week or two-week process. Check with other people in the industry and see what they’ve got.” He also recommended concentrating research on

well-known solutions across the industry. Talk to those companies’ customers, and find out how they use the product as well as what they think the shortcomings are. Coughlin’s next three rules include: Buy the program

that the end user likes the best, setting aside price as the determining factor; choose a vendor that charges an annual maintenance fee; and work with a vendor that has been in business for at least 10 years.

Maintenance Software Usage In Pennsylvania, Keith Hausman underscores the

importance of user-friendly technology, which is Coughlin’s sixth rule. That and selecting the program that is best-liked by maintenance staff in your region or nationwide, both of which were lessons he learned after participating in a software program’s test run years ago. “Pick one that has easy input of data,” advised the shop manager at Student Transportation of America’s facility in Collegeville, Pennsylvania. He recalled working with software that was balky and failed to fulfill its intended purpose. “It was very difficult to use, and thankfully they

dropped that one,” he recalled. “I approached the [next system] with a lot of pessimism, put it that way.” His advice when weighing the pros and cons of a system? “Simplicity is very important.” Hausman, who oversees a fleet of 182 vehicles that is

serviced by a team of five mechanics, also values a soft- ware’s ability to deliver key data to his fingertips. “Just being able to look-up a vehicle and say, ‘Here’s

its VIN, here’s how many passengers it carries, here’s the engine type, it has this transmission, it takes this tire size,’ those kinds of records are helpful to have,” he explained. For Hausman, the key features of easy-to-use systems

include bar coding for parts, clocking in and out of specific jobs with a simple click of the computer mouse, a fuel interface that downloads fuel data on command, and easy input of labor and work orders. Fleet managers also should look for ways to reduce mechanics’ time at the computer keyboard, in order to maximize their time working on vehicles. “If you have 10 mechanics and you cut their time [spent] on the com- puter from 45 minutes a day to 15 minutes, that’s five hours a day, 25 hours in a week,” Coughlin calculated. “At [Minneapolis Public Schools], I had a secretary input most of that information into the system. She was able to input the data faster.” This enabled mechanics to “spend more time turning

wrenches,” he added. Coughlin contends that the advantage of choosing a

company that requires an annual maintenance fee means the software and its users will benefit from regular up- dates. “The annual fee keeps programmers on the payroll,” he explained, as well as continuously increasing the value of the product for school districts. Coughlin’s seventh rule is to implement a program

that can customize reports. He noted that such custom- ization can place detailed information at fleet managers’ fingertips, such as the dates that brake jobs were per- formed in buses of a specific brand in a certain age range, or other distinguishing data points. While it does fall outside of a computerized mainte- nance program, even the digitization of vehicle manuals can go hand-in-hand with greater efficiency. Mario Garcia, vehicle maintenance supervisor with Orange Unified School District in Southern California, credited computerization for taking his department “from the Flintstones era to where we are today.” “I think we had close to 100 manuals, because of the

different types of vehicles we had. One of the early vehicles was a 1967 GMC truck. Our library was pretty

Coughlin’s Top 10 Rules for Selecting Maintenance Software Rule 1. It doesn’t matter what a maintenance program costs. Rule 2. Research. Take all the time you can, ask around, visit users, check out the company for stability, and ask questions. Rule 3. Choose the program you like best. Rule 4. Choose a company that has an annual maintenance fee. Rule 5. Pick one that has been in business at least 10 years. Rule 6. Pick the program that features easy input of data. Rule 7. Be sure you can customize reports. Rule 8. Determine if your district needs to select the same company that provides the routing software. Rule 9. Purchase telephone and online support—as well as upgrades. Rule 10. If you don’t like it and change programs, you will likely be unable to convert your history.

48 School Transportation News • FEBRUARY 2020

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