Technology

When Did Operators Become IT Guys?

Anne Daniells
Posted on October 18, 2016

My computer just crashed,” whines a frustrated dispatcher just as a customer calls asking why she received multiple confirmations for the same ride. “Do they have changes on them?” she queries. “And why did my card get pre-authorized three times?”

As transportation depends increasingly on technology to provide fast and accurate service, companies must spend more time making sure the technology works right at all times. It’s critical to running a smooth operation and keeping clients happy. System failures and computer issues are a daily concern. When they affect customers, running an operation is no longer just about driving passengers to their destinations.
Operators maintain highly sensitive databases with credit cards. Payroll compliance is its own specialty, especially in labor-friendly states. And a few phone glitches can undercut an operator’s slim margin in just a day or two. Earlier in this decade, some operators were still taking reservations by hand. Now you must decide how to manage and incorporate all your in-house technology issues. “When did I become an IT guy?” wonders this same operator now.

System Runners
With multiple interconnected systems to manage, coordinating them well is easily a full-time job. Reservation software, computer systems, website monitoring, dispatching, vehicle tracking, billing, emails, texts and tablets all can get complicated. Then add credit card processing, accounting, and payroll integration. Even phone lines typically run over Internet IP lines. Any part of the system can undermine the simple business purpose of providing high-quality chauffeured transportation, not to mention hurting productivity and morale.
Maybe it’s time to let this responsibility go. As an owner, it may be hard to lose control, but safety and tech expertise will improve your sleep quotient. Too often, an operator spends too much time on system infrastructure and strays away from the original service plan — to provide top-notch luxury transportation.
Service always matters, so focus on core competencies to ensure an excellent experience for clients. However, someone still has to run the tech side of things, and who will that be when the owner gets back to transportation basics? It requires more than answering occasional request for IT help. Equipment and application management eat up more time and costs. Deciding how to handle it varies for each operator and is usually based on company size.

So what is the best way to manage systems, data and the 24/7/365 demands of technology in this industry? It depends on what you have and need, and it’s really a decision about insourcing versus outsourcing.

In Or Out?
If you are big enough to host your environment, then you need the expertise in-house to manage the infrastructure. This includes servers, racks, power management, desktop maintenance and support. Integration is demanding. Most operators do not like IT management, and few want to be on-call 24 hours a day for IT issues even if they have the know-how. Large companies require a dedicated expert-in-residence with several layers of personnel to manage IT.

For large operations, which are few, a chief information officer (CIO) will work with owners or shareholders to plan for revenue goals related to technology. This top person can see the business needs and the way to achieve them. The position combines business savvy with technological prowess. Below the CIO lurks the technological wizard who creates the needed systems. Often called a chief technology officer (CTO), this person will build the tools. By streamlining and incorporating the products to serve clients and the company, the CTO solves the puzzle with technology to make the company’s vision a reality. These are expensive employees with specific skills and influence on a company’s success.

If your company is not big enough to require a server, then you must outsource and rely upon third parties instead of hiring the expertise. Each option has its pros and cons. Assess your needs, resources, and skills, and then consider the best way to fulfill IT needs outside the company.

Too often, an operator spends too much time on system infrastructure and strays away from the original service plan — to provide top-notch luxury transportation. (LCT file photo)
Too often, an operator spends too much time on system infrastructure and strays away from the original service plan — to provide top-notch luxury transportation. (LCT file photo)
In-House Hassles
In-house IT management can be fraught with challenges and expense, so first recognize you are a chauffeured transportation provider. You are not a technology company no matter how advanced your software and equipment.
Service must always be paramount, so focus on what is most important: rides and chauffeurs who provide the client’s experience. Owning IT and maintaining it internally might appear to be a less expensive route at first, but it is fraught with distractions, disruptions, and other risks that generate more costs, lose money, or both. For a small operator with slim margins and a hands-on role in the company, the highest use of time should be in finding and keeping customers with excellent service, not fixing printer malfunctions and accounting formulas.

If you pay a salary to a CIO or CTO, transaction costs are lower in that “help desk” requests can be handled in house. Certainly, service costs can be reduced if the CIO actually does the work, but a true CIO probably needs staff, at additional cost. Plus, the added expense and rising cost of hiring hinders most small- to medium-fleet operators.

Sudden Dramas
Add the list of things beyond control. You’ve experienced or heard the stories of water damage and power outages or system failures that cause missed pick-ups and lost customers. If you decide to maintain things internally, an IT person, a CTO or a CIO must fully understand the hardware, the software, and the business needs. This person or staff would develop redundancies and back-up plans. But hot sites, a secondary back-up, are expensive and the investment is often too big for the size of most operations. Capital costs go up to build the infrastructure, maintain it, and stay current. And it will be too much for one person or two to oversee day and night.

Unpredictability is the only certainty, so you must manage risks. When something goes wrong, and the phones go down, you more likely will have better access and response from a contracted agent than from internal IT staff. Most operations are simply too small to do a good job of IT in-house. There’s not enough knowledge and money to maintain a secure system. For most, an outside specialist offers distinct advantages.

Outside Benefits
Managed services offer more professionalism and core expertise than a single IT employee can offer individually. For a fee, a contracted service will provide immediate response when needed while offering state-of-the art hardware and redundancies to protect your data and sensitive information. They also take on the capital risk of being able to provide the services, stay current on technology, and maintain industry compliance and data security. Just the cost of losing data is enough to seriously consider having someone else monitor your system operations.

An external, managed environment is the way to go for most operators. A vendor who provides the service is the expert, after all. This results in higher compliance levels and multiple back-ups for your business. Safety and security is better and your contractor will stay on top of evolving technology so you can avoid shopping for updated hardware or more user licenses for outdated software.

Unless you are a large operator, stay tuned into what you do best. Grow your business, deliver unblemished service, and maintain stable data with the help of an outside expert. Your employees will appreciate it, and you’ll sleep better, too.

Related Topics: business management, executive changes, Information Technology, staff management

Anne Daniells contributing writer
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