WestLake Mines Web Training Niche

WestLake Mines Web Training Niche

Steve Heckler

By Nick Wakeman, Staff Writer

A small training company is seeing demand for its Web-development classes explode as more and more government agencies and companies use the Internet to conduct business.

About 3,000 people will take classes in Java, HTML, graphic design, Dynamic HTML, Cold Fusion and database integration in 1998, said Steve Heckler, vice president of WestLake Solutions Inc. in Washington.

The company's revenue from providing such classes has grown from about $50,000 in 1995 to an expected $1.3 million in 1998, he said. Federal agencies will account for about 35 percent of that training business. The company has helped the Department of Defense, the Federal Aviation Administration, the FBI, NASA and other agencies.

WestLake also has a Web-consulting business that is expected to pull in another $700,000 in 1998, said Heckler, who expects the company's rampant growth to continue for the next several years.

Since 1995, the privately held company has grown from two employees to 20. It was founded in December 1994 by Greg Eoyang, who named the company after a family restaurant in Westport, Conn. Eoyang runs the consulting side of the business; Heckler manages the training.

"The Web has had such a gee-whiz factor that people have been drawn to it more than most other technologies," Heckler said. People don't get excited about taking on word processing or spread sheet programs, he added.

But the use of the Web has moved quickly past the gee-whiz phase as commercial and government organizations are using the Web and Web technologies to conduct business, Heckler said. "Web pages are changing from being static to being interactive," he said.

Agencies are building intranets and extranets as ways to share information within their organizations as well as with related agencies. They also are turning to the Web to recruit personnel and to distribute information that would have been published on paper in the past, he said.

A growing trend has agencies using the Web to publish requests for proposals and conduct procurements online, Heckler said. "The Web can be a tool for handling contractor relationships," he said.

If the government is serious about reducing paper costs and slashing operating expenses, it must increase its use of the World Wide Web, said Erich Spencer, director of technology at GR8 Inc., a Web marketing and communications company in Baltimore.

"Whether you are a private or public organization you have the opportunity to share information and share business processes by leveraging the Web," said Spencer, who also teaches a doctorate class in Web development at the University of Baltimore.

The growth of intranets in the government shows that agencies are doing this, Heckler said. Intranets are making databases on legacy systems more widely available within organizations.

The Web also allows easier interaction among coworkers, especially when they are in different offices spread around the country, he said.

But Spencer said that as Web-based applications have become more complex, the need for training has grown. Classes are flourishing at the university level and at training centers, he said.

Heckler said WestLake has training facilities in Washington and Arlington, Va., and wants to open a third location outside the Washington area. About a third of its students come from outside the Washington area for courses that generally last two to three days, he said.

The company's primary competitor is ProSoftTraining.com, a training company based in Austin, Texas. ProSoft targets the government market through training facilities in Vienna, Va., and Chicago. ProSoft, which is publicly traded, had about $3.5 million in 1997 revenue.

While competing directly with ProSoft, Heckler said colleges and universities and more general IT training centers are not competitors because their classes do not offer the same level of detail.

More than half the students find WestLake by doing Internet searches for training, Heckler said.

That is how James Munton, a Web developer for the National Sciences Resources Center in Washington, found WestLake. The center is a joint project by the National Academy of Sciences and the Smithsonian Institution to improve science education.

"They showed us how to build a site so you get a lot of hits off of searches," said Munton, who plans to create online forums. Eventually, the center wants to make its databases available on the Web, he said.

Munton's search for training turned up few alternatives to WestLake. "There [were] a lot [of companies] offering office product training, but there weren't a lot with detailed Web courses," he said.

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