The Robert Gordon University (RGU) is one of the UK's most dynamic and modern universities, enjoying an international reputation for providing high quality education from Undergraduate to PhD level. RGU has two campuses, one in the city centre and one on the outskirts of Aberdeen, providing state-of-the-art facilities that deliver a wide range of degree programmes to over 13,000 full and part-time students. In addition, the University's Virtual Campus provides Internet-based learning and has been accessed by over 15,000 students from 150 countries. In 2006, The Sunday Times named RGU as the top University in the UK for graduate employment.
Until early in the 21st century, the Estates and Property Services Department that manages RGU's building stock, relied heavily on a paper-based job reporting system to keep track of breakdown reports and planned maintenance. As building services officer Eric Dalgleish explains, the system effectively kept the department in a passive role, reliant on the speed and accuracy with which its contractors completed the paperwork.
"It was not very good in terms of giving us control of the contractors and the work that they did," he says. "We would verbally instruct the work, the contractor would do the work, and complete the paperwork, and we would follow it up with an order. In other words, it was heavily reliant on the contractor, rather than being proactively managed by the University. By the late 1990s, with two new buildings coming online, the time had clearly come for us to improve our operation and computerise our systems to gain more control and make the contractor more accountable"
RGU spent some time evaluating the Computer Aided Facilities Management (CAFM) software market and following up recommendations from other users before deciding to buy FSI's Concept™ system.
"From the purchase date in 1999 to going live in 2000 took us a good 12 months," says Eric. "That length of time is not a reflection of the complexity of the system itself and I am sure it could be reduced, depending on how you resource the project. For us, it was a major exercise to transfer our former, paper-based system to Concept™ and to be honest I think we under-estimated the task initially. However it is better to take the time at the early stages to make sure everything is set up correctly as this becomes the basis for the system's future. Making a mistake in the early stages will leave a legacy throughout the life of the system."
RGU decided to take the system live to coincide with the awarding of a new £400,000 per annum, M&E maintenance contract in 2000.
"FSI spent a lot of time with us, helping us to look at how we could set up the asset register and coding structure, and how the system could integrate as much as possible with our existing methods of operation," Eric continues. "We had very close contact with FSI all through that stage, and this really helped to build our knowledge of the system. Later on, following a survey of all our buildings, we updated the asset information and put the new data into the system. We chose to do this ourselves as by then we had got to know and understand the system so much better. Now we update on a very regular basis – after every refurbishment and minor building project."
The impact of Concept™ was almost instant. "For the first time in years, we had control, generating jobs and scheduling maintenance tasks – daily for breakdowns and weekly for planned maintenance," says Eric.
Since then, RGU's implementation has undergone several expansions, including the addition of Concept's Help Desk module in 2002. According to Eric, the cultural change – which has made contracted parties more accountable for their work – has been significant.
One of the early indicators of its success from the University's perspective, for example, was the proactive identification of a slow-running maintenance task. This would have been impossible under the old system but the maintenance team was able to raise the matter with the contractor, who proceeded to put more engineers on the job.
"It means we can schedule planned maintenance to avoid disruption to the University's core activities," says Eric. "Since Concept™ went live, we have expanded the use of the system to control work carried out by our own small in-house maintenance team, and set up a help desk arrangement to log faults and small maintenance repair jobs. The system is flexible enough to allow a different job card to be issued for each contract, but with the time details recorded and available to be audited in the same way. We have also introduced a number of other small, individual contracts for fabric maintenance in
Maintenance tasks are not solely concerned with the state of the buildings themselves. A regular headache for the management team, for example, is the issuing of keys.
"We get a lot of requests for keys to be cut for new staff or to replace lost ones, so we use Concept™ to track them and uphold a higher level of security," Eric explains.
"We now have a lot more information available to us, to interrogate and report on. We can track back through the history of every asset, what work has been done to it, how many times it has required repairs and the level of expenditure.
Before, we struggled to analyse how much we were spending on maintaining the University buildings as a whole, let alone a single piece of kit. In the last year, we have also added a new dimension to the asset register, which allows us to log the general condition of the assets. We can feed that information into our maintenance plans and budget in advance for the potential failure of large/critical items – this allows us to be more proactive."
In the long term, Eric hopes that he and the team will be able to take full advantage of Concept's report-generation capabilities – two of them have taken FSI's report-writing training course – and exploit the information gathered by the system even more proactively.
Today, the system's impact is probably best measured by the invisibility of the Estates & Property Service maintenance function to its customers!
"If you asked individual members of staff about it, they may be aware that we have a software system, but they probably would not know much about it," says Eric.
"Any breakdown should be minimised and not affect the University; planned maintenance should be as non-disruptive as we can make it. This is what the system helps us to achieve. People may wonder what we do, but we work very much in the background, and if we were causing major disruption to the core business, we would not be achieving our aim!"
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