There are as many viewpoints on technology in the K-12 industry as there are transportation professionals. You can see this easily in the vast differences between district operations. Some districts are fully equipped with the latest GPS/AVL technology, student card readers, routing and field trip software and even on-board tablets for navigation. Others use spreadsheets and paper maps.
Talking to these different districts, I sometimes feel like I’m taking a peek inside each transportation manager’s tool box. Not literally, of course; you have to have the right actual tools to fix your buses. But what about the technological tools that can help keep your operation safe and efficient? They should make your life easier, help you get the job done productively, and keep your community better informed about your work.
Just like you have to know the different uses of your wrenches and clamps, you also have to know how your technology tools are suited to help you. The only way to know for sure is to ask questions, to learn from people with experience and to see for yourself what works. That’s why Tyler recently held an online panel in which we interviewed a few of our most successful student transportation software users, attended by an audience of over 100 of their peers. You can watch the recording here to hear all of their stories and insights, but I’ve outlined the most important items they covered in terms of incorporating technology into their operations:
- Figure out what you’re spending now – in both time and money. How many resources do those postcards to parents cost your operation at the beginning of every school year? How much time do your routers spend on the phone answering “where’s my bus” questions each morning? Tallying these costs can give you an idea of how your operation is working and where technology might help you be more efficient.
- Add pieces of technology over time. If budgets are an issue, then there’s no need to do it all up front. Plus, this approach gives you the ability to “test out” a vendor, and being flexible and creative can help you tailor a solution that fits your needs.
- Don’t overlook vendor services. Impressive technology doesn’t mean much if you can’t get it up and running, or if the support team can’t answer your questions quickly. Evaluate implementation methodology, project management and support services as carefully as you do the technology they supplement. You’ll thank yourself later!
- Be open about any coming changes. Everyone from parents to school officials to your own routers could be skeptical of technology. Don’t add to their fear by being secretive. Engage media outlets and send out email blasts to keep people informed. Shock and please the public with proactive communication.
- Stay informed. Right now, the industry is buzzing with development efforts, both existing and on the horizon. Mobile WiFi on buses, crash avoidance systems, improved driver screening/monitoring, mobile apps for parents, accident recreation, real-time engine diagnostics, onboard tablets and other solutions are completely reshaping how kids get to school. You may not incorporate all of them into your operation, but you won’t regret staying abreast about what’s out there.
It takes time, research, and experience to figure out what technology tools to put in your tool box and how to put them to work, but the effort is well worth it in a world where parents expect instant, accurate communication and school officials expect you to be safe, on time and within budget. You may not be able to completely control what happens on the road, but gathering the viewpoints of your peers is a great first step.