Selecting the right software to help you run your operation is one of the most critical decisions you can make in student transportation. And it’s a decision you’ll make based off of one or two demonstrations of the program. That’s why it’s so important that you don’t just see what the salesperson wants to show. You want to test the software against your everyday reality. All routing software picks up children and brings them to school, but think about your district’s policies for special needs transportation, transfers, shuttles, tiered routes, day variances, and the myriad exceptions you deal with on a regular basis.
Based on our decades of experience working on every side of the K-12 transportation industry, we’ve outlined some of the best practices for driving your demo and making sure you see what you need in order to make an informed decision:
- Prepare. Before the demo, list the daily activities of the individuals in your department. Rank those activities (routing, scheduling, dispatching, field trips, etc.) in order of importance to your specific operation. Then request to see the demonstration in the order that follows your needs, not the order that’s convenient for the demonstrator.
- Get specific. If you ask a salesperson if their software can do something, most of the time the answer is yes, but not all answers are equal. How many keystrokes does it take? Do you have to “trick” the system? Don’t take yes for an answer; make them show you.
- Move around. To make the demonstration more like real life, ask questions that require the demonstrator to show different portions of the software. If you are routing, ask to add a street. Then ask to see a student record. Now change that student’s stop assignment. This process of shifting gears is much closer to what you must do every day.
- Watch it do what you do. Ask the salesperson to go through an entire process you might encounter. Ask to see all the steps to add a new street to the map—your street name in a location you pick—set up safety rules for that street, add a new student on that street, and then build a route that safely and efficiently gets that student to school.
- Don’t forget about services. Especially when you call references after the demo, ask the right questions: If something breaks, what does it take to get it fixed? When you need help, what is the response time before you are talking with someone? Do you learn hands-on with your district’s data, or do you learn in a sample training environment?
Every salesperson will tell you their software is “easy to use.” But what does that mean exactly? PowerPoint presentations have their place, but they can’t show number of clicks or how long it takes to accomplish a task. They can’t substitute for seeing the actual software complete the actual work.
Taking an active part in the software demo will make the whole experience more rewarding and will lead you to the best possible partnership. Remember, you only want to make this decision once!
Content contributions by Tyler Technologies solutions consultants Kim Rentner and Brant Gardner.