Instructional Technologies: Driving a profit

Vancouver entrepreneur Eric LaBrant

Today, the privately held company, which celebrated its 18 year anniversary in 2013, is closing in on delivery of its six-millionth lesson. Some 285 truck fleet carriers use the Instructional Technologies Pro-TREAD online software for operations, management and a wide range of safety instruction from defensive driving to fatigue management.

Developing training softwareThe latter category, safety, is not only ITI’s primary market, but a source of pride for the 22-person company. Though trucking companies and insurance providers are notoriously tight-lipped about accident figures, the overall number of larger “articulated” truck accidents has been steadily declining, according to Voorhees. That’s in part because of better equipment, but also better training, he said.

ITI Vice President of Marketing Thom Schoenborn said one number than can be tracked is Department of Transportation mandated driver and fleet safety testing. Those using the ITI software have greatly improved their scores, said Schoenborn, adding that many manufacturers use the scores to decide which truck firms to hire.

“The trucking industry has become more committed to safety than ever before. And our customers – the big fleets like Ryder Systems and Frito Lay – know it starts with their man or woman behind the wheel,” said Shoenborn.

ITI has shown itself to be resourceful in reaching those drivers where they live. Knowing that drivers are visually oriented but computer resistant, ITI’s first computer-based training was loaded on the original round, TV-like iMac. The company gave away the computer and a mouse – no keyboard for the computer-phobic – and just charged for the training.

“It was a hit,” recalled Voorhees.

As high-speed Internet developed, the company went to a completely online delivery system. ITI has always emphasized speaking directly to the driver, reminding that they are the professionals on the front line of safety. Using instructions that utilize video, 3D and still images instead of a lot of text, drivers can study the materials whenever they wish, onboard, on laptops or in the office.

Nathan Stahlman, company vice president of product development, said the software uses a game engine similar to ones found in highly interactive video games.

“We make sure it is dynamic and engaging,” he said, with the emphasis on fun in the creation as well the final product. “If it’s not fun for us, it’s not going to be fun for our customers,” he added.

ITI is also fully embracing two recent technological developments – the rise of smartphones and e-publishing. Company programmers modified numerous training programs based on Adobe Flash to iPhone and smartphone-compatible software without significantly changing an already successful user interface. Now ITI software runs on all mobile and desktop systems.

In addition, the company worked closely with Washington State University Vancouver’s multimedia program to produce an e-book for the National Private Trucking Council. Said Shoenborn, the book combines elements of a mainstream e-book with the note-taking ability of Evernote and the multi-media capabilities of Apple’s iBook.

As for the future, said Voorhees, there is a large and growing market for training drivers of smaller UPS-style trucks. Also, the company’s e-book adventure has it eyeing more interaction with WSU students and faculty, with the possibility of producing electronic textbooks.

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