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Sean McCormack, Chief Information Officer, on National Innovation Day
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Sean McCormack, Chief Information Officer, on National Innovation Day

Today is National Innovation Day and we sat down with Sean McCormack, Chief Innovation Officer, to ask him about innovation that is happening at First Student and how it affects our employees, districts, students and parents.

QUESTION: Sean, what did you see at First Student that made you want to join the organization?

ANSWER: I was really excited to join First Student because they’ve demonstrated an ongoing commitment to innovation. We lead the industry when it comes to digital products and capabilities, and we’re continually looking for ways to improve them. Good examples would be DriverScore to positively measure and improve driver safety; TrainerHub to help streamline the training process; and testing new capabilities like MobileEye cameras to prevent collisions.

QUESTION: How are you enabling innovation on behalf of First Student?

ANSWER: Innovation is about successfully implementing new ideas and creating value for your customers and stakeholders. For innovation to be sustainable and make an impact, it has to be intentional. We’re standing up a formal Innovation Process, modeled on the innovation program I built at Harley-Davidson. It’s focused on casting a wide net to bring in ideas, and then running them through a rapid process with the goal of failing fast (ideas that won’t work) or promoting fast (pursuing ideas that will work). In my experience, we’ll often try an idea to solve Problem A, only to find out it actually solves Problem B, or opens up a completely new capability we hadn’t thought about before. Which is why it’s so important to allow ideas to come from different venues – customers, employees, vendors, innovation challenges, etc.

We recently issued an Innovation Challenge focused on Student Ridership – how can we accurately track which student is on which bus. Today we have an RFID card solution, but we’ve engaged with several leading technology companies to look into other options that could work better for our customers, students, parents and drivers. Ideally, we’ll find a great solution no one has thought of, or we may find some technologies that we can leverage in other areas of the business, and we’ve built relationships with strong partners that we can leverage for future challenges.

QUESTION: What’s a good example of a recent First Student innovation?

ANSWER: A great example of a recent innovation launch is FirstAlt. FirstAlt provides districts with a safe and reliable transportation option for students with special needs, students experiencing homelessness, out of district students, and hard to serve trips. To launch the FirstAlt capability, we completely reimagined how alternative transportation should operate, with technology at the core. Drivers have a mobile app that they use to onboard and service students daily. Our FirstAlt employees have a suite of digital applications they use to manage service providers and drivers, plan routes and oversee daily operations. We now have capabilities that no one else in the industry does – and it’s a game changer. It’s a great example of leveraging technology to create value for our customers in a completely new way.

QUESTION: What operational tools are you delivering for our field operations?

ANSWER: We have a lot in flight. One of the most notable efforts is Workday. This is a massive effort that we’re making to improve our HR processes by bringing in one of the leading technology platforms. We’ll be able to automate many processes, for example, hiring, onboarding, compensation changes, org changes, etc., simplifying the number of systems, greatly improving the end user experience, and providing access to reports, information and processes on both mobile and web devices. Workday will launch end of this calendar year and we will have a lot more information coming over the next few months.

Another key change is shifting our focus to the end user. Most of our systems today were designed to solve a functional issue meaning a disjointed experience for the end user. Currently, we use several different systems and create several different reports, all with a different look and feel and sometimes even different data. We have a team looking at redesigning our systems to better support their day-to-day activities. We are in the process of enhancing FOCUS, launching an improved Employee Portal, automating reports and manual tasks, reducing the number of systems, and making it easier to complete tasks with fewer clicks.

We are improving the Help Desk experience to make things easier. We’ve done a full assessment of current processes and procedures and have already made several improvements including:

  • New Help Desk Portal
  • Chat option
  • Text option
  • Email option
  • Improved notes on tickets
  • Simplified form for ordering hardware
  • Easy post ticket survey
  • Ability to reset your password on your own vs. having to call the Help Desk
  • Implementing single sign-on for a lot of our systems so that you only have to remember one username and password.

We have a long list of improvements that we’re making and you’ll see continual updates over the coming months. Ultimately our goal is to make things easier for anyone using our systems.

QUESTION: What are your long-term plans for First Student and how do you see the organization evolving over the next 5 years?

ANSWER: Long-term we’re focused on several key areas from employee experience, cyber security and compliance, digital products and services, analytics and business intelligence, mergers and acquisitions to electrification and innovation.

My vision is to have a single place that our employees go to start their day, that’s customized to their role. They have access to applications, processes and documents without having to hunt them down. Key tasks are automated, reports are easy to understand and use the same data across all systems, and the look and feel of our applications are intuitive and don’t require a lot of training. Information can be accessed from your desktop or your mobile device.

Five years from now, I want our employees to get excited when talking about our technology to their family and friends. I want our customers to view us as a company that’s committed to innovation and leveraging technology to deliver superior capabilities and services. The goal is for technology to be an enabler, not a barrier or a gap.

Sean McCormack Headshot

About Sean McCormack

Sean McCormack is the Chief Innovation Officer at First Student and is responsible for shaping and establishing technology capabilities and strategies and enhance technology, data security, and third-party management to build innovative products and services.

Sean has more than 20 years of experience in leadership roles in a broad range of initiatives, including global technology integration, development of proprietary digital platforms, and implementation of large-scale system improvements.