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April 01, 2006  |   Comments (0)   |   Post a comment

Driven by technology

by Frank Di Giacomo, Publisher


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Twelve years ago, I used e-mail for the first time. It was a difficult transition for me, especially since I’m not a good typist. But I’ve come a long way since then. Now, not only am I adept at e-mail on my office computer, but I also use a Treo personal digital assistant so I can keep up with my e-mail while I’m on the road.

It’s not by choice that I’ve embraced the world of electronic communication. As many of you know, I like to keep things simple. But I knew that I could not operate efficiently as a magazine publisher unless I joined the Internet age. So here I am.

The trials of technology
Many of you in the pupil transportation community have a similar challenge on your hands. But I’m not talking about e-mail here.

You’ve got school bus technicians who need to learn how to manage a laptop computer so they can diagnose problems with computerized engines and transmissions. Some of them don’t have strong skills in the English language, which could only add to the difficulty of getting them up to speed.

Older technicians can be a problem too. They’re used to doing things the old-fashioned way. Electronic equipment they can handle, but when you ask them to boot up the computer, confusion ensues.

Building their skill and comfort levels is a key concern. Training is a must. If I was forced to learn how to use an e-mail system without someone explaining the fundamentals, it would have taken me much longer than it did.

Let’s make sure that we don’t abandon technology-challenged mechanics. Encourage them to enroll in computer classes so they can learn the basics. Then help them adapt their skills to the diagnostic equipment in the shop.

Remember, too, that you should take full advantage of the training offered by the industry’s bus and component manufacturers. This upfront investment of time will pay dividends later on.

But it’s not just the guys in the shop who are being challenged by technology. These days, transportation managers are being asked to upgrade their understanding of technological advances.

For example, I know many of you have been asked to consider the integration of GPS-based vehicle tracking into your programs. This requires an understanding of how GPS works and how it can be integrated with wireless communication systems to track vehicle locations. On the back end, it’s also necessary to integrate software into the communication package to organize, analyze and display the tracking information.

Staying ahead of the curve
In addition, suppliers to the bus industry now offer systems that can do much more than just track the location of the vehicles. They can monitor the vehicle’s speed, braking, door openings and even the temperature of the engine. It’s all great stuff, but it adds to our burden of understanding. Fortunately, sales reps for companies that offer this technology are skilled at explaining how it works in layman’s terms. But, the more you understand about this technology, the more informed your decision will be on whether to implement it.

Not surprisingly, many shop managers cited “keeping up with advances in technology” as one of their toughest challenges in this year’s maintenance survey, “Technician Wages Edge Higher in Past Year.” Unfortunately for those folks, the advance of technology is going to speed up in the coming years. We all need to be ready.


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