Lessons learned: 7 hot tips for mobilising a CAFM in the education sector

Jun 14, 2022 5 min read By Tom Wilcock
Lessons learned: 7 hot tips for mobilising a CAFM in the education sector

As more schools and colleges become part of larger trusts, the challenge of running FM for multiple campuses comes into sharper focus. But while it can feel like just another operational hurdle, it’s a real opportunity to nail compliance, save money and deliver efficiencies by installing a central helpdesk and CAFM software

The government’s express aim is for more schools to become part of multi-academy trusts to pool funding while leveraging economies of scale and managerial expertise. But when schools and colleges come together as part of these trusts, management teams can often face an uphill FM struggle. The controlling trust can be left with different facilities management teams running different systems, employing different contractors and reporting data in a hundred different ways.

The challenge of multi-academy Facilities Management

This was the situation that Alan Jones faced when he joined Activate Learning Group in 2019. He found a group of eight colleges that had come together under one management team but with FM teams in each college still operating in their own bubble:

“When I joined Activate Learning we had eight colleges all trying to do their own thing, everybody was working in silos, managing their individual workloads and reporting in their own way. I knew I needed to pull this together into one place”

The solution was to find a CAFM:

The obvious thing was to find a CAFM system that could help us organise teams on the ground from a central platform. I knew if I could do this, I could generate data within a single digital tool that would streamline maintenance and decision making”. Alan Jones - Director of Group Facilities Operations, Activate Learning Group

So, what lessons did the team learn from their mobilisation of a centralised CAFM system?

7 lessons from a successful CAFM mobilisation in the education sector


1. Centralised, digital control maximises efficiencies in every department

Moving to a single help desk can bring efficiencies to every department:

Centralizing the call centre has helped us utilise our labour better. We can organise teams on the ground through a single platform. We can see at a glance where persistent maintenance issues need resolving. We can see where compliance tasks are overdue and chase them up. I’m also not restricted to employing help desk operators from the same area, I can recruit from anywhere, and they can all work together using Expansive as one team, remotely.” Alan Jones - Activate Learning Group

2. Mobile is key

Choosing a system that has a great mobile platform ensures engineers and contractors can access work orders as and when they need them. 

It helps them work more efficiently and record details of their site visits more accurately and in real-time.

A good mobile portal allows engineers/contractors to:

  • Access the service history of the equipment whilst they’re on-site
  • See images and videos of the problematic facilities on demand
  • Make notes about service/repair outcomes in real-time to share information
  • Record hours spent on a task in real-time
  • Maintain the asset register during the service

The more data you give your engineers about a task, the more likely they will implement a fix that works the first time.

And the more data you collect about the real-time activities of your engineers and contractors, the more you’ll be able to understand their challenges and optimise their future performance.

Make sure you focus on the quality of the mobile experience when you’re selecting a CAFM system.

3. Use a CAFM to drive efficiencies on the ground

When teams on campuses organise themselves, responding to emails and prioritising their own work, chaos can ensue. Setting up a single helpdesk and creating a standardised digital framework for FM operations helps bring maintenance under central control.

Choose a solution that can help your central helpdesk and operations team to:

  • Triage work efficiently both internally and externally
  • Be clear over service SLA expectations to ensure high levels of service
  • Communicate clearly amongst all stakeholders; from the requesters, helpdesk, FMs, engineers to external contractors
  • Manage what’s important by highlighting on dashboards the next most important action to the user 

4. Prioritise compliance

In sprawling, multi-site operations it’s hard to keep track of all your compliance duties and provide evidence that everything is being done as it should be. 

Compliance is a big responsibility in education FM as the risks are high, and penalties for infringements are huge. Checking fire extinguishers, fire doors and electrical compliance needs to be done on time with evidence recorded in real-time.

Choose a system that gives you ‘at a glance’ views of compliance requirements and status by site, with colour coded grids showing what inspections are pending or overdue. Link them to work orders, so inspections and services can be triggered as and when required.

Your CAFM should make those unexpected audits a breeze by allowing you to put your hands on compliance evidence within just a few clicks. The system should also easily demonstrate you’ve responsibly organised your future statutory requirements.

5. Focus on data to justify spending and secure budget

Controlling costs is an ongoing priority in education FM, where budgets are tight and subject to constant scrutiny. 

FM teams need the ability to control and justify their staffing and spending levels to senior management. 

At Activate Learning, Alan Jones uses the data he is collecting to evidence his budgetary needs at board level:

Without data, you can’t see where teams are working inefficiently and where you might be wasting money. But equally, you can’t demonstrate where you need more support and where investment needs to happen. When we implemented our CAFM, we started recording every work request and work order, plus time taken to complete, and the outcomes of every site visit.” 

Now Alan is reaping the strategic rewards:

The data means I can go to the CFO and evidence why I need more budget or more people in certain areas. We’re not flying blind anymore. We’re not risking losing budget because we can’t account for our resource.” 

6. Choose your CAFM partner wisely

CAFM solutions vary in cost and complexity. Some will be very expensive and take months to configure, requiring massive amounts of support and training to implement. Others will need you to take a more DIY approach - you’ll be charged a license fee for the software and left ‘to get on with it’.

When choosing a CAFM, make sure you understand how much support comes as part of the package. A good CAFM partner will be on hand to help you configure the solution, so it works in the way you need it to.

Although you’ll need more support to deliver a rapid multi-site implementation, the digital tools you’re given should be mobile-friendly, intuitive and easy to learn. 

Get this balance right, and you’ll see better uptake and better results:

With new systems, there’s always the danger migration and training will be painful. But the Expansive CAFM platform was easy to use, and the team was so responsive. We've just moved on in leaps and bounds.”  Sandra Searle – Facilities Customer Services Manager

7. And finally - take it one step at a time

The advice from Activate is to consider a staggered launch: 

“First, we did a soft launch. We didn't try and hit every campus in one go. We set it up in the Surrey area first, we ironed out a few problems, then we rolled it out to the next college and then the next one. If we encountered a new problem, we solved it before we launched at the next site.”

A rapid mobilisation is key to maintaining buy-in, momentum and enthusiasm for your solution, but you need to develop a plan that is methodical and not rushed. Don’t try and implement everything at once (e.g. barcode tagging, PPM) but instead focus on work order management and compliance at the start of the project, rolling out more functionality later on.

Lessons from the front line

The Activate solution took just 16 weeks to implement and the team triaged more than 15,000 work requests in the first 18 months. It’s now helping them track and optimise performance in the most efficient way.

Here’s how you can transform the way you work, too.

Choose a CAFM system and partner that can help you:

  • Implement a single helpdesk for multiple sites
  • Support your team with mobile-first digital tools
  • Centrally organise FM teams and contractors on the ground
  • Configure a solution that works in the way you need it to
  • Drive decision making with consolidated/comparative data from each site
  • Staggered launch across multiple sites for maximum control
  • Rapidly mobilise a solution to ensure buy-in and momentum

Activate Learning

Tom Wilcock

Written by Tom Wilcock

Tom Wilcock is the COO and Co-Founder of Expansive Solutions. He is a digital expert with a background in delivering large-scale business digital transformation. He specialises in project management, product user experience, business ecosystems and data intelligence.

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