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Classroom in the Clouds
An Arizona State University outreach program cuts costs and carbon by going virtual.
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As the director of the Alliance for Construction Excellence (ACE), Gary Aller no longer had any choice about—well, constructing a sustainability policy. ACE, after all, is an outreach program at Arizona State University (ASU), which The Princeton Review has recognized as one of the nation’s “greenest” universities for the past two years. Aller decided the time had come to make his program’s training procedures environmentally sustainable.

ACE is a think tank that reaches beyond the scope of the university, and its activities often required in-person participation—and onerous travel and lodging expenses—at ASU’s Tempe, Ariz., campus. By early 2009, even as the recession was complicating matters, federal-stimulus funding for construction was driving the need for training to an all-time high. ACE needed to put information in the hands of members and industry workers in a timely manner, and, in a recession-friendly way, the training needed to reach multiple locations at once.

“We had to get something put together because we had training-budget cuts, but we still had training needs—we had to get the information out to a broader market,” Aller says. “We just absolutely could not have everybody drive to get the training.” Prior to January 2009, though, there were no alternatives. Trainees traveled to group-training sessions that often spanned several days. 

ACE manually added each registrant’s information to an on-premises CRM system that tracked date of registration and payment, but couldn’t capture course completion or provide any cross-sell or upsell opportunities. ACE had two servers hosting its customer and Web-site data, yet the organization was still doing a lot of manual work filing course documents.

ACE evaluated several online-training-tool vendors, and selected iLinc not only for its Web-conferencing capabilities, but also its holistic solution to ACE’s problem. And iLinc conveyed a true focus on green concerns, Aller says, providing ACE with a tool called Green Meter to track cost, travel, and carbon-emission reductions. 

“I have people all over the country that I work with on my outreach program,” Aller says. “[Green Meter] allows us to track the costs for a particular meeting.” One online meeting served approximately 150 people: “When they saw what we saved, it became obvious that a lot of what we’d been doing face-to-face was really spending a lot money for nothing.” 

Although attendees might be cognizant of the environmental benefits of remote access, seeing the actual numbers tends to have a bigger impact. “When you have a system that’s actually gathering that information for you, it can be an incredibly powerful tool to help convince everybody to move in that direction,” Aller says.

Despite the immediate excitement generated by the iLinc Web conferences and training sessions, adoption remains a struggle. “Convincing people to make a move from the world of ‘you go to a classroom and sit in a physical place to be educated’ to taking a leap to online training—which for the older generation isn’t seen as the best way of training—you have to give them an incentive,” he says. That incentive was cost savings.

Aller decided to make other moves alongside the iLinc implementation: developing a new Web portal and taking advantage of iLinc for Salesforce to migrate 28,000 on-premises contact records to Salesforce.com’s cloud-based platform. 

The integration means the ACE Web portal can now accept online payments through ASU’s system, and the Salesforce application automatically creates contacts for all iLinc registrants. ACE looked to custom-software developers at Tucson, Ariz.–based Ephibian for assistance in the endeavor, which took approximately three weeks in mid-2009. In addition to some manual database-cleaning of its own, ACE used a data-cleansing tool to remove duplicate entries.

ACE can now act upon leads and make cross-sells and upsells on other relevant courses or materials. “I can now mine that [Salesforce] data and send an email through Salesforce.com saying we have an update,” Aller says. “That’s really powerful.” 

ACE continues to hold a number of in-person courses, but Aller estimates that training will be completely virtual within two years. In terms of cost, he says, ACE averages savings of approximately $9,000 on every course that’s held online instead of at a physical location. The alliance, Aller adds, is also able to increase its exposure and, thanks to iLinc’s interactive interface, offer sessions that are more robust.

Aller says one future goal is to continue moving all printed training materials to the iLinc platform. Conversion takes time, he says, but creating brand new materials and sessions on iLinc is a breeze. 

To illustrate, Aller recalls one of his first tasks when he started working with the program. Faced with creating a training course all on his own in a short span of time, Aller was able to do so without a hitch—with a bit of help from the iLinc team. “With four weeks and no knowledge, to run something nationally is incredible,” he says.  


THE PAYOFF

With iLinc’s on-demand training, Arizona State University’s Alliance for Construction Excellence: 

  • saves $9,000 with each virtual session;
  • has eliminated 9,489 pounds of carbon emissions that would otherwise have been generated by in-person participation;
  • can now offer more sessions to more people, rather than focusing on small-group, in-person sessions;
  • has moved 28,000 records to Salesforce.com’s cloud-based platform, enabling the removal of its own data servers;
  • contributed to ASU’s sustainability efforts and its standing as one of the nation’s greenest universities; and
  • was running a national training program within four weeks of uptime with iLinc.

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