The world changes quickly. Changes in technology are even quicker. It can feel impossible to keep up with sometimes, and one of your greatest challenges as a transportation professional is fitting today’s technology into your operation. Like everything you do, it involves managing many different expectations:
- Parents expect the school bus location to show up on their phone the way the city bus does.
- Drivers expect customized, accurate trip sheets.
- Routers expect the routing software to be click-and-drag easy.
- District staff expect instant communication about the hundreds of changes you make daily.
- The business manager expects it to be affordable.
The good news is that you can meet these expectations, and then some, and you can do it on a budget. The technology is available, and those with the drive to get it implemented — even if it’s in smaller, more digestible chunks — will find the rapidly changing world that much easier.
But what’s the best way to prioritize your options and resources? This month, I thought I’d provide a list of the most common asks to help you through the copious amount of information you’ll get from K-12 routing vendors.
- Customization — K-12 transportation is notoriously hard to capture in software. You need to see not only its features, but how easily the data can be modified. If you transport just a handful of students out of district, how can that exception be handled? How is it noted on student records? How is it communicated to parents in an app?
- User friendly — Every salesperson doing a demo will tell you their program is user-friendly. They also have a certain way off showing things, mostly out of habit, but maybe because it has to be done that way. Take them off their course. Have them add a new street, in a location you pick, and then add a student on that street, and then put that student on a run, then have them change a stop location on another run because Mr. Smith just called and complained about kids on his lawn. This is much closer to your daily grind, and you’ll see the software perform in a more realistic light.
- Web-based — I’d say this is the future if the internet wasn’t already over 20 years old. Yeah, I know it’s hard to believe, but it’s true. The expectation for software these days is that it is web-based. If the software isn’t web-based, what information is available on a URL? More importantly, what isn’t? Can you run reports remotely? What kinds of things will drag you into the office on a Saturday? These are all extremely important questions to ask. That is, unless the software is truly web-based.
- Touchscreen enabled — I’d put this a little farther in the “future” column, but even this is nothing new. Think of how much easier your life will be if you can pull up your entire routing operation on a tablet, or even your smartphone.
- Ancillary offerings — You know the list: field trips, fleet maintenance, GPS hardware, student ridership, on-board tablets, etc. The fewer the number of vendors and databases, the better. The last thing you need when something breaks are different support numbers or, worse, the blame game between multiple vendors.
- Company background — It’s not just about what you’re buying. It’s who you’re buying from. Important questions to ask: How long have you been in business? Are you solely dedicated to the K-12 industry? How many releases of the product come out per year? How do you communicate release features? What percentage of your annual budget is dedicated to development? What’s your financial status, your annual revenue?
- Bottom line — Remind the vendor that your ultimate goal is to remain fiscally responsible to the public, while increasing the level of safety and service to your students. Anything that veers away from this mission is less a “need” and more of a “fun to have.”
Each group of people you serve might have different interests, but they’re all asking the same question: when will you update your technology? Technology moves quickly, and the best way to stay on top of it is to decide who your technology partner will be. You need to know what their product can do, and whether or not they can keep up with today’s technology, your operation, and the demands of the people you serve.
Content contributions by Tyler Technologies’ Solutions Consultant, Kim Rentner.