Project Description

University housing office significantly expedites work order processing with CMMS

Keeping all the components of a university housing system in good health and working properly is no easy task. It requires accurate tracking of what needs to be done and what has been done, as well as forecasting future maintenance requirements.

To address those challenges, in 2014, one university housing office started a search for an efficient way to automate work order and asset management for the thousands of student housing assets spread throughout more than two dozen buildings across its campus. The goal was to implement a computerized maintenance management software (CMMS) system to streamline work order and asset management and ultimately add a robust predictive maintenance program.

  • Improved asset life-cycle forecasting

  • Accelerated work order processing

  • Easy asset entry

Outgrowing a manual work order system


Image courtesy of iStock

The university’s housing assets include five complexes that total about 6,000 student rooms, four dining halls and five convenience stores. That adds up to about 2.5 to 3 million square feet and around 20,000 individual assets to be maintained, including:

  • Dorm rooms, suites, and apartments
  • Heat pumps in almost every room
  • Mini refrigerators in all units, plus microwaves and/or stoves in suite and apartment kitchenettes
  • Water heaters
  • Plumbing
  • Commercial appliances in the dining halls
  • Air handlers

Each complex has a manager, an assistant manager, three or four mechanics, and custodians. A project crew, consisting of an electrician and general labor, floats between complexes. Over the years, asset maintenance and tracking were managed with a combination of paper tickets and spreadsheets. As the facilities grew, the housing office team needed a better solution. So, the university’s assistant director of Facilities Management was called upon to help research and recommend a CMMS system for the housing office.

A work request system that works better

At the time the search for a CMMS system began, most of the housing office’s assets were tracked in spreadsheets. Students sent work requests directly to the housing office via email. During their regular rounds, custodians frequently observed maintenance work that needed to be done and turned in paper tickets to the housing complex managers. The managers created work orders, printed them, assigned them and filed them in binders.

“If you wanted to go back and look at maintenance history, you had to shuffle through three-ring binders, so it was really cumbersome,” says the assistant director of Facilities Management.

In 2014, the university housing office implemented Star Rez student housing software, which was used mainly to handle room assignments, contracts and billing. It also provided a work request module, where students could enter work requests based on their room assignments.

“Star Rez automated work order creation, but the tickets didn’t provide all the information we wanted to efficiently resolve issues,” says the assistant director. “And we still needed something to track assets and maintenance and perform life-cycle forecasting and costing of assets.”

The housing office wanted a CMMS system that would provide those capabilities and could be integrated with Star Rez. After exploring several options, the housing office chose eMaint CMMS in 2016. This CMMS provided the asset management features the housing office needed, it was customizable, and it could be integrated with Star Rez.

Easy asset entry

Before implementing the new CMMS system, the assistant director of facilities management attended a four-day training course. Once that was completed, he went to work entering housing facility assets into the system, a must when implementing any CMMS system.

“All 5,885 rooms had to be entered as assets to give us a basis for getting work request tickets,” explains the assistant director. “I pulled the room data out of our Star Rez database into a CSV file and checked to make sure the fields in the CSV file matched the fields in the CMMS asset entry sheets. Then I imported the CSV data into the CMMS system.”

Once all the rooms were entered, the thousands of other assets — such as heat pumps, water heaters and other appliances — were assigned to the rooms. Then came larger assets, such as air handlers and dining hall appliances, which were entered and assigned to the appropriate locations.

Integration with Star Rez

While the assistant director built the asset database, eMaint implementation specialists developed an integration piece to automatically integrate work requests from Star Rez into the CMMS’s work order system. This enabled students to enter work requests through Star Rez that automatically flow into the system. The CMMS system pulls additional asset information into the work order to create a more comprehensive description of what must be done. Customizability was one of the biggest benefits of the CMMS system.

“As we’re using eMaint now, it’s really our program in a lot of ways,” says the assistant director. “We’ve customized the way the work order looks, the information it provides, the way we’re using the project module, the asset categories and the asset entry sheets, so they all work for us.”

A rolling deployment

By fall 2017, a majority of the housing department’s assets were entered into the CMMS system, and its integration with Star Rez was complete. At that point, training began on the work order module.

“We started with one complex and used initial feedback from that area to work out any bugs,” recalls the assistant director.

Based on feedback from the staff at the first complex, the housing team customized a few screens and trained the rest of the housing facilities’ staff as it moved one complex at a time to adopt the new CMMS system. “On January 1, 2018, we were live with only one complex, and by the end of January we were live with all of them,” notes the assistant director.

Accelerated work order processing

With the new system in place the university housing facility managers can assign work orders to their mechanics in the CMMS system from a mobile device or a PC with just with a few clicks. “We have tickets coming in all the time and we try to turn them around in 24 to 48 hours,” says the Assistant Director.

Approximately 60% of the mechanics have mobile devices and receive digital work orders. The remainder work from paper work tickets. When the work is completed, mechanics enter repair descriptions and close work orders through their mobile devices or turn in handwritten completed work orders to clerical staff in each complex, who close them out in the CMMS system.

“The mobile eMaint interface is great because it’s not an app; it’s a mobile view,” explains the assistant director. “All I have to do is set it up and create a homepage icon for an Android or Apple device, and workers can access it through their own phones.”

When a work order for a student-generated work request is closed in the CMMS, the system automatically sends an email to the student stating that the ticket has been closed along with a description of what was done.

“eMaint really speeds things up for us is in work order close out; it’s much easier and much faster than before,” says the assistant director. He estimates that the facilities team processes an average of 1,000 work orders each month.

Improved asset life-cycle forecasting

The campus housing office is gradually adding preventive maintenance tracking to its asset management portfolio to extend equipment life and better predict replacement schedules.

“In each room, we track maintenance on heat pumps and mini-fridges, as well as additional appliances and water heaters in the apartments and suites,” says the assistant director. “Those are all high-maintenance assets, and in a college dorm environment, they aren’t always treated as well as we might like, so they’re not going to last as long.”

By tracking maintenance on these assets, the housing office is better able to forecast asset life. For example, CMMS maintenance tracking has been particularly helpful in tracking water heater replacement.

“I can easily go in and type a year and sort the water heaters we’ve replaced by year in each building,” explains the assistant director.

The assistant director uses workflow functionality in the CMMS system to run life-cycle analyses on a growing number of assets.

“Workflows allow me to create formulas or processes to get a clear life-cycle picture of each asset,” he says. “For example, for a heat pump, I’ll put in the cost of maintenance labor, electrical subcontract costs, an estimate of the remaining years it will run and an inflation factor. The workflow does the math and kicks out a future cost number.”

Ad hoc reports in minutes

“In eMaint, I can spend maybe 15 minutes to a half hour applying filters to build a report and kick out the same information that used to take each manager hours, or maybe even days, to put together manually,” says the assistant director.

The facilities maintenance team also uses eMaint data for budgeting, work forecasting and identifying trends that could indicate potential systemic problems.

“If I start seeing that we’ve been replacing a lot of lights in a specific building, it may indicate that we have an electrical problem we need to look at,” notes the assistant director. “The CMMS system will help us create budgets, decide where maintenance should be done, and forecast equipment replacement. It is so customizable, I can easily tailor it to fit our needs.”