Custodial Management in the Information Age

Delivering high-quality services and increasing productivity cost-efficiently are issues faced by colleges. The challenge to custodial service providers is keeping up with job activity and inventory data retrieval and analysis. As with many challenges today, the solution can be found in technology. Electronic data collection and tracking systems using bar code technology are propelling data collection and analysis into a new dimension.

How Does It Work?

Bar-code labels placed in the areas to be monitored (such as elevators, classrooms, laboratories and storerooms) or on objects to be monitored (from backpack vacuums to vehicles) will trigger the system when scanned using hand-held data-capture computer units. These units can be programmed by the user to ask a vast number of specific questions each time a bar-code is scanned.

The information collected on the hand-held unit can be easily transferred to and from a personal computer through a simple modem connection to a telephone line, or via a mobile phone, any place on the campus or from any campus in the system.

Ultimately, the process can provide a full audit trail of essential information including the time and date of input and how long it took to check each item, providing a high level of detailed reporting for analysis. Some of the chief advantages include:

- tracking assets, maintenance costs and asset use;

- measuring, tracking and improving quality of custodial services;

- managing consumable and charge-back stock use;

- creating accountability;

- measuring, re-assessing and maximizing staff productivity; and

- improving staff performance through better management of their skills and time.

The Bar Code Phenomenon

Bar-coding was introduced in the 1970s, and today it is an important part of most business operations. It is still in its infancy in the custodial management process, however.

The bars, which vary in width and spacing, represent the binary digits 0 and 1. A string of digits functions as a unit and assigns a unique identification code to an item.

For custodial services, this technique can offer a level of data integrity previously unobtainable with manual systems. There is little doubt that this is becoming the new industry-standard technology.

At colleges, bar-coding systems customized to your situation and goals can be effective tools to address specific, localized problems. They then can be integrated into organizationwide information systems, communicated throughout by e-mail or a campuswide intranet. Campus uses include facilities management, construction, plant operations, grounds, structure and security.

The latest high-speed processing units come with versatile software programs. Here are some examples

Computer aided cleaning management. An overall program that keeps track of an entire operation, including personnel, assets and resources is the computer aided cleaning management system. State-of-the-art systems, such as Innovise Software’s recently updated Comtrac 3, have Internet and intranet capabilities and provide a comprehensive range of performance reports to help identify consistent areas of weakness and strength. Capabilities include fast mobile phone messaging and data transfer.

The system facilitates the use of bar codes to speed the collection and processing of service quality and performance data and to provide accuracy by recording the time, whereabouts and actions of employees and system users. Programs monitor performance, track responses to nonconformance, measure productivity, process work orders and maintain employee training records.

In addition, reduced costs and optimum value result from thoughtful use of information maintained, such as employee skills profiles, skills development, training management and pictorial work schedules specific to each employee’s routine.

Computer aided asset tracking. Asset tracking software systems manage and track fixed and moveable assets, using hand-held computers and bar code data capture to identify and track the movement, servicing and maintenance costs of assets.

For example, the system checks the location of the asset against the listed location to produce a variation report showing which assets have been misplaced, lost or found. This management technique enables you to monitor maintenance costs by asset, asset group, employee, category and/or location. The system also maintains an asset register, automatically logging asset values.

These programs are capable of handling multiple categories, allowing the management of many different asset types, and they have an asset search function. Results of maintenance checks can be recorded on the hand-held computers and exported to the system by modem. Using the management information provided by the system, you have the ability to maximize maintenance routines and cut maintenance costs. With the latest systems, such as AssetTRAC, you also can create maintenance routines and automatically compile planned preventive maintenance schedules.

Computer-stock management. Computer-aided stock management bar coding and software programs can process a wide variety of standard reports and analyze expenditure, revenue flow, allocation and use.

With hand-held bar code readers, you can carry out stock audits, log stock requisitions and undertake OSHA audits and application data for hazardous chemicals. Advances, such as the StockWATCH system, maintain inventory levels and flow for a significant number of stock rooms or warehouses, automatically re-ordering inventory when it falls below a user-defined minimum level. It also batches and processes purchase orders and delivery notes.

Other advantages include the ability to process both consumable and rechargeable requisitions. A function for just-in-time ordering minimizes stockpiling.

Delivering High-Quality Services

Bar coding is easy, quick, efficient and affordable. The cost savings can be significant when using leading industry software programs and technology.

Jim Harris is CEO of Concepts IV, a cleaning management and consulting group specializing in Team Cleaning training and computer-aided custodial management systems. For more information, contact him at 518/456-7100 or e-mail:

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