Maintenance Column:Maintenance and Technology:A Partnership for the Future

Maintenance directors in today’s market are faced with challenges far beyond those our colleagues faced just a few years ago. With budget shortfalls, unfunded mandates, and such innovations as new sophisticated HVAC systems, the pressure is on for maintenance directors to re-educate themselves in ways never before imagined. Whether your district is experiencing enrollment growth or decline, the issues that maintenance directors face are very similar. Those districts that are on the upside of growth soon realize that just because your district is adding square footage and acreage, does not always relate to an increase in staffing or budgets. Those districts that are facing declining enrollment often face budget and staffing cuts. Neither of these situations is anything that a maintenance director embraces.

The good news is that help can be found to assist maintenance directors with these types of situations. One way to increase productivity is to do your best to ensure your staff is provided the proper equipment. Time is money, and supplying equipment that allows a custodian to be more efficient is worth the extra cost. For example, by spending a few thousand dollars more for a riding vacuum cleaner to clean those large corridors, one can cut labor hours by a one third. For those same large corridors, consider a riding carpet extractor, not only for those times during the breaks when scheduling deep carpet cleaning, but for everyday carpet spotting. There will be dividends in the form of improved appearance of the carpet in a short period of time. Not only is there savings on labor but the district’s investment will also be protected.

One may say they already have good carpet extractors and a vacuum but the important question is:“How often does the carpet get spot cleaned or vacuumed?” Providing equipment that makes the job easier and more fun relates to more productivity more often. Technology has come a long way in the type of equipment being used today. When choosing new equipment always do your homework and choose the right equipment for the job. If work becomes fun it no longer is considered work.

The days of paper work orders are a thing of the past. There are a number of electronic work order systems available on the market today. Choosing the system that best fits your program is crucial. The preference most often seems to be Web-based systems that allow the work orders to be sent via the Internet, and where a user only needs an e-mail address to have access. With the absence of staff to help assign and process work orders, you will need a system that is user-friendly and that allows your maintenance staff the ability to enter their own data, saving you valuable time.

The new programs available today allow maintenance directors to gain access to their data 24 hours a day, seven days a week, in a matter of minutes. Some of these programs contain a routing system that allows work orders to be automatically routed from the requester to the technician without going to a central station before being assigned. This reduces the response time by half. It also allows more freedom to the maintenance director, who does not have the staff available, to act as a dispatcher assigning the work orders. Another up-side of automatic routing is that when the maintenance director is out of the office for a day or a week, the work orders continue to flow and work is preformed without interruption.

A wireless system works well with automatic routing because it allows maintenance staff instant access to their work orders through a PDA device or cell phone. This means the technician can receive and process work orders in the field without needing to travel back to the maintenance shop, therefore reducing response time.

Technology in the workplace is one of the latest and greatest additions to the toolbox for maintenance directors. We should embrace technology, and not scurry away from it like a rabbit from a fox. Accept technology for what it can do, and integrate it into maintenance programs. It is paramount to securing maintenance department’s efficiency.

Carl Larson is the president of WAMOA, an organization of Educational Facilities Maintenance Professionals in Washington State and a board member of NSPMA (National School Plant Management Association).