Podcast Transcript: Agility When it Matters Most with Joe Gallitto of DJ Ambulette


Joe Gallitto joined the ConnectedOps Visionaries podcast to talk about NY-based DJ Ambulette’s agility and digital transformation for their connected operations. 

John Carione: Hi, I’m John Carione, your host of ConnectedOps Visionary, and our guest today is Joe Gallitto of D&J Ambulance Service. D&J Ambulette has been committed to providing prompt, courteous, and affordable transportation services for nursing homes, adult daycare centers, and hospitals for over 25 years in the New York City area. Great to speak with you today, Joe. Your organization provides an incredibly important public service, and it’s even more critical this year, as we all know. So, we’re excited to hear a little bit about how your organization is connecting your operations and driving digital agility to improve the services you offer in your local community. So, welcome again, great to have you.

Joe Gallitto: Thank you for having me.

John Carione: Yeah, absolutely. To kick off, why don’t you just tell us a little more about D&J Ambulette and its mission in the greater New York area.

Joe Gallitto:   Yeah, I think you hit the intro pretty much on the head. We’ve been in business for a little over 25 years; the company was started by my father and my uncle Steve. They started as a local taxi company, and throughout the years, taxis turned into ambulettes turned into now buses, so while our name is still D&J Ambulette, it’s not so much of an ambulette company as much as we are a full-service bus, ambulette, any kind of passenger transit. Our main mission here at D&J Ambulette, as you mentioned, we service daycare centers, hospitals, nursing homes, pretty much anything that requires a little special attention and a special care. A big part of that is providing safe, reliable, customer-friendly, and most importantly, timely transportation. A lot of the folks we transport, they’re dealing with home issues and stuff like that, where they’re physically and mentally disabled, and having these programs and being the transportation company for these programs is essential for them, and getting them an opportunity to take these people to and from the daycare centers to get the extra attention, extra care, extra teaching, is essential, and we’re the first face they see every morning, and most of the time, we’re the last face they see every night, so customer service is essential for us.

John Carione: Thank you and your organization, I mean, it’s an incredibly important service, and the reality is, it’s undoubtedly been elevated this year, and so it would be great to hear a little bit more about your specific role in the organization, maybe how that role has been evolving, whether it’s your own personal set of activities every day and responsibilities, accountability, or even the use of technology, how that’s been evolving. So, where have you been, and where do you see the business heading?

Joe Gallitto: It depends on the hour, is what my role is; that changes minute-by-minute. Being a family-owned and operated business, we kind of get involved and touch on every aspect of the business, whether that’s financially, setting prices, billing, receivables, operations, maintenance; I kind of oversee it all. I’m fortunate that my father and my uncle are still here every day, but I’ve kind of taken a role and kind of taken a lot of load off of them, or letting them do what they specialize in, and focus on what they need, and I kind of handle the nitty gritty. It depends on the hour, I guess, is the long and short answer to that question.

John Carione: That resonates with me for sure. So, on this podcast, obviously ConnectedOps Visionaries, we really try to dig into the heart of what connected operations means to you. It’s sort of just a visionary type of statement, it means different things to different people, but most importantly, folks like yourself, who are on the frontlines and driving change and leading organizations, you’re exactly who we’d like to talk to and get perspective from. So, in my experience, even in marketing, change management is really hard, especially as you’re growing and you have new people in the organization, and I would imagine in the context of vehicle asset and field operations, where you really focus, it’s incredibly difficult as well to steer the ship. So, there’s software, but you also need to get buy-in from executives, folks out in the field, etcetera, so what does connecting your operations mean for your team and organization, and how do you look to eliminate siloes of data, siloes of information, and really get your entire operations team on the same page to meet your daily and hourly and every minute goal that you have with that service?

Joe Gallitto:   Yep, so being that we are a 24/7, 365 operation, the reel doesn’t stop, so we are fortunate where our management staff has been here, god, I think the newest manager is me, and aside from me, we have five here, and I would say in about 12 years; the continuity is huge for us. Throughout this pandemic, it’s been quite the struggle, but keeping the staff on and keeping everyone in the positions that they need to be, so when this does turn to the other side, we have everyone in place and we’re ready to go with it. Yeah, I mean, ConnectedOps is essential for any transportation business; without it, you’re just a ton of information being piled up, and you have to know how to dissect that information and make it work for you, and make it better you, in terms of preventing incidents, and fixing incidents when they do occur. One way that ConnectedOps was, about five years ago, we asked IntelliShift if they had a recommendation for a camera company, and IntelliShift helped us, directed us in the right direction. One of their partners, Roscoe Vision Systems, is the camera we chose, dual-facing cameras in the vehicles, and that was huge for us in order to combine the GPS and all that information, in terms of speed, stopping, breaking, location of the vehicle, combining that with actually seeing what’s going on was essential to us, that was huge. That kind of put the whole picture together. Before that, it was more just numbers, and the whole combining of everything was a big difference maker for us, so that was a big step we made five years ago, and yeah, that was essential.

John Carione: Excellent. You know, the market, typically when you talk about SAS-type solutions, you get the word digital transformation thrown around a lot, and typically, it’s very difficult to achieve with just a top-down mandate, you really need to enable and empower folks in your organization to drive it from the frontlines, folks who are on the frontlines with your customers, and obviously, the folks that you service. So, one thing we’re hearing a lot more about, which you just started to talk about a little bit, is how do you connect that telematics data with safety information for your operations to kind of take it to the next level and get out of traditional ways of accomplishing what you do need to do?

Joe Gallitto: A big part of that is taking all of that information and using it in preventative. It’s very easy to say, “Oh, we had an accident, let’s go to the video and see what the driver did wrong.” It’s one thing to do that, it’s another thing to continuously perform check-ups, and catch problems before they become problems. So, what we do constantly is we download video of each run, and we kind of like to do about five a day, and we take that video, and we watch that video, and we kind of speed it up, we don’t watch every minute of it, but we look for issues that could occur. We combine that with actual complaints that we may get in, combine that with GPS reports, and we’re able to kind of make our own formula, where we’re able to prevent an issue and perform our in-services, on top of that, we have a full in-service team here. We put our drivers through a three-week course between on-the-road training and in-classroom training before they even take the road. They go through in-classroom training and on-the-road inspection biennially, so twice a year. By using that footage and using that information, it helps us in our classroom trainings; it helps show them exactly what they’re doing wrong rather than just, “You were speeding.”

John Carione: And, you’ve seen better results running that process?

Joe Gallitto: Without a doubt. When you’re able to say, “You were speeding,” “Okay, but there was no one on the road” …no, let’s take a look into it, let’s dive deeper, let’s see why, and let’s see how we could not do that in the future, because safety is priority.

John Carione: Yeah, very good. That’s kind of where I wanted to go next. So, are there specific areas that you’re trying to be even more proactive in how you approach safety management in the future? And, would you say you’re at the stage yet where you’re starting to think about your use of more intelligent video or artificial intelligence? We’re seeing that – I mean, we’ve been talking about it for years, but folks are really, really starting to implement it and see results in that.

Joe Gallitto: Yep. I’ve seen some camera companies that incorporate artificial intelligence into their videos, which is groundbreaking; to be able to detect when driver’s eyes aren’t on the road, or when they’re distracted, anything like that. That is something that is on our agenda that we would like to make a move to, just being that we’re not able to catch everything, and fortunately, computers now can catch almost anything. So, yeah, it is definitely something we want to make a move to, but even in the preventative side and not even in terms of safety, being able to automate when vehicle service is coming up, when oil changes are coming up. We use IntelliShift’s vehicle service feature that helps us tremendously in that; a big part of safety is that if a vehicle does break down on the road, passengers get stranded. We’re dealing with passengers – some of them could be diabetic, some of them can get irritated very easily sitting in a vehicle too long. It’s actually a state law that our passengers can only be in the vehicle for an hour and a half tops, and some of them are traveling very long distances, where every minute counts, and if a vehicle breaks down, that becomes an issue, and preventative maintenance is actually safety.

John Carione: Yeah, and when you think about your operators and whether it’s an asset, obviously your vehicles, adoption of the technology and understanding how this is where the market is going, and it’s really for your best interest, you talked about training and certification and different things. Is there anything specific that you do to help your operators understand that this is in the best interest, it’s not big brother, it’s trying to help you and help us get better? Do you have any tips on that?

Joe Gallitto: Yeah, I mean, it’s funny you say that, because when we first put the cameras in, we were having issues, and the cameras are able to pick up if they’re covered, if they’re blocked, if anything, and it picks it up and sends us a notification. So, we were able to address it at first, and we have a no tolerance policy on that; a one-warning, if anything, it was termination. There was zero excuse for you covering that camera, because if there was an incident, and that camera was covered, we’re in trouble; not just the driver, we become in trouble. So, yeah, at first, it was an issue, and as time went on, they realized that it was for their own good, and we do have incidents in our vehicles where, unfortunately in this industry, passenger transit, sometimes drivers do get blamed for things they don’t do. Previously, pre-cameras, pre-GPS, pre all of that, it was kind of taking one person’s word against another’s, and it’s kind of difficult to tell the customer, “Sorry, you’re wrong.” You can’t do that. But, when we have video and we’re able to go to the video and see exactly what happened, that was revolutionary for us, and the drivers, after a couple of months and a couple of incidents, they were able to see this was a tool not just for us, but for them.

John Carione: Yeah.

Joe Gallitto: And they were able to say, “No, no, no, go to the video, I didn’t get in an accident, go to the video.”

John Carione: Right, and all of the sudden, they’re an advocate for it, right?

Joe Gallitto: Absolutely. It was so crazy how it just turned; within two months, we had a lot of backlash from it and a lot of resistance, and within two months, it was, “My camera is not working right, can you please just take a look at it and make sure it is?”

John Carione: Wow. Honestly, truly, like amazing turnaround, right? So, good to hear. How about – do you interface with the insurance companies from that respect, when they’re trying to do their reviews?

Joe Gallitto: Absolutely. Any incident and accident, we receive – we see the video and we see the GPS, so we’ll know how fast the vehicle was going, where the vehicle was going, any hard braking, anything like that, and on top of that, we’ll have the video footage of exactly what happened. Our loss runs have – we’ve always had great loss runs, that’s one thing that we pride ourselves on, and a lot of that comes from our in-classroom training and on-the-road training prior to putting a driver on the road. With the new videos and just everything that we’ve implemented, that has just gone ten-fold, and our loss runs have never been lower, which in an industry where the insurance has been going through the roof, we’ve been fortunate that we stay pretty much flat, because our loss runs have just been tremendous.

John Carione: Yeah, and thinking about the future, the technology becomes more powerful, we’re thinking about the ability to understand if someone is drowsy and sort of predict that, if they’re smoking, hard lane changes and hard turning, is that all stuff you can see a future of?

Joe Gallitto: Yeah, without a doubt. That AI, artificial intelligence, being able to have the computer detect it rather than us doing statistics, is just something that we need to move toward, and it’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of just when, and when we get the opportunity to really redo our whole fleet, being that we are a pretty sizeable fleet of 200 vehicles, it isn’t something that is done overnight, but that is something that we are absolutely looking towards, because you can’t put a cost on it.

John Carione: Fantastic. So, shifting gears, definitely 2020, it’s almost in the rear-view window, right? A couple more weeks here. It’s been a year where everybody has had to adapt quickly to changing circumstances, and your organization was no exception. Were there any examples you can share of where you had to make sort of a quick business decision or pivot to a new business model or strategy to become more agile as we went through this tough period and still are?

Joe Gallitto: Absolutely, there’s no denying the transportation industry, especially passenger transportation, has been hit extremely hard throughout this pandemic. We operate a fleet of almost 200 vehicles – 193 exactly – and overnight, we were told, “Take those vehicles off the road and park them.” You kind of have to get a little creative and find a way to put those vehicles to use in order to one, keep the revenue flowing, to keep the rent paid, keep the lights on, but also to keep your staff employed. As I mention, that was a big part of what we looked to do, and while having 200 vehicles on the road and nearly 500 employees, it wasn’t something where we could keep everyone, we just feasibly couldn’t; but, being able to keep the office personnel and a bunch of drivers and a bunch of the escorts was huge for us. Fortunately, we transitioned to where we were able to land a MTA contract with the subways performing an overnight shutdown, we were able to take on some of that supplemental work, so pretty much overnight, we went from running zero vehicles on the road, to 54 vehicles overnight. It was a blessing; it was craziness, but it was a blessing that we were able to get some kind of work and some kind of revenue in the door, and get the drivers back hired and on the road. On top of 2020, it being a pandemic, we were able to hire back some of the escorts that we have on the vehicles, not to be assistants on the vehicles, but essentially to help clean those vehicles every single night, because safety being our number one concern, now that also became the hygiene of the vehicles and keeping them clean. Being that they were being used every night, internally we said, “These vehicles need to be cleaned inside and out every night,” not just for the passenger safety, but for our staff’s safety. They’re getting on those vehicles every day, and they want to make sure that those vehicles were cleaned. Those were just two transitions that we had to make in 2020, things that we never would have thought about last year. We also tried to transition our company into performing more shuttle type of work, more with residential buildings and government agencies, where we’re providing some shuttle service outside of the nursing home, hospital, and special care that we normally do, we’ve been able to take on some of that work, which seems to be extremely beneficial for us, because now that we’ve kind of dipped our toes into that water, hopefully it’s a new avenue where we’re going to explode with that, and on the other side of this pandemic, we might not have 193 vehicles, we might have 293 vehicles; that’s the objective, I guess, in all of this, and it’s how are you going to make yourself better after the pandemic, as well as surviving the pandemic.

John Carione: And really connecting to your local community, right, and providing that support? It’s just so important, it almost feels like it’s a more important value proposition than it was a year ago, right? Just embracing the community and helping them move forward.

Joe Gallitto: Yeah, I mean, New York was one of the hardest hit states – hardest hit places in the world, not only states, and yeah, being able to provide assistance for MTA and the state in a time where it was the darkest year was…it’s heartwarming, on top of everything else.

John Carione: Yeah. Well, it’s great to hear you’ve made some strides, even since last February/March and continue to make strides into the new year, so thanks for that. Talking about digital transformation, you started to talk a little bit about maintenance, and when we talk about digital transformation, it’s really about moving paper to digital, right? And, when you think about different challenges, when you think about pre- and post-trip inspections, for instance, it would be great to kind of hear your thoughts about what you’ve done to date and where you’re going in that area, specifically.

Joe Gallitto: Yeah, that’s another piece that I think needs to be transitioned to where we’re fully electronic, in that. Currently, what we’re doing, and it’s pretty dated, is it’s all done by hand, the pre- and post-trip inspection, and turned in every day with the paperwork. The main thing is getting – and, I don’t want to use the term “buy-in,” because a lot of the drivers who can do it, would love to do it, and the ones who don’t know how to do it, they’re not not buying in – I don’t want to use that word, but it’s just difficult for them to take on something new. We have drivers here that have been here for almost 30 years now, since pretty much inception when we took on our first van account, before we even had buses, and a lot of those drivers, it’s tough to teach an old dog new tricks, where you’re making something digital that has to be done on an iPhone or a smartphone or a tablet, that some of these drivers still have flip phones, and they just stick with the simplicity. The tough part of having everything electronic is you need everything electronic. It’s difficult to say, “Okay, these few drivers are going to turn it in by paper,” because then we don’t have all of that on the same system, and I do think that is something, also, that we need to move toward, and it is something that we will move toward, but it’s just a matter of finding out how to get that last – and, I’ll use it again, “buy-in,” with a few drivers, to get it where it’s 100% buy-in.

John Carione: Yeah, absolutely. And, when you think about, again, proactive and preventative maintenance, how do you think that looks in the future? How can you get even better, whether it’s automations, notifications, different things? I know you’re thinking about it.

Joe Gallitto: Yeah, absolutely. We currently get our notifications whenever we do need an oil change, right now. IntelliShift has some great features where we’re able to get notifications on oil changes. The second that vehicle gets over 3,000 miles, our garage staff has access to that, they get the notification, and change that oil, and then we put in the new mileage, and it comes right back up every 3,000 miles. Same thing with DoT inspections; we need DoT inspections twice a year, that notification comes up 30 days in advance, and that gets on our agenda, because if those vehicles are down, we’re not making money – that’s what it comes down to. Yeah, so, automating all of that is very, very important, and that’s just scratching the surface in terms of oil change and DoT inspections. I would like to move into where some of this could automate even when, you know, an engine light turns on, or how much gas a vehicle is using, vehicle is low on gas. I can’t tell you how often we’ll have a vehicle run out of gas, and it’s really inexcusable, because they’re supposed to fill up every night, and we all know how bad that could be for a vehicle. We currently perform idle reports, and we do get notifications. Idling, as we know, is terrible for the vehicle, and a huge waste of gas – you’re wasting money, essentially, by idling, and being able to let those drivers know, “Hey, listen, turn off your vehicle, especially in the summer,” especially in the summer, because a lot of these programs come out with the temperature guns, the bus has to register a certain temperature in order for the A/C to come on in order for those buses to roll, and if those vehicles have been idling all day, they’re not rolling. They’re not rolling, so we’ll have to send a replacement bus and it just becomes a whole headache. So, automating that, which we also do – we monitor that a lot closer in the summer when it becomes a major issue, but yes. Making everything automated just makes everything easier.

John Carione: Yeah, yeah, and along that, we’re sort of working with a lot of our customers to sort of think about the future of how we understand metrics and KPIs, and whether it’s saving cost on fuel, or other KPIs in your world. Of course, you have someone who’s looking after accounting and finance and monitoring this on a day-to-day basis. Do you see a future where you’re able to create those metrics and track them more on a month-to-month basis to track new goals and progress?

Joe Gallitto: Yeah, so KPIs are extremely important in this industry. We are a family-owned company, which puts us in a position where we kind of understand where we need to be at, and we kind of throw a dart and I know I use that term lightly, because really, we don’t; we know within $5, $10 of what we need to charge for a vehicle, what that KPI will say. I think it is huge that we could be able to get into where we could bid based on the penny, know exactly how many gallons each vehicle is using of gas, knowing how many miles that vehicle is tacking on. Is the lifespan of that vehicle going to be six years? Is it going to be six years and three months? I think that’s all huge, and something that could definitely help going forward in the future when we do bid on new and future business.

John Carione: Absolutely, it makes sense. We’re constantly trying to connect, and connecting operations with finance is a challenge many organizations have, and there’s great opportunities in the future to do more there. Great having you, I just have one more question before we wrap up. So, on this podcast, we typically try to get a perspective on any learnings as a leader that you can offer our audience, and so any advice you wish someone had given you, any advice you wish you had taken but didn’t, or any advice you did take, but wish you hadn’t. So, your choice.

Joe Gallitto: Yeah, I guess…I would say the biggest advice I wish I had taken previously was let’s dive into something new. We’ve been very cautious with expanding business, because our main thing has been we know what we do, and we know how we do it, and we know we’re great at what we do. That caused us to not dive into this new type of business that we’ve kind of been exploring since the pandemic hit, and hopefully, we come out much bigger and better because of it. I guess a big piece of advice I would have taken is don’t be afraid to dip your toes into something new, don’t be afraid to try something new; even if it’s not in your exact niche, it could only benefit you. The worst that happens is you lose, you take a step back, and you go back to what you know and do best. That would be my biggest takeaway, is don’t be afraid to dive into that new business entity.

John Carione: Take a calculated risk, take a chance.

Joe Gallitto: Exactly, exactly. We know all the transport people, and we know we’re very good at it, where those people are coming from, sure, it might not be easier because we deal with a population that requires a lot of attention and a lot of care. So, for anyone else, it should be even easier.

John Carione: Absolutely. Well, you guys provide an incredible service for the community, I really appreciate your time and your service to the New York area, and I wish you all the best of luck in 2021. We’re going to get past this, and it’s folks like you and services like your organization provides that keep the country running smooth, and we’re all going to get past it, so thanks again for your time, Joe.

Joe Gallitto: Thank you so much for having me.