Facilities and Grounds Department employee uses new mobile electronic system on iPad

Facilities and Grounds Wins International Innovation Award

Facilities and grounds department employee uses new mobile electronic system on iPad.
Garr Plowman using the new Mobile Work Order System

The University of Alabama’s facilities and grounds department was named the 2018 winner of the Association of Physical Plant Administrators’ Effective and Innovative Practices Award.

The international award, which will be presented at APPA’s national conference in July, is one of the biggest in the educational facilities arena. It is given to programs that enhance service delivery, lower costs, increase productivity, improve customer service, generate revenue or otherwise benefit an educational institution through the creation of a new program or significantly restructuring an existing one, according to APPA’s website.

To win the award, the created program must also display a high level of innovation and be replicable so it can be implemented at other institutions.

“Anytime we receive an award, especially an international award, it feels pretty good and makes me very proud of the leadership and the quality of the technicians we have within our department,” said Duane Lamb, associate vice president of facilities and grounds for UA.

Lamb said the Mobile Work Order System was created in-house during a six-month process by UA grounds and facilities employees working with business information and technology services, and has been utilized for about a year.

The Mobile Work Order System allows facilities and grounds technicians to use an iPad or iPhone to call in a work order and send photos to each other, among other things. For example, a shared photo of a malfunctioning piece of equipment can be used to locate the exact problem so the right part can be ordered without having to return to the shop to document the issue.

“This system also provides the maintenance managers real-time immediate data indicating the mechanic’s exact location on campus, coupled with what work is being performed at any given time, and when the job will be completed,” said Greg McKelvey, executive director of maintenance operation and energy for facilities and grounds.

“With our old system, as priority work orders came in throughout the day, and the need to react to a new maintenance issue on campus arose, the supervisor could not ascertain what the mechanics were working on and make an informed decision on whether or not to reassign the workforce to work a higher priority job. In the past, it was challenging for leadership to know what was physically accomplished. We would have no idea what they were doing unless we called them or physically checked with them.”

McKelvey said facilities and grounds continuously tries to find ways to increase efficiency. When they identified the shortcomings of the old system, they created a plan to address the issue.

Lamb said they researched other software systems, but those systems didn’t meet the high standards of the department, so they chose to partner with UA’s IT experts to create an in-house system.

“Between their software knowledge, and our engineering expertise, we created a system that’s pretty impressive,” he said. “In addition, we now have an in-house software system that is not only cost effective, but also provides us with increased functionality and real-time data. Finally, and most importantly, we have control of our own system.”