Editorial: If the university operated more like Facilities

Though not without its faults, the Northeastern University Facilities Department is the one department that has resisted getting caught up in the NU Shuffle. Its customer service center serves as a model for the application of efficient and effective technology to quickly respond to facilities-related issues around campus.

According to the Facilities website, the department uses a computerized maintenance management system called Maximo, which accepts and prioritizes requests from the university community. A tradesperson from the appropriate department is dispatched to address the problem, action is taken, and a follow up is sent to the requester. The process is simple and easy to access and solicits user input throughout.

What would student life be like if getting things accomplished with academic and co-op advisers, professors and student services and activities was more like placing a work request?

Action would happen quickly. Information requests would be responded to on the same day they are made or within 24 hours. At times when there is high volume or in the event a request is unable to be completed in a short period of time, status updates, follow up procedures and a realistic time table would be provided promptly. Requests should be prioritized, then delegated appropriately and fairly with an emphasis on customer satisfaction.

Help would be accessible all the time. Minimizing downtime, especially of important online applications like myNEU and Blackboard, is crucial to providing seamless service that works without causing stress and frustration. Speed and ease of use should be a top priority. This means minimizing the number of keystrokes or steps involved to get results and maximizing available technologies to provide a better experience for the user.

Offices and departments should be open for a sufficient number of hours to meet student demand. Procedures for requesting help or information after hours should be clearly delineated. Blackboard’s 24-hour customer service hotline and Snell Library’s expanding the hours of all floors to 24 hours a day show improvements in this area, but there is still a long way to go.

It would all be online. This means online availability of as many items as possible. This means no files to download, which results in compatibility issues, but moving toward simple, standardized web forms. Students want 24-hour access to submit forms and documents or retrieve information.They are accustomed to the high speed, usability and customizability of popular websites and want the same from Northeastern. All university business should be more mobile-friendly. Students are accessing Northeastern from iPods, mobile phones and computers around the world. That means they can’t work with bulky files and slow, extraneous downloads. Students are bursting with little frustrations and annoyances, especially with myNEU. Just ask them!

Confirmation and acknowledgment would be provided every time. It’s nice to know that your request has been received and that action is on its way. It’s also nice to hear back promptly. Finance requests, research proposals, co-op paperwork and e-mails take time to process, but cause stress when they are in limbo without any updates. Policy should include confirmation and time tables that enable students feel more in control of their experiences and take greater responsibility for achieving more.

Communication technology would be used effectively, including email, online forms, telephone and fax. Contact information and procedure instructions should be easy to search for and find when needed. Only few Northeastern offices and student groups have embraced Twitter and Facebook, but these new ways of staying informed are quickly becoming the new norm. Northeastern should first improve how they work with existing forms of communication, while staying ahead of the curve of information technology. Instant multimedia updates are what students have become accustomed to and expect.

Opportunities would always be provided for feedback and surveys would be taken of user satisfaction. Facilities automatically requests feedback on each service request in an e-mail to the requester, which collects data on the quality and speed of the service, courtesy of the provider and turnaround time. Action and responses should be provided for any situation that requires it, and additional concerns should be redressed. The Student Government Association and college deans should collect student opinion often and respond promptly.

Not many students appreciate the scope of everything the Facilities department does. It is responsible for physical safety, lighting, landscaping, snow removal, waste management and recycling, construction and more. Did you know Northeastern has its own auto shop? The lock shop is responsible for approximately 13,000 doors on campus. Northeastern is also the home to the largest low-pressure steam plant in New England, supplying hot water and steam heating to more than 5 million square feet of occupied space.

For all that they are inundated with – whether it be water in the Curry Student Center from the rainstorms this past week, snow from Boston blizzards, or work requests from students living on campus – Facilities does an extraordinary job. The rest of the university could learn a lot from them.

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