School Maintenance

L.A. School District Crowdsources Maintenance Requests

At the beginning of 2011, the LAUSD launched a pilot crowdsourcing program that has resulted in 1,000 repair requests in the first eight months of the year. Once fully implemented, it could cut the district's maintenance request-processing expenses by 80 percent.

Say you work somewhere in the far-flung Los Angeles Unified School District and you come across a cracked sidewalk, broken lamp, or leaking faucet that needs repair--there's an app for that. At the beginning of 2011, the LAUSD launched a pilot crowdsourcing program that has resulted in 1,000 repair requests in the first eight months of the year. That's a drop in the bucket compared with the nearly 250,000 requests the district gets every year. However, Kurt Daradics, cofounder and director of business development for CitySourced in Los Angeles, which markets the crowdsourcing app, said that, once fully implemented, it could cut the district's maintenance request-processing expenses by 80 percent.

The app allows faculty and staff members--and eventually students and parents--to transmit maintenance requests throughout the district via smartphones. GIS information, sourced from the user's phone, accompanies the report. The mobile phone app displays all school campuses, and has the capacity to send text and photos. "We want it to be user-friendly, so we designed a lot of drop-down lists so the flow is easy," said Danny Lu, LAUSD business analyst. "We have advertised it to our workforce in house."

Currently, the district relies on phoned-in service requests from teachers, administrators, and parents to the plant manager of the campus or the head custodian, which is both time-consuming and expensive. "The plant manager has to write that down and go and call and dispatch the different craft services to come out and fix the issue," Daradics said. "If you basically take the plant manager's hourly, fully loaded costs--salary and benefits and all of that--and you divide the number of minutes that it took to process that [maintenance request] ticket, it will end up being somewhere around $5." In-person reports are higher--around $9 per transaction--but lodging a request via mobile phones could run less than a dollar, said Daradics.

He said the district would break even on his company's service charge when a mere 2 percent of requests come via that channel. "If we get up to 4 percent, which is only 10,000 reports, they've netted a 100-percent return on investment. So, imagine if they can get it up to 20 or 30 percent, which is ultimately the goal. It's a huge cost savings in time."

Lu said plans to promote the mobile app outside of staff are on hold during the testing phase. "We're in the process of reviewing everything and then going out and marketing it [to faculty and parents of students]," he said. "We want to be fully comfortable before advertising it."

The rollout took a year, due to the need to integrate CitySourced's program and the district's asset management software, Maximo Asset Management. The solution is scalable, Daradics said, with fees based on the number of campuses within a district. "We've partnered with pretty much all the major back-office systems that are out there," said Daradics, "so there's a good chance that whatever system the school has, we can plug into it out of the box." He said districts also benefit from increased engagement with patrons, particularly with low-income or minority students. Those populations are twice as likely to engage online via a mobile phone versus a conventional internet service provider, he said.  "It's not only a new channel, but it's a new group of users."

George Dailey, GIS in Schools program manager for Esri, a company that extracts and compiles GIS data for customized or off-the-shelf software solutions, said, "CitySourced has taken our technology--base maps and other geo-tool sets--and married that with smartphone technology and a vision of getting people engaged in reporting issues, utilizing the eyes and brains of staff and parents as remote sensors."

Since CitySourced has already developed citizen-engagement portals for the cities of Los Angeles and San Francisco, Daradics said expanding the crowdsource model into policing functionality in school districts is a possibility.

"We see several people experimenting in this area," said H. J. Enck, principal of Commissioning and Green Building Solutions in Duluth, GA. An expert in facilities management, Enck said that a crowdsourcing survey has value. "Data is great and having the ability to receive data from the phones certainly could identify areas that may not be able to be seen, areas that need to be patrolled. I think there is a great deal of value that can come from the inflow of that information," Enck said. "You need some analytics to go along with it. What I see as the main issue is how do you manage the inflow."

Crowdsourcing is also gaining a foothold at the collegiate level. Using GPS-enabled cell phones, Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh is engaging Facebook users to help report potholes,  said Byron Spice, director of media relations for the university.

About the Author

Jan Fletcher is a Spokane, WA-based freelance writer.

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