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Held Back: Higher Education Struggles Without Predictive Maintenance for Facilities Management

Predictive Maintenance for Higher Education Facilities

Predictive maintenance can give colleges and universities the boost they need to tackle their facilities management concerns.

Another school year coming to a close, another summer of facilities management teams tending to deferred maintenance projects. According to a 2016 report from Sightlines, maintenance backlogs at private nonprofit colleges and public universities in the US grew by 17 percent and 22 percent respectively between 2007 and 2015.

Not to pile yet another project onto the heap, but upgrading to a predictive maintenance program requires little capital and offers significant cost savings potential for school years to come. Why does predictive maintenance make so much sense for academia and its widespread maintenance backlog issues?

Addressing asset diversity with intelligence

Many universities and colleges were built, expanded and refurbished in different eras. In a sense, facilities managers often act as custodians of history.

Think of Boston, which reportedly has a cumulative higher education maintenance backlog of $5.5 billion, according to reporting by The Recorder, rivaling that of the local public transit authority. This historic hub has educational institutions such as Harvard University with foundations and buildings that date back to the 17th century but have been retrofitted with the latest security, electrical and/or climate control technologies. Facilities managers are therefore tasked with caring for original building materials for structural reasons as well as maintaining a certain aesthetic, all while leveraging and accounting for new innovations.

There's a lot to keep track of when your student center was erected in the 1940s, your cafeteria and dorms in the 1970s, your campus-wide fire suppression system in 1995, your sports complex in the early 2000s and a research lab two years ago. How you approach maintenance of key assets in each facility and why necessitates the simplification all this work order complexity into one condition-based maintenance regimen.

Curtailing financial concerns with reliability

Surprising no one, asset management in university facilities management hinges on money, usually the lack thereof. But a small initial financial commitment to developing a predictive maintenance program can optimize maintenance labor spend, reduce operational costs and, most importantly, prevent colleges and universities from raising tuition to cover facilities management deficits, a common practice.

"Deferred maintenance is a more than $30 billion issue nationally."

Deferred maintenance of property in underfunded or cash-strapped schools across the country is a more than $30 billion issue, according to The Atlantic. But because these schools know they cannot attract next year's prospective students with chronically high tuition costs and nothing but renovated facilities to show for it, they continue to build new property to show off, only to further aggravate their financial and maintenance troubles. What's worse, students end up footing the bill or avoiding higher education altogether because of prohibitive tuition rates.

Predictive maintenance helps school administrators break this cycle. Customizable PdM tools like asset criticality rankings prioritize the calibration, maintenance or repair of diverse assets by a uniform rubric of importance that considers variables such as school schedules, current work order queue, immediate resources, potential for academic disruption or whatever other metrics university facilities management teams deem valuable to their efforts. In doing so, labor spend always goes toward that which most affects operations in the moment, thereby delegating resources intelligently.

This summer, maintenance professionals on campuses across the US should consider breaking ground on a predictive maintenance program that streamlines work order completion and reduces costs in the long term.

Learn more about our proactive approach to maintenance for facilities, or reach out to an ABS Group representative today for information on kickstarting your predictive maintenance program before freshmen arrive in the fall.


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