Office on the go

From facilities to IT to public safety, departments are equipping employees with mobile devices to work from anywhere on campus

Members of the facilities crew at Quinnipiac University were spending a lot of time traveling back to their shop during the workday.

This situation, of course, was not unique to Quinnipiac, but department officials at the school set out to eliminate the trips workers had to make to retrieve new work orders, find information about equipment in manuals or look up floor plans. The central Connecticut institution has a 212-acre main campus, and two branches that are a half-mile and about five miles away.

“I wanted to give them all of that information at their fingertips,” says Keith Woodward, associate vice president for facilities operations at the school. Thirty HVAC technicians, electricians, mechanics and carpenters were issued iPad 2s, costing $499 a piece, in fall 2012. Workers can now control climate systems, send notifications of repairs and complete dozens of other tasks right from their tablets. “It has been pretty productive for our group,” Woodward says. “They definitely spend a lot more time in the field servicing the community.”

Quinnipiac isn’t alone. Campuses across the nation are deploying mobile devices, along with a range of apps, to allow employees in departments as varied as facilities, IT, public safety and communications to perform important job functions without having to be tied to their desks.

Faster facilities response times

When a Quinnipiac student reports that a dormitory is too cold, a facilities manager sends the work order to an employee’s iPad. From anywhere on campus, the employee can use an app developed by Critix to access the university’s Siemens climate system and adjust the heat. Without the iPad, the adjustment could only have been made at the facilities shop. If the technician has to go to the dorm to make a repair, the manual for the climate system can be accessed from an iPad.

“We think we’ve gained a half-hour of time for every individual per day,” Woodward says. “If you take an eight-hour day, that’s a 7 percent savings on time. That’s really going to add up.”

The time saved gives employees time to focus on other tasks, like preventative maintenance. Less travel also means less wear and tear on vehicles, and less risk of a facilities worker getting into an accident, Woodward says.

Since the program was implemented, facilities has gotten Quinnipiac’s IT department to install Wi-Fi hotspots in mechanical spaces, such as boiler rooms, so workers can continue to use their iPads.

The program also has been expanded so iPads can be used to control the irrigation system on one of the school’s campuses.

“We’ve given our employees the technology to do their jobs much better,” Woodward says. “Some of my guys have told me, ‘I go out at 7:30 in the morning and I don’t have to come back until lunch.”

Facilities workers at Rollins College in Winter Park, Fla., have been using iPod Touch devices for the past few years and web-based software called Maintenance Connection to track and respond to service requests. The software sends an email to the campus customer when the service request has been completed, says Kirk Hemphill, Rollins’ maintenance manager.

“It’s difficult for a customer to know what’s going on when you’re using a paper-based system,” Hemphill says, adding that his team wanted something better. The department switched to $199 iPod touches after first trying a $430 Windows-based PDA that had an unreliable battery, Hemphill says.

An app called AutoCad 360 lets workers review mechanical and electrical plans that have been uploaded in Google Drive. Another app, Get Console, provides access to Rollins’ energy management system.

“From a big picture perspective, the whole approach allows us to be more responsive, provide better service and control costs,” says Jason Morin, a Rollins controls technician.

More flexible IT assistance

Campus IT departments are using tablets and other mobile devices—along with the requisite apps—to provide technical assistance remotely. At Boise State University, where Bomgar software allows IT to access campus computers remotely, a free Bomgar app adds that function to IT workers’ tablets, says Peter Juhrs, the school’s desktop support manager.

Most of those tablets are iPads. “We may have students that call us with any device—a brand new MacBook Air or an eight-year-old Windows XP device that’s almost a boat-anchor kind of laptop,” he says. “They can get support whether they’re on campus or at home. It doesn’t matter where they are and it doesn’t matter where we are.” IT workers can also multitask more easily. If they’re working on someone’s laptop, and waiting for the machine to load software, they can use a tablet to help another customer.

“Every call they go on, they have the tablet so they can be doing something else while they’re on site waiting for that little blue bar to fill,” Juhrs says. “The number of people you can support is as high as your ability to multitask.”

IT staff at Lebanon Valley College in Pennsylvania use mobile devices to quickly access the department’s work order system. They can easily determine if work orders are trending from one source, such as the learning management system, says Director of Information Technology David Shapiro.

“It doesn’t matter if we’re on campus, or off-campus in a restaurant downtown at lunchtime,” he says. “We can get that information quickly, and that is making our world a lot better.”

IT workers can remotely access a dashboard with real-time information about the campus’ data center or usage numbers for computer labs. Workers also can check use-licenses for software and applications.

Many of Lebanon Valley’s technicians have iPads or iPod touches. VoIP software from Cisco includes apps that can turn the mobile devices into the technicians’ office phone. This allows them to access voicemail and receive service calls on-the-go.

“We are able to turn around work orders faster,” he says. “You don’t have to come back to the office to find out somebody called you. It’s instantaneous.”

Bringing the campus to recruits

Mobile devices also are being used by public safety, as well as advancement and admissions officers, at Lebanon Valley.

Public safety officers have been given Nexus 7 android devices with which they can view closed-circuit TV and watch security camera feeds through an app that goes with the Exacq video system the college uses. In addition, these employees can access the campus ticket system through their mobile devices, Shapiro says.

Advancement officers, meanwhile, use a Blackbaud mobile app to access The Raiser’s Edge fundraising system while on the road.

Shapiro says he also is working with the college’s admissions department to create a branded iPad that admissions officers can use to show the campus to prospective students. The iPad will have a Lebanon Valley College logo and be loaded with photos, videos and registration forms, among other recruitment materials.

“They can walk out with a branded iPad and go to any high school, to any recruiting event, and have something show to prospective students,” Shapiro says.

Amplifying the institution’s voice

The entire 12-person communications and marketing staff at Gettysburg College in Pennsylvania is equipped with mobile devices in an effort to get the school’s message out more efficiently—and not miss any important campus moments.

Communications staffers were able to choose between iPhone and Android devices. Along with the cellular plans, “it’s not an insignificant investment we make each year,” says Paul Redfern, executive director of communications and marketing.

“If someone is out on campus and sees something that’s interesting and cool that we should have a photo of, I want them to have a smartphone in their pocket—I don’t want them to have to go find a camera,” Redfern says.

Getting photos is important in promoting Gettysburg because of how visual the web and social media have become. The Instagram photo-sharing site has surged in popularity and Facebook posts with photos or videos are generally seen by more people, meaning they are more likely to be shared outside Gettysburg’s own social network of students, alumni and faculty. “It extends the reach of your message. A single post on Facebook without any paid promotion can reach up to 10,000 of our followers,” Redfern says. “In comparison, the best post we have on our homepage—a really good homepage story—gets maybe 2,000 people to click.”

Mobile devices also allow staff to monitor what is being said about Gettysburg on social media. “You’re keeping an eye out for things that might have a potential negative impact, but you’re also keeping an eye out for positive impact,” he says. “People may be using Twitter to say, ‘Hey, I just got accepted to Gettysburg.’ We can retweet that or we can reply and say congratulations.”


AutoCad 360,
Blackbaud (The Raiser’s Edge),
Cisco Systems,
Get Console,
Maintenance Connection,
TMA Systems,

Matt Zalaznick
Matt Zalaznick
Matt Zalaznick is a life-long journalist. Prior to writing for District Administration he worked in daily news all over the country, from the NYC suburbs to the Rocky Mountains, Silicon Valley and the U.S. Virgin Islands. He's also in a band.

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