Editor’s note: A pioneer in the financial industry, Banco Bilbao Vizcaya Argentaria, S.A. (BBVA) has become “the digital bank of the 21st century,” in part by using Google Cloud as a foundation for its technological innovation. Years into their collaboration, BBVA and Google Cloud developed a customized training program—Ninja Cloud Academy—that would offer bank employees an opportunity to learn more about the technology and how it applies to their jobs. One year later, not only has BBVA achieved one of the highest completion rates globally, but it has produced a workforce rich in cloud technology expertise that is poised to accelerate the bank into the future.
Becoming the second largest bank in Spain by assets, and the 42nd largest in the world, doesn’t happen by accident. It takes strategy and pioneering—in our case, we embraced digitization. We were among the first Spanish banks to use cloud technology, data-driven-decisions, and next-generation security. When BBVA began its collaboration with Google in 2011 with the introduction of Google Workspace, what began as mere first steps in a long-term strategy quickly became a competitive advantage; we saw a significant improvement in our ability to collaborate and be productive. Through the years, we’ve continued to integrate Google tools into our platforms, from Google Chronicle to artificial intelligence (AI) and ML. While the right tools and the right partner are a substantial portion of any successful innovation plan, BBVA knew that workforce readiness was equally important. So, in 2016 we created and launched one of BBVA’s biggest internal training initiatives, The Ninja Project, a comprehensive, multi-track training curriculum that provides employees with opportunities to upskill on our newest technology.
Formulating a purposeful approach
From the outset, we wanted this program to be something employees would not only find useful immediately but also enjoy. So, we incorporated several strategic elements into our approach. First, we made participation completely voluntary. Then, we integrated gamification paired with a reward system—the more training employees completed, the more they progressed in their Ninja belt colors. This would yield prizes like breakfast with the bank’s president. Next, we gave employees the flexibility to choose tracks with topics that were relevant to their work, like learning the basics of Google Cloud, as well as specialized subjects like cybersecurity, for example. Finally, we decided to offer different formats: lectures, labs, and workshops. We chose to live stream lectures vs. broadcast pre-recorded ones, which made it easier to deliver consistent, interactive instruction across the six countries where participants lived—Spain, Mexico, Peru, Uruguay, Colombia, and Argentina.
When we drilled down on the training content, we knew we wanted to offer training to more employees—not just engineers. That meant we had to create modules that met people at various levels of technological understanding.
The initial rollout reached 400 employees, and then we opened it to everyone. Five years after we launched, we worked with Google Cloud to create the Ninja Cloud Academy as a key part of our training program. This Google Cloud training program would educate employees on the specific Google Cloud products BBVA uses, offering our workforce deep dives on BigQuery, Cloud SQL, App Engine, Chronicle, and Security Command Center.
From idea to action—in four weeks
In a series of formative conversations, we collaborated with our Google Cloud account manager, David Doctor, to review program guidelines, identify goals, and classify audiences. With his guidance, we designed customized training modules that fit perfectly with The Ninja Project format—and launched Ninja Cloud Academy in just four weeks in May 2021. We were able to do this so quickly because Google Cloud had been such a close collaborator throughout our digital transformation and was deeply familiar with BBVA products, our technological needs, and The Ninja Project methodologies.
Ninja Cloud Academy has two itineraries. The first is the same for everyone and teaches the fundamental concepts of Google Cloud, such as Identity and Access Management (IAM), Google Cloud networking products, Compute Engine, App Engine, Google Kubernetes Engine (GKE), Cloud Storage, databases, and Cloud Monitoring.
Beyond the basics, employees who want to go deeper in specialty areas can choose parallel paths: one for data, AI, and ML and another for security and Kubernetes. Each consists of theoretical learning and practical application, as well as an enormous library of labs, which we delivered using Google Cloud Skills Boost platform. These are practical exercises that range from 30 minutes to two hours, and help employees put what they’ve learned into practice.
We kicked off Ninja Cloud Academy in May of 2021. We saw 1,140 virtual attendees at the first lecture. In the first six months, students completed 1,000 labs. It took each “Ninja” about six months to go through the program, at which point they could decide to keep going or to stick with what they’d learned for the time being.
On the administration side, the Google Cloud team provided BBVA access to pilot administration features, which allows us to measure and monitor learner progress via a data dashboard. We integrated it with our internal learning platform so that we were able to gauge interest and retention in the earliest stages of the program, aligning with BBVA’s emphasis on data-driven improvement.
The Ninja Cloud Academy has been a success in part because of how we communicated the opportunity to our workforce. Sponsorship came from the top; company leadership always promotes The Ninja Project across email messages, town halls, interviews, and other channels. Google Cloud allows us to use their logo in our communications, which signaled to employees that this is a quality program. Because we communicated efficiently, we received a flood of registrations within minutes of announcing the program.
Seeing the difference, from client solutions to corporate culture
“A fantastic learning experience…everything was very well explained and had great ways to practice in real-time.”
“As a Google Cloud certified engineer, I have been able to consolidate my knowledge and learn many new things.”
“The hands-on labs reinforce my knowledge, [I can] apply it, and share learnings with my team.”
These responses are just a snippet of the enthusiastic feedback we’ve received from our Ninjas in a post-training survey. And we’re seeing its effects on both BBVA’s products and workplace culture.
For example, our engineering and client solutions teams are collaborating more easily. These teams are central to our mission of providing our customers with customized solutions using data analysis. Members of our client solutions teams who participated in The Ninja Project have a stronger grasp of the technology behind projects—understanding what is possible and what isn’t from a technological perspective. That common ground has fostered more efficient collaboration and consequently, BBVA has increased its digital sales exponentially.
In addition, we’ve seen employee engagement increase because of the program. Participants wear Ninja t-shirts around the office, which creates a sense of community and invokes recognition. We’re even seeing acknowledgment of Ninjas in email signoffs, and this kind of esprit de corps has motivated others to enroll in training. For many, participating in The Ninja Project has helped with their advancement within the company. For others, the program allowed them to move into different roles within BBVA that they enjoy more.
To date, we’ve trained 9,000 BBVA employees internationally. We are streaming at least one lecture per day; last year we streamed more than 400 in total. All the learning happening today will prepare us to take on more innovation tomorrow. It has given us a competitive advantage–from new product development to iterative improvements.
BBVA stays steps ahead of the competition with continuous learning
The next challenge for BBVA is to provide customers with proactive and personalized advice supported by technology and data, while permanently ensuring that their digital products and services are secure and reliable. Thanks to The Ninja Project, our employees are ready.
Google Cloud continues to collaborate with us as we reskill and upskill Ninja Cloud Academy, which includes expanding training with new types of activities. With so much of our workforce trained, enrollment is slowing, so we’re thinking about new learning tracks in addition to doubling attendee capacity. Our focus is on making sure our Ninjas are up to date on current Google technologies and those we plan to onboard in the future.
In a twist, the teacher has also become the student. Because BBVA has produced one of the largest completion of labs globally, Google Cloud is adding to its knowledge about what drives high employee participation rates. BBVA has proven that some approaches are crucial to success in these contexts—like making learning voluntary, incorporating gamification, and effectively communicating sponsorship from company leadership.
Many companies think this level of success isn’t possible—we even thought that. But now we know it is possible.
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