From Paper to Progress: Cloud-Based Technology Streamlines School Facility Management

April 24, 2024

Reprinted from the Spring 2024 PASBO Report

The official publication of the Pennsylvania Association of School Business Officials

 

By: Elaine Dasti | MEP Company Practice Leader + Grant Ervin | Director of Applied Technology

 

For any school district, managing facilities and assets effectively is paramount. Traditionally, this involves a cumbersome mix of paper forms, spreadsheets, and siloed data storage, leading to inefficiency, errors, and frustration. But things are shifting, and the days of paper forms are fading fast.

Cloud-based platforms designed specifically for schools centralize all facility information in an easily accessible, web-based format. Think of it like a shared online database that everyone who needs access can use. These platforms eliminate the need for manual data entry and physical file storage. Information is gathered electronically, often through tablets in the field, reducing the risk of errors and delays.

Schools can track the normal wear and tear of their equipment and schedule maintenance in advance to prevent major breakdowns. Moving data to a real-time cloud-based system can also enable facility managers using these technologies to get alerts from sensors about potential problems before they cause trouble.

There are three main maintenance strategies: reactive (waiting for failure), preventative (scheduled maintenance based on data), and predictive (using sensors to identify potential problems). Cloud-based platforms save money in the long run by shifting schools from scrambling to fix problems (reactive maintenance) to predicting and scheduling routine maintenance. This proactive approach keeps things running smoothly and avoids costly surprises like unexpected equipment failures.
These platforms also have the same level of security as other school IT systems. They also connect to camera systems, ensuring that first responders have essential floor plans at their fingertips during emergencies.

Schools can focus on the data that matters most to them. These platforms are not one-size-fits-all; they give schools the power to personalize their dashboards. This means school personnel can highlight information that includes specific types of equipment, room occupancy, or anything else that helps them effectively manage their facilities. To ensure information stays current, QR codes can be placed on doors, equipment, or other locations, allowing staff to update information quickly and easily.
​While a specialist helps with setup initially, even schools with limited tech experience can benefit from these platforms. They’re designed to be user-friendly, with clear interfaces and thorough instructions. Setting them up takes time, depending on the school’s size. Smaller projects can be completed in five to six weeks, while larger ones might take a few months.

Funding a cloud-based program can be a concern, but many schools integrate the cost of these platforms into their existing maintenance budgets. And even schools with limited resources can benefit. They can start with their most critical needs, like fire safety equipment, and gradually expand their platform use.

The growing trend of capturing floor-plan data for emergency preparedness is gaining traction across different organizations, showcasing the versatile potential of these platforms. In addition to K-12 schools, we are seeing universities, municipalities, housing authorities, and state agencies using this technology as well. For instance, we recently assessed three buildings for a housing authority and created customized dashboards so that they could weigh the maintenance costs for these much older buildings versus the cost of constructing new facilities. The dashboards included a visual map showing the location of the assets, charts depicting immediate/short-term/long-term maintenance needs, and a matrix that included entries with detailed information on each system/asset/deficiency, photographs, and anticipated replacement cost. We also performed a statewide facility condition assessment for the New Jersey Department of Transportation. This survey was digitized to streamline the data collection process, and our team was responsible for providing guidance on customizing the data collection tool and performing the on-site assessments of the mechanical, electrical, plumbing, fire protection, structural and site components.

Our experience in streamlining data collection demonstrates the power of efficient data management. Schools can finally abandon the endless paper chase of the past and embrace the future with cloud-based technology. Having a real-time platform can save time and money, which means administrators can use more of their resources directly to support students and their education.