, for example, on nominations, communication, and data updates. Typical onsite academies were a 20-30 attendees event. Nominations in campaigns were about triple that number. Room size and travel restrictions of customers contributed to the capacity ceiling. However, with virtual sessions, both nominations and registered attendees numbers increased significantly. The team was now dealing with campaigns of 200+ nominations and 75+ possible registered attendees. So although the number of events went down, the volume of contacts to deal with went up. This meant more time spent on communication both with internal teams and customers, as well as the importance of having up-to-date statuses in campaigns so teams can monitor and check reserved seats and waitlists. This is a prime example of how digital transformation is more about tasks changing (demand for resources does not go away); the amount of effort and time spent on catering, booking, and other physical related activities, suddenly shifted to address higher volumes of nominations, communication and analytics updates.

The availability of digital tools specifically cloud ones helps a lot. When everyone is working from home and virtual meetings are the norm, it is important to have tools that facilitate the digital transformation journey especially for non-technical resources that cannot install or maintain such tools on their own. Using a typical Salesforce on Salesforce use case, Academies use internal campaigns, contacts, chatter groups, Quip, and Einstein Analytics on a daily basis to run the business. Other tools are used to publish content online and reservation pages. Virtual meeting tools like Zoom and Hangouts become a necessity for agile meetings, quick communication, and check-ups.


With iteration in mind, the most common academy flavor (basic academy “Intro to EA+”) was distilled down to the core jump-start formula. The team experimented with few versions of that basic flavor tried in different regions. Feedback was collected, different formats were consolidated and new proven content is now being delivered and maintained. Lessons learned? Perfection is the enemy of complete, do not be afraid to iterate, and act on feedback to improve.

As the basic flavor was being solidified in prototype month March, attention turned to the remaining flavors to get them out for April: Einstein Discovery, Data Manager, and Advanced Dashboard Designer. The order represents a logical timeline of priority for customers’ adoption of Einstein Analytics. That is as the basic essentials were being delivered and tuned, working on the backlog commenced so that by the time customers were ready for the next level, the next flavor was out.

Switching to virtual delivery meant better prep work was entailed. Since virtual sessions were no more two full days with physical proximity, creating the right orgs for exercises and prepping on basic EA terms have become important. A new public page with all helpful prep links was published. This has given the customers opportunity to prep more and leverage published content that can be re-used.

With customers working from home, the availability of online content and the ease to dig into a particular product feature or use case became a crucial supplement to delivered virtual academies content. For example, the official Academies YouTube channel viewing jumped from 20k last year the same period to 170k views and counting. Another example is the increased Learning Days webinars run by the ACE team with recorded content for deep dive on a particular theme or use case, supplemented by shifting resources to serve more Call an EA Friend (30 min sessions one-on-one for customers). Increased blogging (https://salesforceblogger.com/) also completed the range of online topics for consumption available anytime anywhere.

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Delivery of academies on site has always been praised highly for the innovative formula of mixing training approach with best practices from the field and best product knowledge while building a genuine passion for the analytics journey with the customers. In fact, academies are more of “tailored extended workshops”. A pool of volunteers delivered helping expand the program reach globally and vertically. Having an established process of delivery is very important to scale and maintain a level of excellence.

Switching to virtual delivery surfaced the main question regarding which medium to use. Investing in proper virtual classroom products was not an option considering the immediate need (no time to vet new tools nor train folks on them especially that this is not a full-time instructor job. A startup approach was taken to try different tools such as GoToMeeting, Webex, and Zoom, and even Meetups. Feedback was collected and the team settled on a common tool for most sessions and another for a larger number of attendees.

Modifying the onboarding process of volunteers delivering the academies meant a heavier focus on collaborative quip docs and onboarding recorded sessions. Similarly, sharing an external Quip doc with the attendees that had all the required files, surveys, and later updated with recordings eliminated bulky (and potentially bounced) emails.

Last but not least, following up with attendees (ex. with the mentioned resources above) has helped to bridge the physical presence gap that often happened during onsite academies. In the virtual academy era, that has become a staple part of conducting the sessions themselves with the focus on helping the customers in the best way the team can. This is another example of how tasks shift and recast in a digital transformation journey without taking away from the need for resources to fulfill the new demand.

Digital Transformation is a Culture

Every digital transformation will have its own unique aspects to focus on. Having the right culture internally and externally is equally important.

For the Academies program, the team embraced change and substituted fear by compassion and genuine enthusiasm for the customers’ analytics journey. Understanding that customers were in the midst of a big change themselves too is important. Being part of a digital transformation leader, Salesforce, helps too as the culture is embedded across the company. How Sales teams shifted a typical in-person business to a virtual one deserves its own story. To have the Sales teams be able to pivot and respond to the academy’s process modifications has been a positive impact on the virtualized success of the academies.


But a transition to the digital norm cannot be complete without the customers themselves. At the heart of the Einstein Analytics Academy Program is the successful customer experience and the mantra “Every customer is an analytics trailblazer”.

While the academies were going virtual, customers were undergoing their own digital transformations at work and at home. The customers’ mentality and willingness to accept the new academy format has been a pivotal element; one can design the best product, but it is up to the consumers to choose and accept the offered service.

Hey, that is Digital Transformation!

Digital transformation is a happening phenomenon on a daily basis. We all are scrambling at the speed of change every day. Provided with the right mentality, tools, team, and culture, we can embrace it as an exciting and continuous journey in the same way life is constantly changing. Einstein Analytics Academies going virtual was possible through understanding and addressing fear of change, treating digital transformation as a journey, and building on a culture shared with customers and partners.

To finish on a lighter note, sometimes we are so focused on work and shifting our processes in response to events and changing dynamics without even knowing it’s a digital transformation until someone walks along and says “hey that is a digital transformation!”. We are living in an era of continuous digital transformation on personal and work levels, and it is all around us. Next time you walk into a restaurant and you wonder why you haven’t been given the menu yet, check if there is a small stand next to the flower or candle vase with a QR code; menus are going digital!

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