Database management to redefine Fac Ops

If you think tracking your finances and maintaining your home is a battle, consider the challenge Facilities Operations faces.

In Pullman, Facilities Operations oversees the maintenance and remodeling of about 300 buildings, as well as 350 vehicles and 467 acres of landscaped property. In the 2003-05 biennium, that effort will demand a budget of about $72 million and require the coordination of about 420 classified staff in Pullman handling everything from minor construction and remodeling projects, to broken pipes and moving office equipment.

Add to that the overwhelming fact that Facilities Operations has been tracking all those projects — costs, resources, scheduling, employee hours, repairs, inventory, billing, etc. — via a variety of uncoordinated software programs located on a sea of computers.

“Fac Ops currently runs its business operations off of about 500-plus separate databases on various servers and desktop computers that we have developed over time,” said Ev Davis, executive director of Facilities Operations. “As a result, our department spends an incredible amount of time feeding information into those databases, and that information doesn’t always get shared.”

Those days are coming to an end. Fac Ops will soon unite all those databases into one central management system. Count it — one.

On the surface, this may seem like a ho-hum deal — ‘Oh boy, another database.’ But this system will affect every office, department and college at WSU. And, in theory, it should improve services and save the university a mountain of money and time.

“If you conservatively assume that we can save 15 minutes of processing time during the life of a typical service request — of which there are about 60,000-plus in an average year — then it will save a least 15,000 hours of employee time annually,” said Dennis Bowker, information systems manager for Fac Ops. “For shop and public works projects, early estimates suggest we can save a minimum of up to 3-5 hours across the life course of a project. Add that up over several thousand projects a year and again you are looking at some impressive savings.”

First glimpse

Davis caught his first glimpse of a unified database solution at the 1999 Association of Physical Plant Administrators conference. However, planning, designing, funding and awarding the bid took about four years.

Rather than trying to design a customized system, he said, Fac Ops chose to go with a predesigned database system from MAXIMUS® for several reasons: it would be faster, pretested and proven, updated on a regular basis, and would provide training and technical support. As a result, it will probably be less expensive.

Currently, $500,000 has been budgeted for the software and all vendor implementation costs, with an additional $125,000 for hardware and support software to facilitate the system technologies. The annual maintenance contract with MAXIMUS® costs $34,000 and is locked in for the next five years.

Fac Ops is now working with MAXIMUS® to install the program on the Pullman campus and provide employee training. The plan is to launch the program for campuswide use on July 1, 2004.

With more than 20 years experience, Bowker said, MAXIMUS® is considered the dominant provider of facilities management solutions in North America and Europe.

Multiple benefits

The greatest benefit people across campus will see from this system is improved communication with Fac Ops.

“Under the new system, people will be able to place their work order online, and check on its status at any time,” said Davis. “And, after the project’s completed, they will be able to provide us with feedback.”

“This database also will allow us to measure our productivity levels,” said Davis. “For example, once information is input, it will be available to supervisors, so they can see how their work crews are progressing on various projects in real time. It also will let them weigh their overall productivity at the end of the month, week or day for that matter.”

“It will allow us to move to a style that’s more of management-by-fact, rather than management-by-feel,” Davis said.

Similarly, the MAXIMUS® program also will allow Fac Ops to better plan for preventive maintenance and to better forecast budgets, costs and equipment needs.

“We have over 100,000 pieces of equipment on the Pullman campus that we inventory and track for cost, location, age, maintenance and so on,” Davis said. “Under the new maintenance system all that information will be entered into a single database, allowing us to make intelligent projections and decisions, such as when to replace or overhaul equipment.”

In time, it also will provide an accurate tool for tracking and projecting building costs, including remodeling and maintenance, roofing repair, electrical work, painting, plumbing, heating and air conditioning, etc.

And, Fac Ops in Pullman is not the only department that may benefit from the new program. After seeing a brief presentation, several others have expressed an interest in either using or at least exploring the system — Housing, Dining and Residence Life, Central Stores, Surplus Stores, Facilities Operations at Vancouver and Tri-Cities, and the Wenatchee Tree Fruit Research Station.

“This system will make it easy to query and retrieve the information we need,” said Lee Hatley, director of maintenance services for Campus Life, which oversees the maintenance of university resident halls, apartments and dining halls. “With the program we have now, it takes forever and almost requires that you know the work order number. Plus, this will link everything from our work orders, to our parts and materials.”

“All four WSU campuses and all programs could reside on one database, but with the data segregated such that each one would function separately,” said Davis. “So people at Vancouver will only see information from the Vancouver campus.

“It’s not a panacea, but it is a significant jump from where we are right now.”

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