When a group of venerable, high-profile universities that includes Georgetown and Villanova announced late last year that they were leaving the Big East, it may have seemed like just the latest reshuffling of collegiate athletic conferences in what has come to feel like an endless game of musical chairs. All of this recent turmoil in collegiate athletics is just a symptom, however. The larger problem is money—or, to be more specific—a lack of money. And that is a problem that does not just have an effect on decision-making with regard to sports conferences, but on virtually every operational and strategic decision at institutions of higher learning.
Recent years have not been kind to higher education balance sheets: budgetary shortfalls have significantly reduced state appropriations, and school endowments have suffered in response to a sustained economic downturn.
“Higher education budgets are generally more affected than other program budgets to state fiscal conditions, and tend to take disproportionate cuts when times are bad,” according to a report published by the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Additionally, a survey from Moody’s Investor Service indicated that 18 percent of private universities and 15 percent of public universities project net tuition revenue declines in the 2013 fiscal year. The ripple effect of the cuts impacts financial aid availability, limits options academically, makes it harder to maintain facilities, and frequently leads to significant tuition spikes. Essentially, students can end up paying more for less—a troublesome trend for any school.
The challenge, therefore, is to do more with less. Many universities are discovering that one effective strategy is to look at the maintenance processes and costs of institutional assets. Employing a powerful and sophisticated asset lifecycle management (ALM) tool can facilitate adherence to the processes, acting as the mechanism to support ongoing analysis of the success of a maintenance program. An ALM system, also known as enterprise asset management (EAM), coordinates and consolidates all maintenance management and asset-related functions and information into one central resource. In a university environment where the formidable logistics and complexities of maintenance and operations are akin to those of a small town, an ALM program supported by the right software presents a way to bring some much-needed cohesion, consistency and efficiency to the task of maintaining the campus, the school facilities and all of the physical assets required to keep a university running.
Asset lifecycle management
The effective implementation and utilization of ALM-based maintenance management systems can be a difference-maker for a school looking to optimize its efficiency and get the most bang for its budgetary buck. The best of these systems not only enable schools to service, update and replace physical assets, but to do so with powerful and flexible predictive software that automates and integrates things like inventory controls and detailed service, maintenance and repair information into a single database. The result is a maintenance and facilities management process that is no longer reactive, but proactive: allocating financial, physical and personnel resources more efficiently and effectively to keep things running longer, keep the campus looking better, and keep students safe, satisfied and intellectually stimulated.
At a time when online education continues to challenge the traditional model, maintaining the physical infrastructure of a campus or university facility becomes even more of an important priority. But as infrastructure costs continue to rise, the resources required to maintain aging campus buildings, build additional dorms and classrooms, and maintain competitive athletic, research and laboratory facilities can take an inordinately large bite out of a university’s annual budget. Protecting the enormous investment that a school has to make in facilities and equipment is critical, and doing so within budgetary constraints is a necessity. ALM-based software and programs introduce tracking and scheduling, along with predictive analysis, to ensure regular servicing and maintenance, and to facilitate campus-wide equipment and repair standardization. These practices not only reduce costly breakdowns, they allow you to develop efficiencies that will protect your investments and maximize your budget.
Higher education challenges
While a campus presents an extraordinary array of logistical challenges when it comes to maintenance, upkeep and operation, the resource equation is further complicated by the inherent contradictions of an educational environment. Unlike traditional businesses—where the line between expenses and profits is often clear and direct, and ROI is frequently a straightforward calculation—colleges and universities (whether for-profit or otherwise) face a far more nuanced relationship between investment and returns. From the smallest community college to the largest state university, facilities management departments play a central role on campus. Facilities maintenance and upkeep does not always translate to the bottom line, however. Many schools are not trying to make a profit per se, but are first and foremost trying to attract qualified students and great teachers. If a business wants to sell more widgets, increasing production is rarely a complex or convoluted process. In higher education, however, the issue is far more complicated.
With states decreasing funding, the revenue side of the equation gets even more challenging. For most schools, revenue is tied to capacity. At most institutions, the easy way to increase revenue is to grow, usually by adding students. But once you reach capacity, that growth could mean a massive infrastructure investment. There is no way to admit 10,000 freshmen if a school only has housing for 6,000. Inevitably, questions about space and facilities lead to even tougher questions about how (or even if) those structures should be built or upgraded. Is campus housing a profit center? If not, why build more of it? If yes, how many do you build? ALM can help answer those questions, help to clarify uncertainties, and help turn theoretical discussions into clear and concise resource allocation calculations. For most institutions, it is hard enough to calculate the expected cost of a new dorm. It is impossible to calculate the cost of ongoing maintenance—unless you have a system to schedule the work and capture the costs. That is where ALM comes in.
ALM can not only help decide where to allocate precious dollars, it can also help plan ahead for big expenses, and can make every dollar go further. From classrooms, to dorm rooms, to libraries, to athletic facilities, higher education places a diverse and demanding burden on facilities management professionals. Whether it is a light bulb on a projector, or a light bulb in the lighting array towering over a football stadium, the standardized purchasing and inventory controls that are a part of any quality ALM system will ensure that every replacement is both compatible and readily available. If a student spills a chemical in the lab, integrated ALM systems will not only dictate who to call to safely clean it up, but will have information available to immediately contact the right technician, fill out a work order, and other procedural streamlining. The power and potential of ALM applied to a university setting is virtually unlimited.
Determining how many grounds and maintenance workers are required to clear sidewalks in a snowstorm, assisting with fleet maintenance for campus security and transport vehicles, or even operating campus utilities at peak efficiency, ALM-based systems and software can be an essential piece of the puzzle for schools looking to achieve optimum results from sub-optimum funding.
ALM implementation best practices
Traditionally, facilities management systems have operated outside of any integration with the core campus administrative systems. There has been no correlation between procuring a projector and maintaining it. Today’s requirements are changing that. End-to-end integration and reporting requirements are driving institutions to integrated solutions rather than point solutions. Understanding this is paramount to accomplishing more with less. As an educational professional and decision-maker, you should make it a priority to become familiar with the leading practices associated with ALM program and software implementation and operation, as well as appreciating the costs and consequences of failing to adhere to those standards:
Detailed planning. The first step to implementing a new maintenance management system requires outlining the broad strategic operational priorities. Going into the process, the campus should set clear and specific goals and priorities and distinctly define the expected results. This will then allow them to establish consistent expectations with regard to what they will require from their new maintenance management system. While experienced professionals will guide decision-makers through the process, clarity and consistency on the part of the university will make the planning and programming of the new system a relatively smooth and efficient process.
Logistics are important. After setting big-picture goals, it is important to hone in on the more specific and precise maintenance standards and metrics. Even the most powerful and sophisticated ALM system is only as effective as the parameters and the data it relies on. Pre-implementation troubleshooting is also important, and university leaders should work closely with consultants to predict and minimize future logistical hiccups that may arise. Every campus is different, and understanding how and where to store and move resources around is an important part of designing a system that will maximize efficiencies.
Know-how is vital. Even the most hi-tech airplane will eventually crash without a pilot. Training those maintenance personnel who will use the system is critically important. Before the system comes online, it is a good idea to establish a working familiarity with the system for all employees, as well as training a handful of key personnel who need to have a deeper understanding of how the software operates. Technical and operational fluency translates directly to a more effective system, and implementing periodic training and “upkeep” sessions is also a good idea.
Think long term. While it may be satisfying when a new system comes online, implementing a new ALM-based system is only the first step in a long and rewarding process. Design and training are important, but realizing a system’s full potential demands a sustained long-term commitment to training and oversight. System tweaks and updates will likely be required to ensure that the system is operating at peak efficiency, and that the elements of customization that make ALM such an asset for so many institutions are streamlined and effective.
Ultimately, the promise of ALM-based systems and software for higher education is all about coordination and integration: the coordinated implementation of programs and priorities in a way that integrates the management of assets to save both time and money. In a vacuum, or in a silo, the potential for inefficiency is heightened. ALM removes those technical and logistical barriers, enabling the various departments within a university setting to communicate and coordinate with a previously unheard of level of efficiency. At a time when every dollar—and every student—matters, the ability to enhance efficiencies and reduce both expenses and operating costs means that universities can rewrite the value equation and do more with less. That’s not just a passing grade—that’s an A+.
Shannon Klabnik serves as PeopleSoft Practice Director and David Scott as Director of the Northeast Region for MIPRO, a consultancy specializing in implementations, upgrades and optimizations of Oracle’s PeopleSoft applications.