Web technology: Reshaping performance and perception

By Chris Johnson  

Not that long ago, maintenance and engineering departments operated behind the scenes, largely unseen and misunderstood by their customers. But today, departments are making a concerted effort to use all available technology to connect with customers. As part of these efforts, departments at universities, in particular, are tapping into the power of the Internet. Departments are using the Web to change expectations about what technology can and should do.

The Next Generation

In many cases, Web technology is enabling departments to move beyond basic data included on most early Web sites. Students and staff at California State University, Chico, can simply point and click to find out about the department of facilities management and services. The department’s Web site lists “information relevant to the campus community on the services we provide, and how we can work together to make everything run smoothly,” says Jennifer Mays, the site’s Web master.

The site offers online service-request forms for non-emergency work and project-request forms for more detailed work. Eventually, the site will post real-time project updates so customers can track progress without talking to a department employee, Mays says. Students also can view university policies, such as those regulating outdoor barbeques. Mays says the department plans to post as many policies as possible to further reduce the need for customers to call the department in search of information.

Efficiency From Technology

The Physical Plant at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville uses its Web site “to eliminate paperwork, phone calls and delays,” says Web site manager Tom Clark.

The department uses digitized Web forms on its public site, which customers use to request services online, thereby creating digital work orders. To complement that system, the department uses a password-protected employee site that allows workers to access the work orders online. They can read, update and close out work orders online. Customers also use the public site to get billing information. The next step will be to ensure that the site is ADA compliant, Clark says.

The Facilities Planning and Management (FP&M) department at Iowa State University in Ames uses its Web site as a training tool. The digital FP&M Academy provides training and testing applications for various environmental and safety-related courses. A complementary online service, the Professional Development Authorization process, allows staff to get approvals for classes quickly and easily.

“Using the Web, we have taken a manual paper process and transformed it into an electronic routing and approval process,” says Mike Hamilton, the manager of computer support services. The department plans to continued developing online learning opportunities and expanding beyond safety issues.

In fact, Hamilton says the department might create its own portal as an alternative to common Internet access sites such as Yahoo or America Online. The portal would give staff direct access to training and other software applications needed for online department programs without having to log onto a general Internet access site first.

At the facilities management department at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, Web master Chris Smeds has continuously expanded its Web site. The site has become such a collection of information piecemealed together over time that it is almost unwieldy, he says. He wants to make it more user-friendly.

“As we go through the process, our goal is to come up with a site that will continue to scale well as we add more content,” he says — because, of course, there is always more to add.

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  posted on 10/1/2003   Article Use Policy

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