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Facilities management automation system for schools released

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As school buildings age, the growing challenge is maintaining education facilities at a level that enables teachers to meet the needs of 21st century learners. School facilities maintenance is about providing clean and safe environments for children and students, as well as creating a physical setting that is appropriate and adequate for learning. 

Facilities challenges arise in new and old facilities alike, although the types of concerns may differ. Because routine and unexpected maintenance demands are bound to arise, organisations must proactively develop and implement a facilities’ maintenance plan that includes automation tools to help ensure that facilities are, and will be, cared for appropriately. Pay a little now or pay a lot later, is preventative maintenance in its simplest form. Spending a little money now to automate tasks and to ensure that you perform regular inspections and maintenance activities will minimize future big-ticket costs and prolong the functional lifetime of buildings and equipment. 

Specifically tailored for schools and universities, Facility Maintenance Automation Systems can dramatically improve all aspects of inspection and maintenance activities:

Facilities Audits – knowing what you have

Facility audits require time, energy, expertise and resources. Performing audits and data collection using handheld devices is efficient and economical, and is a necessary step in the effective and efficient management of facilities.

Inspections 

Daily inspection activities ensure safe conditions for all facility users, students, teachers, staff, parents, and guests. As important as cleanliness, orderliness, and instructional support are to facilities planners, occupant safety must always be the top priority. Facilities managers must also implement numerous environmental regulations governing school facilities and grounds and verify compliance with a host of regulations and laws. Environmental regulations designed to protect people are many and varied, and often seem overwhelming at first glance. Yet once appropriate systems and protocols implements, most environmental safety regulations require only minimal monitoring and compliance efforts unless a problem is identified. Automation of daily inspections can include easy to follow templates for a variety of regulations including Life Safety procedures, Health & Safety procedures, indoor air quality requirements, etc. 

Preventative maintenance – An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure 

Under the guise of saving money, many school organizations practice what is known as breakdown maintenance, a maintenance program in which nothing is done for a piece of equipment until it breaks down. And then, after the equipment breaks, the least expensive repair option is used to return the equipment to service. While this may sound like a cost-saving approach to maintenance, precisely the opposite is true. Breakdown maintenance defers repairs and allows damage to accumulate, compounding an organization’s problems. On the other hand, regularly scheduled equipment maintenance not only prevents sudden and unexpected equipment failure, but also reduces the overall cost of the building and equipment.

Automating preventative maintenance activities, reminders, repetitive tasks, manufacturers’ guidelines, and record keeping shifts the facilities managers’ efforts from juggling tasks and trying to track paper-based activities to focusing on actual requirements, and exceptions. 

Work order management 

Work order management helps schools register, track, and manage work requests, assign tasks to staff, confirm that work was completed, and track the cost of parts and labor.

Tracking and managing a variety of work orders can be automated and improved using web portals for end-user requests, and software and handheld devices for execution of these requests. 

Facilities life cycle costs 

Facilities life-cycle costs are the total costs of acquisition and ownership of a building or system over its useful life, including capital costs, energy costs, and maintenance and operating costs. It has been demonstrated that the initial cost to construct a building typically represents only a small portion of the actual cost to own the facility over its lifetime. 

Automation and electronic record keeping is an effective method of reducing operational costs of a facility, and of enabling users to analyze information and identify trends that can impact business planning, capital expenditures, and improve decision-making.

Automation Systems should address the following facilities managers’ daily activities:

Plan and schedule due diligence activities, preventative maintenance, inspection, and service activities.


Incorporate templates for health and safety guidelines, regulation compliance, etc.

Assign work to staff based on skills, time and geographical availabilities.

Record details about service activities while minimizing key strokes and data entry.

Retrieve and analyse information and produce operational and management reports based on any desired criteria.

Set up automatic alerts and triggers that notify of upcoming or missed activities, both through reports and emails. (For example: Receive a weekly report of all overdue service activities).

Record time allocated to each task and automatically produce timesheets and job costing.

Utilise barcodes to improve data collection and processing, as well as to minimise human errors.

Automate re-occurring tasks so that when completed, new tasks are automatically created in the future, at the required time intervals.

Provide staff with specific instructions regarding activities or equipment. Include the instructions on the handheld device to ensure compliance and minimize learning curves.

Ensure that staff performs all requirements and activities.
Create custom escalation procedures that alert management when activities are not completed.
Retrieve and analyse information and produce operational and management reports based on any desired criteria.
Record time allocated to each task and produce timesheets and job costing.
Utilize barcodes to improve data collection and processing, as well as to minimize human errors. 

Components of a facilities management automation system

Handheld Devices

Handheld devices should provide information that already exists on paper forms or on the desktop, and at the same time improve one’s ability to access and utilise the data. For example, if a user fills out a weekly inspection form providing specific information, the handheld device should fulfill the same function. A handheld user can pick from a checklist of possible choices and/or write or type in information, according to the organization’s requirements and preferences. Handheld devices make current, past, and future information accessible and easy to use. Additional benefits of using handheld devices in conjunction with intelligent software include the automatic transfer of data from the handheld to your database without the need for further data entry or data reformulation. 

Handheld devices should include the following functionalities:

List all information required by technicians, engineers, and maintenance personnel to perform their tasks, including tasks, activities, suppliers, parts, etc.
Provide easy to use navigation, search capabilities and quick access to information.
Automatically track and manage equipment and inventory.
Allow technicians to enter only as much information as needed.
Automatically track labour and apply it to timesheets.
Enable technicians to record recommendations and/or create new corrective work orders using their handheld devices.
Provide additional value added features such as asset tracking and audit.
Produce reports or invoices as required using portable printers. 

Handheld devices can also include validations that allow or disallow data entry. They can also provide the user with historical information pertaining to previous service orders or particular pieces of equipment. Furthermore, barcodes, timestamps and scanners attached to the handheld devices permit quick identification of devices and equipment, identify point of entry and exit, improve efficiency, and minimize vulnerability to human errors.

Handheld applications should be designed to minimize the amount of data entry and keystrokes required by incorporating a variety of techniques, starting from pick lists, through check boxes, to look-up lists and automatically generated results and shortcuts. Minimizing data entry that the end user has to perform is recommended to improve speed, accuracy, efficiency, ease of use and cost. 

Finally, handheld software should be able to run on multiple hardware platforms, providing flexibility and utilisation of future technology without avoidable and costly software upgrades.

The Desktop / Database / Server

To maximise utilisation and return-on-investment, handheld applications should not be stand-alone. They should be designed from the outset to collect information, display and manipulate information, and transfer information to and from a desktop or server database and back to the handheld seamlessly.

The desktop/server application should provide a variety of operational and management functions such as:
Work order manager: Record, track, manage, report, and analyse a variety of work orders and activities. Provide users with access to historical information, search engines, and trend analysis capabilities.
Scheduler: Using a graphic user interface, display schedules, workloads and forecasting for dispatch personnel and service managers.
Equipment and Asset Tracker, providing a complete and up to date picture of the organization’s assets and equipment, as well as delivering automatic reminders for related information such as warranty expiry dates and lease termination dates.
Event-driven and automated escalation pocedures, issuing email reminders and reports based on user-defined criteria. 

While the handheld application is tailored and simplified toward executing and recording tasks performed in the field, the desktop/server application usually includes many more functions that allow for more sophisticated reporting and analysis. Hence the facilities manager and/or supervisor can start easily managing the overall task of facilities maintenance, rather than being immersed in juggling and trying to keep up with a large amount of paper-based tasks and reminders.

The means of data transfer between handheld devices and the database can be through a standard cradle, wired modem, infrared, Bluetooth, or wireless communications. Data exchange with remote locations can be done via a wireless handheld device, vehicle cradle, or email.

Web Portal

A web portal for users, customers or staff, can enhance services and allow end-users to enter work requests for approval by the appropriate personnel and view the status of their requests.

Benefits of using facilities maintenance automation systems:
Improve operational efficiencies and reduce costs.
Guarantee that all required tasks and activities are completed on time; incorporate various mechanisms to ensure execution of tasks, including automatic listing of activities, reminders, alerts, escalation procedures, and easy access to information.
Improve reporting and analysis capabilities.
Comply with health and safety regulations.
Improve business planning and make informed decisions.
Improve operational efficiencies; Increase productivity and profitability.
Perform activities effectively; simplify repeatable tasks; provide staff with easy to use tools that focus on performing tasks.
Let staff spend more time performing service activities and less time on paperwork and data entry.
Improve strategic and business planning; Analyse records, needs and patterns.
Identify trends and highlight potential problem areas.
Improve controls and accountability; Lead to better quality of work.
Ensure that service is performed according to warranties, guidelines and regulations.
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