Sharing internal data
Along with the shift to a greater volume of business between First Student and Thomas Built, the companies made a commitment to increase the flow of information both ways.
"Our partnership is built on trust and transparency," Burtwistle says. "We share confidential data with each other regarding demand and usage, environmental impact, upcoming contracts and legislative changes."
One important part of the information sharing is forecasts. As an anecdotal example, if First Student advises that it is going to replace 30% more buses next year, Thomas Built can use this information to improve production and inventory schedules.
Thomas Built can prepare for First Student's demand, enabling the manufacturer to maintain a steady production cycle instead of having big spikes in the spring and summer and fewer buses to build in the fall and winter.
"An even production cycle can ensure we receive our buses when we need them, and would allow Thomas to keep a steady skilled workforce in place, reducing peak work and layoffs," Burtwistle explains. "This should reduce costs for everyone involved."
Thomas Built’s Kelley Platt (left) and First Student’s Linda Burtwistle say that their companies’ collaboration can benefit the entire industry. For example, they are working to come up with better models for school bus replacement.
Another key transparency in the companies' relationship: First Student shares its maintenance schedules and records with Thomas Built, which aids in efforts to increase parts longevity and to drive down maintenance costs.
The two companies are also combining their knowledge to come up with better models and processes for school bus replacement.
"We are looking at ways to help fleet managers better assess when their buses may need to be replaced," Platt says. "This will help fleet managers better manage their budget and future plans, but also help us to gain visibility into when new buses are needed in order to maximize the efficiency of the procurement cycle."
Making a better bus
One of the goals of the partnership is to find ways to make school buses safer and more efficient. Here again, communication comes into play. For instance, First Student gives Thomas Built an extra layer of "eyes and ears on the ground," as Platt puts it.
"First Student provides us with additional insight into what customers are saying, what they are asking for, major issues that are arising and overall trends in the industry," Platt says. "This insight, along with our own internal expertise, helps us pinpoint ways to improve and to ultimately provide even better, safer and more efficient buses."
In addition to executive-level meetings, Thomas Built and First Student collaborate on what they call a "cab committee," in which experts from both companies sit down and discuss vehicle issues, such as the ergonomics of the cabin and where the driver switches are positioned.