Data in Higher Education Facilities Management Q&A

Operating, managing and planning higher education facilities is full of challenges. We recently partnered with Facility Executive for a live Twitter Q&A session, where we answered questions about a range of higher education facilities management issues. We have years of experience working with hundreds of colleges and universities to offer facility management leaders and their teams’ insight on challenges from master planning to deferred maintenance, communicating with stakeholders and more. Our expertise, combined with thousands of data points from higher education facilities across the nation, allows us to better guide our members and strategically plan for the future of their facilities.

Below is a recap of the questions addressed during the Twitter Q&A event:

  1. How does data analysis play a strategic role in higher ed facilities management?

Analyzing data provides an objective means to determine what to focus on now and for the future. In the words of famed American engineer, statistician, professor, author, lecturer, and management consultant W. Edwards Deming, “You can’t manage what you can’t measure.”

  1. In terms of capital renewal and DM on campuses, what is the primary challenge for HE facilities stewards?

A lack of resources is the primary challenge: loss of state funding, enrollment reductions, trying to increase alumni donations. All while expectations for higher education services and amenities continue to increase. This makes it hard to address deferred maintenance.

  1. Have the challenges changed in recent years?

We see a disconnect between trends and the choices of some schools. Too many campuses are expanding their footprint even as enrollment flattens or drops. This dilutes capital investment across more space, accelerating the deterioration of all facilities.

We’re observing much higher expectations for accommodations, programs and services available to students outside the classroom, as well as more complex expectations inside the classrooms. The economic dips from 2008-09 permanently altered the impact of resources for schools, even as they return to robust levels.

  1. Is there a way to create a common language as a foundation for improved processes and outcomes?

Mission, stewardship, renewal, success, risk, ROI — are all notions financial and academic leaders understand. The challenge is placing the work happening at planning tables or mechanical rooms and custodial closets into this strategic framework.

A common vocabulary — from boiler room to boardroom — is essential. Listing needs alone doesn’t capture the attention of people who are confronting constrained resources on every front.

  1. Are there schools that come to mind who have overcome challenges described?
  • Wesleyan University has done a great deal with space utilization. They’ve optimized existing space and enhanced the student experience without adding new temporary space.
  • Rutgers University has a no net new policy. For any new building, at least one building comes down. Typically, small buildings and those with high backlogs are identified for divestment.
  • Clemson University drives efficiencies through space utilization and facilities prioritization. It has helped secure more funding and close the stewardship gap with their existing facilities
  • Wake Forest University shifted their investment paradigm to focus on renewal and more proactive operations. This is helping them to dramatically increase their renewal funding over 10 years.
  1. What emerging trend or issue do you see impacting HE facilities teams in 2019 and beyond?

Sadly it is the inability to confront the space problem. Too many institutions continue to expand with enrollment flat or declining. Sufficient revenue to support operating the facility is a huge question going forward. And it is a foundational problem that affects not a few years but every year going forward. And with compounding building life cycle trends piling up, the urgent needs on most campuses are growing quickly over the next decade.

  1. What are ways facility managers can forge effective communication with their counterparts?

Always start with the data! Disciplined info gathering that accurately represents facilities issues on campus is essential. If there is an understanding rooted in disciplined data collection and analysis, then your stakeholders will listen.

  1. What does good benchmarking do for campus stewards?

It puts data in context with both peers and the institution over time, allowing for careful reflection about how the campus leaders direct their efforts and limited resources.

  1. What are some questions to ask about data analysis?

Great question. We recently published a blog related to this topic that listed 10 essential benchmarking questions to ask about data analysis.

  1. How can you make the benchmarking analysis actionable?

Connect the story that the data confirms about the campus to the mission and strategic objectives of the community.  In this way the choices to be made about how to direct resources are much clearer and the community can rally around investment activity that will not only address existing concerns but will also move the community forward.

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