Editor's Note: Although this interview took place recently, the University of Leicester's experience adopting a new software system in the estates department occurred before the current pandemic. We realise that all of the focus inside the estates industry is on the public health crisis from COVID-19. Whilst we are sensitive to this reality, we believe sharing Leicester's experience adopting a new system might help those who now face challenges with their own systems as they plan for a Post COVID-19 World. Without further ado, here is the story of the University of Leicester's experience adopting a new IWMS with AssetWorks as shared by Anne Harvey, Associate Director of Estates and Campus Services at The University of Leicester. The interview has been lightly edited for clarity.
Thank you again, Anne, for continuing to share your story about adopting a new estates and facility management software system at the University of Leicester with us.
Before joining the Estates Department and now adopting an IWMS at Leicester, you’d been in the private sector your entire career. Based on your experience in the private sector and at Leicester, what did you expect your IWMS implementation would be like?
I was expecting a lot of personal learning; to spend a lot of time configuring settings and then training the new system out, and that pretty much describes the reality.
The big difference this time was we delivered this project on time and in budget while also working with all of our University colleagues in supporting COVID requirements for staff and students as well…. That was a different challenge I’ve never faced before!
You are four months in now. What has been the biggest challenge for you and the Estates Team at Leicester in implementing an IWMS? How have you overcome them, and what kind of support have you gotten from AssetWorks in doing so?
The biggest challenge is always assumption and expectation. If the same result is reached by a different method, people’s first comment is normally “it doesn’t work, or it doesn’t do…” when you show them the new way and explain the reason why it has to be this way because of the extra linked functionality, they get use to the new method and then you get the expectation that all the new interesting stuff is ready as well, and ironically then you’re pulling the customer back and asking them to be patient while you build the new functions for them.
AssetWorks has been great at supporting us in training, Gil Oswald who was a genuinely lovely guy took my MS Teams calls and exchanged emails with me at all hours and guided me to some easier ways of doing things, when I just tried and couldn’t quite get there on my own. The whole AssetWorks development team are really open to user suggestions, and we’ve already seen some of the things we’ve mentioned be included in the latest version.
Tell us about the work your team has done to make the IWMS implementation successful. What are some of the wins the Estates Department has created together during this process?
Many years ago I heard the expression “All systems are designed to produce the results that they do”, and in my over 20 years of implementing improvements through both manual and computer system changes that is absolutely true.
By working with the customer as we did here first, we knew what the customer wanted, then my team and I learned the system and how it could meet our requirements. I normally focus on the administration - what the actual end user is going to be doing - and my Head of Business Systems, Andrew Gahagan, learns how all the technical aspects work. Then we bring all that learning together to design the system, set standards and define standard operating procedures.
Finally, we roll it out to groups of users in priority of who needs it first – where are the greatest current constraints, and who will benefit most from the system.
Probably the biggest win is the increased visibility of data from anywhere. Like the rest of the UK we are now mostly working from home and by having a solution we can access from any browser we can check and search for information from any device, mobile or PC. I know we recently had a property incident and whereas before our Insurance Team would have been waiting for information, they can now go on and read the ticket and notes without even having to boot up their laptop.
What is your most significant learning so far in implementing an IWMS at Leicester, and how has it changed the way you do business in Estates?
People aspire to not work in silos, but the reality is everyone has their own priorities. By having one system that is linked, but can be divided by user security roles, people can access the information they need but don’t realise 80% of “their” data is also being used by other areas in Estates. They are learning that actually the requirements for reports and service information are very common in all areas, “How many have we received? How quickly did we do it? Was the customer impacted? How much did it cost?”. We can also now roll out new modules with ease as the screens look the same and have the same basic features for adding new, searching, saving etc.
The University of Leicester aspires to be “Citizens of Change.” As you look forward from here, what change do you envision will have occurred inside Leicester by this time next year because of your IWMS implementation? What about in five years?
When we started the implementation, we were Estates and Campus Services; on the day we went live with phase 1 we became Estates and Digital Services, so we are yet again changing, so what we would hope for the immediate future is to utilise the system to see if it can benefit the new, bigger division.
Let’s look back before we look forward, when I started in service support my boss used to say, “if people think of us during the day for anything other than advice, then we’ve failed”. He meant that when you deliver a service it should just be there and working when your customer needs it, if it’s not, you need to improve it. In five years I would like to see the whole University community using the EDS services without thinking about it; their buildings are acceptable and comfortable to work in; their systems function as required and they can just carry on with their job; they interact with EDS with ease and simplicity and feel that the services we offer enable and empower them to support their students and their customers. We would do all that in a cost effective and efficient way.
Looking back on your journey so far with AssetWorks adopting and implementing a new IWMS, what advice would you give to other Estates Professionals considering doing the same at their own universities?
Be sure what you want and why. Then move forward with purpose and as I’ve said already do the pre-work, plan and design the system, before you start the implementation, but don’t think that has to take a long time. Between signing our contract and going live there were seven months and a pandemic!
It's been a true pleasure, Anne, learning about your journey in adopting a new estates and facility management software system at the University of Leicester, and sharing that experience with us.