New online searchable training source provides users with as-needed instruction.

As an independent consultant I have access to a lot of information and quality colleagues to turn to when needed. Many surveying employees, however, find themselves spending hours online sifting through blogs and websites for solutions to processing obstacles. Some spend a substantial amount of money and time traveling to and attending conferences to learn even the simplest of procedures. At times it might seem easier to give up on all technology and revert back to manually reducing field books and hand drafting plats to get jobs done faster. There must be a better solution to learning the series of clicks to complete the essential processes of common software packages.



Is There a Solution?

There sure is. But first let me provide some background. I’m an independent consultant who travels the country training civil engineers and land surveyors on how to use and integrate technology into their design and survey processes. I also have a network of colleagues that I work with who trade knowledge and information. Together we make up the GTC Group, an association of technology integrators who train and support the architectural, civil and surveying industries. Each member of GTC Group is an expert in many design applications, processes and procedures. Each member has worked in his specific industry segment for more than 10 years.

Some of our biggest challenges are in supporting our clients after training. Many users return to the office and are busy playing catchup from being out of the office. When they finally find time to use the software, they have forgotten much of what they learned. And some clients never even teach their employees how to use the software they’ve purchased, or cut training on certain tools that could be beneficial to their business.

Our group sought a tool or technology to help us help the end user, our clients. With the help of Retrieve Media, a publisher of online knowledge management systems, we created a knowledge, training and support system that addresses not only the issues I noted above but other common problems with finding and distributing knowledge and information. Now, most everything a user needs is available in a vBook Library.



What is a vBook?

A vBook is a database of knowledge delivered via a searchable website that resembles a book. It contains a table of contents and an index. The content is presented in many forms. Some pages are made up of plain text or images, but what makes the vBook stand out from normal training material is that most of the content is delivered in the form of streaming video: both screen capture and actual filmed video.

The Autodesk Survey in Civil 3D vBook, for example, contains actual video footage of a survey crew demonstrating how to correctly collect data using control codes, the first step to successfully reducing and importing survey data into any survey or design application. The rest of the book provides instructional videos to successfully, completely and correctly reduce, edit and import the data. It includes instructions on how to set up and use Civil 3D to create a survey plat.

If a user searches a vBook and cannot find the answer she is looking for, she can click the “Submit” button to send a question into the Helpdesk Knowledge System. A person who is identified as the subject matter expert is alerted via E-mail or text message that there is a question in the system. This person then logs into the Helpdesk system to answer the question by either directly replying to the user or by recording the answer in the appropriate vBook. This way the next user with the same question will automatically be provided the answer. As the system grows with content, more and more questions are answered automatically.

The vBook Library pulls all of the system’s components together. Each user is provided with her own library that is accessed via the Internet through a user name and password. The library contains shelves much like a bookshelf in an office filled with a user’s chosen vBooks.

Surveyors at a firm might need a book on Autodesk AutoCAD, Civil 3D or Survey, and others on Trimble data controllers; the engineers might want the AutoCAD and Civil 3D vBooks as well as Haestad Methods erosion control specifications. Further, custom vBooks can be created for individual company needs. For example, a vBook titled “XYZ Land Surveyors, Standards and Procedures” would be filled with details on how XYZ’s land surveyors specifically prepare drawings or mark lathes for construction stakeout. Customizing would basically take the company’s standards manual and turn it into a searchable knowledge base. All users within a company have access to their company’s standards as well as the Helpdesk system.

The Library provides a search engine that searches all the vBooks in a given user’s library, along with the company vBooks and Helpdesk in order to find the most relevant answer to a quiry. Other vBook features allow users to add and share notes on a topic, much like writing notes in the margin of a handout or paper book, and allow the author of a book to alert every user of that book when content has been updated.

A benefit of vBooks is that they can be used as needed; when users need to remember one step or an entire process, they have a searchable system that is easy and fast.



GTC Group Support

The consultants of GTC Group provide their clients with a library of vBooks. What books are included in the library depends on each client. Surveyors use the AutoCAD, Land Development, Autodesk Survey, Autodesk Raster Design, Civil 3D Level 1, Survey in Civil 3D, Trimble Survey Controller and Surveying with GPS books. Many also utilize the Microsoft Word, Excel and Outlook books.

GTC Group will set up and produce a company standards book for a client, customized to its way of conducting business. This book goes in each user’s (employee’s) library. Once a company’s custom book is produced, the authoring privileges are turned over to the resident expert at the firm so they can update and add their own content.

After formal training has been provided on a topic, users are left with the necessary vBooks to reference. This is an excellent resource for those users who don’t use the software immediately after training.

The Submit question function described earlier provides user access to GTC Group consultants who are spread out across the United States and Canada. Therefore, timely, accurate answers can be provided to enquiring users no matter where they are. The answers or process descriptions a user receives have been properly tested and proven-not just someone’s opinion or workaround.

Value and Accessibility

The biggest difference between vBooks and DVD-type training videos or AVIs posted to a website is the search engine. When the books are authored, they are broken down into small segments, making them easily searchable. Once a DVD, or even a paper book, is published, any errors, omissions or updates need to be republished. Because the vBooks are digital and offered via a web server, the author can make any necessary adjustments at any time. The notification tool built into the books provides a simple mechanism for the author to inform the vBook owners about any updates or changes. The delivery of each library is also via the Internet and is completely scaleable to any size firm. Users need only a computer with Internet access (preferably high speed connection) and sound to hear the audio. Users can also access the books using a PDA or web-enabled mobile phone. This benefits a field crew that needs to view a book on field devices.

Professionals and technicians who wish to recommend a topic for a vBook can send an E-mail to a GTC Group consultant about a book they wish to see offered. The group will then work to get the book authored. Additionally, GTC Group regularly seeks individuals to author books and offers setup services.


Workflow Benefits

When I provided support as a CAD manager at a large firm, the biggest issue I had was working training sessions around deadlines and schedules. I was typically notified of an issue at the last minute, whether it was training or support. For large firms, vBooks provide a mechanism to supplement internal training and support resources at a fraction of the cost of reproducing training materials internally.

For small firms, the vBook system could act as a virtual CAD manager. Many small firms do not have the financial resources or the need to hire a full-time trainer or CAD manager. With vBooks, the company has the knowledge and support of an entire group of professional consultants who perform the same tasks as many CAD managers but at a fraction of the cost.

vBooks are laid out similarly to traditional books with a table of contents and an alphabetized index. Unlike traditional books, however, vBooks are accessible online, enabling them to be fully searchable and easily updated at any time. This makes finding accurate information at any time simple and straightforward. There is no longer a need to spend hours searching the Internet or sifting through blogs. vBooks get users right to the content they need to get the job done. This solution can prevent hours of aimless searching for the process specifics many surveyors and civil engineers need, and certainly avoids having to manually reduce field books and hand draft jobs.



Sidebar

Civil engineering and infrastructure vBooks currently for purchase include:

AutoCAD 2006
AutoCAD 2007
AutoCAD LT2006
AutoCAD LT 2007
AutoCAD to Civil 3D 2006 (English, French, Italian, Spanish)
Autodesk Civil 3D 2006
Autodesk Civil 3D Essentials I
Autodesk Civil 3D Geospatial Tools
Autodesk Land Desktop 2006
Autodesk Land Desktop 2007
Autodesk Map 2006
Autodesk Map 2007
Autodesk Mapguide 2006
Autodesk Raster 2006
Autodesk Raster 2007
Autodesk Raster Design Data
Autodesk Survey 2006
Autodesk Survey 2007
Introduction to ArcGIS
Land Desktop to Civil 3D 2006
National CAD Standards v3.1
Subdivision Design in Autodesk Civil 3D
Survey in Autodesk Civil 3D

Each vBook is priced between $9.95 and $19.95.

To sign up for a vBook demo, click to www.retrieve.com/pob.



Sidequotes

“I had never seen something so complete in the industry as the vBooks, and I have [taught] AutoCAD on the college level and managed the engineering CAD department for Brock & Bustillos Inc. This service is a very inexpensive, accessible and clear way to train current and future employees without interfering with productivity. The videos and the step-by-step literature are unique and simple for everybody to use. This service has allowed me to manage and train more people and still be able to meet our clients’ needs. I have already recommended this service to other consultants in our area.”

-Oscar G. Gonzalez, Brock & Bustillos Inc.

“Mike Carris was instrumental in teaching our field and office staff the best use of the LDD Survey module. He followed up on that training by making his vBooks available to all our staff; they’ve proven to be an important tool for our existing staff and invaluable in training new employees. The vBooks are a wonderful learning tool and so simple to use. I give both Mike and his vBooks my highest recommendation for anyone in the civil industry.”

- James Coppinger, training manager, Maser Consulting