Without leaving her office, Marcia Faschingbauer recently participated in a conference on how trucking companies could manage their cash flow better. For Faschingbauer, president of Excargo Services in Houston, taking part by speaker phone in a recent audio conference staged by the Truckload Carriers Association’s Truckload Academy accomplished several goals at once. It provided useful education to several managers simultaneously while saving on travel time and costs and keeping key people in the office to handle pressing matters.
“I could not have sent three of us out at the same time,” Faschingbauer says. “Even locally, it would be difficult to have people out for two hours.”
Businesses throughout the United States have been cutting back on travel as the economy has slowed. The airline industry blames these cutbacks for a slump in passengers over the past few months. And few industries have seen tougher times recently than trucking. The economic situation sets up a double barrier to travel – high cost and time out of the office. Audio and videoconferencing as well as online training are becoming more popular.
The concept of training without travel is hardly new. High-quality training videotapes, for example, have been available for years, as has the technology involved in staging a basic audio conference. Changes in computer technology and individual attitudes, however, have truly led to the emerging changes in how people obtain training and education. Dependable, versatile computer equipment is widespread in business. Perhaps more important is the increasing acceptance and use of the Internet as a business tool. In addition, people are beginning to expect interaction with peers as an element of training – even if that interaction is virtual.
Whether it’s safety training for the driver, software training for the dispatcher or technician, continuing education for the executive or an accounting degree for the bookkeeper, increasingly, trucking professionals are acquiring and sharpening their skills without leaving town – or requiring trainers coming to them.
One computer, several users
By definition, “live” training involves at least two parties, and there’s a cost involved in travel whether you go to them or they come to you. In the case of a vendor, for example, you can bet you are paying for on-site training indirectly, even if the vendor doesn’t bill you for travel expenses. Cutting down on travel, therefore, can be a win for both parties.
It was this potential that led Arsenault Associates last year to an online training technique known as Shadowing. As Arsenault Associates developed the online version of its Dossier32 fleet management software, 24/7 Fleet Online, it realized that Internet computing technology it had licensed from Citrix Systems had powerful secondary applications.
The Citrix technology allowed a Dossier32 user and a technical support representative to share, through an Internet connection, the user’s computer. The initial and obvious application is troubleshooting. A user with a problem can speak to a support rep on the telephone while the tech support person takes control of the user’s computer to pinpoint the problem.
Arsenault Associates quickly saw the technology’s potential as a training tool, says Arsenault President Charles Arsenault. “We needed ways for people in the field to feel more comfortable with software,” he says. “Because the economy has been how it has been, we had to find a way to reduce the costs.” Shadowing – based on thin-client/server technology – allowed Arsenault Associates to teach 24/7 Fleet Online and Dossier32 users at their own desks, Arsenault says.
Arsenault Associates rolled out Shadowing when it released 24/7 Fleet Online in August last year. Arsenault Associates trains users in a series of two-hour sessions. “That way we don’t make someone’s ear flat,” Arsenault says. The trainer is on the phone with one or more trainees. Through an Internet connection, the trainer takes control over the user’s computer. The trainer can then demonstrate a series of features and functions and then turn control back to the user to see how well he learned the lesson.
Each lesson is designed around the student’s needs, Arsenault says. A novice might require eight hours over two days, while a veteran user might need just two hours to brush up on some advanced features.
Chris Mitchell found Shadowing quite useful. Mitchell, administrative assistant for Trader Construction in New Bern, N.C., and his parts and service managers participated in a two-hour Shadowing session to follow up on the initial training they received when Trader Construction first installed Dossier32.
“That was one of the better ways to do it,” Mitchell says. “Hands on beats telling you.” Mitchell found Shadowing more useful than the typical telephone customer support because the trainer could see instantly whether Mitchell and his colleagues had learned the material.
If it wanted to, Arsenault Associates could use the Shadowing technique to train computer users on any software program – not just Dossier32 – that’s installed on an Internet-enabled PC. In fact, Arsenault has considered leasing its infrastructure to others who might be interested in online training. One of the advantages of this approach, Arsenault says, is that the speed of the user’s Internet connection is essentially irrelevant. A much bigger concern is that the customer’s Internet server allows the required interaction; firewalls often make the collaboration impossible, Arsenault says.
Other companies have used different technologies to achieve a similar result. TMW Systems recently began using a Web-based system called WebEx to provide collaborative tech support, says Brad Young, implementation project manager for TMW. Using WebEx.com, a number of people can view and use the same computer, Young says. Participants in the conference download a brief software application that allows them to connect with the host’s desktop and join in a simultaneous audio conference. The system is automated as well; once the host sets up a conference, an e-mail goes out to participants with the necessary password. Unlike thin-client technology, however, a Web-based solution like WebEx doesn’t work as well if the Internet connection is slow.
TMW, a Beachwood, Ohio-based developer of enterprise software, has been using WebEx as a sales tool for more than a year, in part to save on travel costs. Since about the beginning of the year, however, TMW has been using WebEx as a tech support and ad hoc training tool.
Karen Weatherholt, vice president of H&W Trucking in Ona, W.Va., has found TMW’s WebEx-based tech support quite user friendly. Weatherholt often agrees to beta-test TMW products under development, so she has a frequent need to contact tech support. She finds it much easier to understand what’s happening now that she can see it as well as hear it. “The plus is that you have something to look at,” she says.
Some trucking companies also use two-way connectivity to improve training without travel. Contract Freighters Inc. of Joplin, Mo., uses a Symantec program called pcAnywhere to train personnel at each of the carrier’s six terminals on the company’s proprietary software systems. At each outlying terminal, at least one computer is installed with pcAnywhere, says Donovan Edwards, CFI operations manager for training. If a site needs training or support, someone at headquarters dials into that computer, and the two sites interact in much the same way as Shadowing or WebEx.
“We aren’t sending anyone out extra to train right now,” Edwards says. CFI almost never uses pcAnywhere for the initial training. “There’s something about being there one-on-one; it’s an element you can’t replace.” About 90 percent of the training on system enhancements, however, is accomplished through pcAnywhere.
Edwards discovered pcAnywhere less than a year ago. CFI’s information technology department used it, and he realized that it could be used for software training. Before CFI began using the software, the only option was calling the user and walking him through the program.
That’s not a good solution, Edwards says. If you can’t see what the person is doing, you can’t be sure they are accomplishing the task efficiently. “Over the phone – without watching them do it – is very frustrating.”
Hearing is believing
Like Marcia Faschingbauer, H&W Trucking’s Karen Weatherholt sees more than one challenge to obtaining business-related training and education these days. Weatherholt tries to contain nonessential costs and due to cutbacks in the operation, she can’t spare the time out of the office.
Although Weatherholt might have preferred a livelier format than the recent Truckload Academy audio conference on cash flow management, she found the subject matter, the $99 price and the convenience compelling. “It was very cost effective because I didn’t have to travel, I didn’t have to get a hotel, and I didn’t have to leave the office,” Weatherholt says. She came away with some specific ideas to explore, such as preserving cash by paying employees every two weeks rather than weekly.
Jerry Mitchell, president of Tampa, Fla.-based Mitchell Transport, has several managers involved in cash flow issues who participated in the TLA audio conference. Although the format might not have worked as well with more visual subject matter, Mitchell believes it was fine for something like cash flow management. “Anything that you don’t have to have a visual aid, it would work with,” Mitchell says.
Armellini Express had about a dozen managers at varying levels participate in the TLA audio conference, says Jim Merritt, executive vice president and chief operating officer. Merritt had five or six people – ranging in financial expertise from himself and the chief financial officer to dispatchers – participate at Armellini’s Palm City, Fla., headquarters. They then patched in a similar number of people, including President Richard Armellini, from the carrier’s Miami operation.
For Merritt, the audio conference was a way to offer important information to a broad group of people. The company advertised the audio conference internally, letting everyone know they were welcome. “I’m looking for any and everything I can do that will help train my people,” Merritt says. Although the CFO found some parts of the audio conference too basic, “For some of the people that were in there – even the very basic stuff was education for them.”
In the cash flow audio conference, a technician monitored questions and provided specific slots for Q&A. Participants signaled their interest in posing a question by pressing a key on their telephone touchpads.
Video killed the PowerPoint show?
CFI’s Edwards hopes to have videoconferencing as a training tool within two to five years. Today, connectivity – as well as the need to have sound and video cards installed on computers – makes video cost prohibitive.
Videoconferencing would have a value, Edwards believes, beyond just being impressive to participants. The ability to conduct training with all relevant employees and managers simultaneously would ensure consistency. You wouldn’t have to worry, for example, that dispatchers in Laredo, Texas, are told to operate one way, while the dispatchers in Detroit are taught a different approach.
“The consistency factor is critical,” Edwards says. “Videoconferencing is the next level.”
Although videoconferencing allows for a virtual recreation of the classroom environment, the technology isn’t quite there to do cost-effective video streaming over the Internet, says David Coriale, vice president of Silver Spring, Md.-based DelCor Technologies, a technology consulting firm. “None of the streaming video technologies have been successful – at least not in broad distribution,” Coriale says, adding that audio over the Internet is becoming commonplace.
“Sometimes I feel like we are forcing people to use a tool that’s not appropriate,” Coriale says. If the primary goal is to save on travel costs and seminar fees, for example, make sure your investment in technology isn’t substantially higher than those savings. But, Coriale warns, don’t ignore the “soft costs,” like lost productivity due to travel.
Rather than wait for the perfect, therefore, why not live with the good – especially when it’s virtually free? Suppose you needed to conduct a meeting of managers located at terminals across the country. You could spend thousands of dollars for a satellite link. Or you might settle on uploading a good PowerPoint presentation to a website and getting everyone on the phone to go over it. The cost? A few cents per minute for each long-distance call.
Cyber U is one of several websites that offer a catalog of courses on business topics like workplace safety, environmental compliance and conflict management.
Getting an education online
Suppose you want your bookkeeper to take that next step and become an accountant.
Unfortunately, while you can spare some time during the day, you can’t really spare the time out of the office for this person to travel and attend classes.
Don’t despair; you do have other options. In most cases, the only thing you need to participate in distance learning over the Internet is a computer and an Internet connection.
Today’s online learning doesn’t just mean reading a book chapter online and perhaps taking a quiz. Most programs provide easy access to professors and virtual classrooms that allow students from all over the world to review and discuss materials together.
Many universities offer distance learning degree programs. Some universities offer programs that allow for the completion of a bachelor’s degree, while others will let you pursue a master’s degree or a Ph.D. Some degrees allow you to work at your own pace, so you don’t have to take a full-time class load.
Although some programs incorporate other media such as video, many universities offer degree programs completely over the Internet. The University of Colorado at Denver, for example, offers a Masters of Business Administration completely online. Typically students participating in online programs can apply, enroll, pay tuition and take courses online.
Sites such as www.collegedegree.com and www.ecollege.com allow you to search for specific information on courses, degrees, universities and scholarships.
If you’re not looking for an actual degree, there are plenty of professional development and certification programs. Courses as simple as using Microsoft Word to more complex courses in computer programming are available online. Professional development enables you and your employees to learn important work-related skills.
Courses in a number of different topics, including management, computer training, accounting, career development, information technology and marketing are available online. For $59, Getskilled.com offers a Business Skills Development Series that includes courses in business communication, customer service, grammar basics, business math basics, negotiating, sexual harassment and time management. Barnes & Noble online offers free technical courses in subjects like web design, C ++, Java, Visual Basics and XML.
Making time even for online instruction may be tough in a busy trucking operation, but it might be the best alternative if you or an employee truly needs the education.
– Tyler Alexander
Tread-1, developed by Instruction Technologies Inc., combines training videos with interactive testing. If a driver demonstrates that he understands what he has just seen and heard, the program continues. If not, the driver views that portion of the video again.
Training drivers from a distance
When Jim Voorhees decided about three years ago to build on his company’s expertise in simulation and training and experience in driver training, he spent six months talking to trucking companies about existing training options. Voorhees, founder of Instruction Technologies Inc. (www.instructiontech.com) in Vancouver, Wash., learned that trucking companies weren’t interested in buying computers, and they didn’t like CD-ROMs. Often, other departments would commandeer training computers, and it’s difficult to prevent CD-ROM loss, damage or theft.
Voorhees also found that carriers wanted a product that could be updated immediately as regulations changed. “Not in six months, not in 30 days – right now,” Voorhees says. And smaller carriers were adamant: They weren’t going to spend the kind of money on training that a U.S. Xpress or Yellow Freight could afford.
The system Instruction Technologies developed, Tread-1, uses one or more iMac computers connected by a server to Instruction Technologies’ server in Vancouver, Wash. The hardware remains Instruction Technologies property, so there is virtually no capital investment. “All they really need is power and an analog phone line,” Voorhees says.
Understanding that many people remain uncomfortable with computers, Instruction Technologies configured the hardware so that it would look more like a television than a computer. To begin with, the iMac looks more approachable than a standard PC. Moreover, Tread-1 requires no keyboard, so Instruction Technologies doesn’t even supply one – just a mouse.
Tread-1 combines video training with interactive testing. After drivers view a few minutes of video, they respond to some questions. If they pass, they move on; if they fail, they watch the video again. If a driver needs to interrupt a session for some reason, he can complete it later or at another terminal.
Through periodic communications between servers, Instruction Technologies logs driver scores on its database. Training managers can monitor those results through an Internet-based interface, meaning that they can track training at multiple terminals or while they are traveling. Instruction Technologies retains the data so carriers could prove, for example, that a driver involved in an accident successfully completed training in that subject matter, Voorhees says.
Carriers pay only for the training they use, generally $15 per driver lesson, although truck driving schools get a discount. That’s not cheap, especially because carriers have only limited ability to keep drivers from overusing the system. Voorhees says that in response to requests from customers and prospects, his company is considering ways to give carriers more control. Instruction Technologies does, however, offer volume discounts based on usage per driver rather than total usage so that smaller companies can qualify for the same price breaks. Currently, Tread-1 offers 31 lessons, each running 50 minutes to an hour.
Darlene Erickson, traffic specialist for JELD-WEN in Redmond, Ore., recently decided to use the Tread-1 system to reduce accidents while controlling training costs. JELD-WEN has 375 drivers spread across 72 locations, although Erickson is starting out with just a few Tread-1 units to serve a particular JELD-WEN division. “We have a lot of locations, and we have a lot of ability to move the iMac around,” Erickson says. “Like a lot of corporations, we have cut back on travel and this seems like an economical approach.”
One of the features that attracted Erickson was the ability of a driver to stop a lesson at any time and pick it up again later. She also likes the ability to replay lessons or portions of lessons and thinks this will help with JELD-WEN’s many Hispanic drivers, for whom English is a second language. The documentation also will give Erickson the ability over time to link training in specific areas to accident prevention.