Safety rules drive bus maker's IT project

FRAMINGHAM (11/05/2003) - Federal rules now require makers of commercial and private vehicles and the parts they make to submit massive reports--and by massive we mean hundreds of pages, according to one manufacturer--to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) on defects, customer complaints and warranty claims.

The Tread (Transportation Recall Enhancement, Accountability and Documentation) Act was passed in 2000 following congressional hearings into the more than 100 deaths associated with defective Firestone tires on SUVs.

The first reports under the Tread legislation are due next month. Failure to comply could result in a $5,000 per day late fee. The NHTSA is very particular about how it wants the information submitted--it has to be formatted in a certain way and organized in distinct categories. And it has to be submitted quarterly. It's a big job.

To do it, Gillig, a city bus builder in Hayward, Calif., with annual sales around US$300 million, turned to Syncata for software that culls information from Gillig's databases, formats and maps that information in accordance with NHTSA's specifications, and then transmits the required Tread documents to Washington, D.C.

Bob Birdwell, Gillig's executive director of quality and service, says numerous companies pitched him on software similar to Syncata's, but Syncata held a seminar that helped him to better understand Tread. The installation went smoothly, though there were a few challenges. For example: It took more time and effort than expected to gather all the required information and then get all those documents into a Lotus Notes database so that Syncata could access the information it needed to format for the NHTSA. Syncata uses Windows 2000 and SQL Server database to extract data from whatever data format the client is using. Gillig's users click on a desktop icon to access the reporting system. Pricing for the system starts at $25,000 and can cost nearly $100,000 for larger companies.

Thilo Koslowski, lead automotive analyst at Gartner, says there are few companies offering software to assist with Tread compliance. He expects IT players like Microsoft Corp. and Electronic Data Systems Corp. to develop similar software. But, meanwhile, those reports are still due.

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