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Techs4Biz Australia discusses on CMMS in Schools using PDAs

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Computerised Maintenance Management Systems (CMMS) are now a standard tool for planning and tracking maintenance activities. The CMMS can provide a fast, effective and efficient way to manage resources, assets, services, and operations. In addition, with the rise in popularity of wireless connection that includes Personnel Digital Assistants (PDAs) and smart mobile phones, maintenance personnel can now receive work orders and record project/inspection data via handheld devices.
 
Although there are many commercial CMMS software on the market, there isn’t one program that is specifically designed for school maintenance purposes. The schools property or business managers need to understand the unique challenges and goals the school maintenance team has, before choosing the suitable software package. Generally, maintenance management software is designed to help ensure that facilities are, and will be, cared for appropriately. Automation and electronic record keeping is an effective method of reducing operational costs, and enabling users to analyse information and identify trends that can impact on business planning, capital expenditures, and improved decision-making.
 
According to the School Capital Maintenance Report (Victorian Independent Schools BGA, August 2000), 48% of survey participants were without established maintenance processes, and all schools responding to the survey agreed that there was a need for a maintenance program. Outsource agencies offering maintenance services are more expensive and cause major interruptions to the every day running of a school. Applying appropriate technology such as CMMS enables the management of such maintenance processes to be more efficient.
 
School buildings and facilities are fundamental to the educational environment and it is imperative that they are kept in good order. The need to protect and maintain school assets is part of the Victorian governments policy emphasised in the Building Act and relevant Legislations. The new building regulations indicate that existing public buildings must be inspected periodically, ensuring they are well maintained structurally and that all essential services such as safety equipment are regularly examined. According to the Victorian Government’s Asset Management Series (January 1996), this effective management of assets will save money.
 
CMMS should address the following facility manager’s daily activities: Plan and schedule activities, preventative maintenance, inspections, and service activities; Incorporate templates for health and safety guidelines and regulation compliance; Assign work to staff based on skills, time and geographical availabilities; Record details about service activities with minimised key strokes data entry; Retrieve and analyse information and produce operational and management reports based on the desired criteria; Set up automatic alerts and triggers to 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; Automate recurring tasks; Provide staff with specific instructions regarding activities or equipment; Create custom escalation procedures that alert management when activities are not completed; and Interface with other school systems (building management systems, general ledgers, etc…).

Current technologies allow software companies to develop packages with automation capabilities at affordable prices. Before making any investment decisions, however, it is important to acknowledge that a fully operational automation system must include three main components: Desktop/server application; Handheld Devices; and Web Portal. Only the combination of these components will dramatically improve all aspects of inspection and maintenance activities.
 
Components of a Computerised Maintenance Management System
The Desktop / Server application 
The desktop/server application is the main component in the CMMS, which usually includes many functions, allowing sophisticated reporting and analysis.
 
The CMMS server should store all the data and 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 organisation’s assets and equipment, as well as delivering automatic reminders for related information such as warranty expiry dates and lease termination dates; and, Event-driven and Automated Escalation Procedures: issuing emails, reminders, and reports based on user-defined criteria.
 
Every school has its own special needs and requirements. The CMMS software, therefore, must be flexible in a cost-effective manner, addressing the school’s exact requirements and business criteria, without making major adjustments to the existing technology. To maximize utilisation and return-on-investment, desktop/server applications should not be stand-alone. They should be designed from the outset to transfer information to and from handheld devices, the Internet and other systems used by the school.
 
Handheld Devices
Handheld devices are designed to provide information that already exists on paper forms or on the desktop, improving 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 will fulfil the same function.  A handheld user can pick from a checklist of possible choices, writing or typing information according to the school’s requirements and preferences. Handheld devices make current, past, and future information accessible and easy to use.
 
In contrast with manual or paper-based processes, there are many additional benefits of using handheld devices. The handheld device can list all the information required by technicians, engineers, and maintenance personnel for performing their tasks and activities. The handheld device can provide easy to use navigational search capabilities, and quick access to information. Handheld devices can also include validations that allow or prevent data entry. They can also provide the user with historical information pertaining to previous service orders or particular pieces of equipment. Furthermore, by using barcodes and scanners attached to the handheld devices, quick identification of the equipment can improves efficiency, and minimise human errors.
 
Data recorded with the handheld device can then automatically be transferred to the desktop/server database, without the need for further data entry or data reformulation. The means of data transfer between handheld devices and the database can be through a standard cradle, wired modem, infrared, Bluetooth, or wireless communications. The handheld software can run on multiple hardware platforms, providing flexibility and utilisation of future technology without costly software upgrades.
 
Web Portal
 
A web portal for users, customers, or tenants, can enhance services and allow end-users to enter work requests for approval by the appropriate personnel. The application is host and managed by an Application Serviced Provider (ASP) at a data centre, which is separate from workplace. The web-based management tool helps businesses track and manage many classes of assets, each with unique requirements.
 
The significant financial and operational benefits from an ASP solution are: Access anytime and anywhere with a standard Internet connection; faster implementation; and automatic receipt of updateable upgrades.
 
Good maintenance is essential to protect the school facilities, therefore avoiding the necessity of spending larger sums of money in the future on the continued use of equipment. A professional maintenance plan must be developed to include a computerised automation system that is tailored to the school’s needs. A CMMS that is comprised of a desktop/server application, handheld devices, and web portal can dramatically improve all aspects of inspection and maintenance activities, therefore creating better efficiencies and saving the school large sums of money.
 

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