University space management: The challenges and opportunities

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What space management at universities requires and the opportunities afforded are discussed by TERRY ROCHE and MICHAEL HEWETT from Deakin University’s Facilities Services Division.

There are two main challenges facing space managers responsible for large environments: understanding the spaces you have and then understanding how they are being used. In order to undertake the former, the great majority of organisations need to have an accurate, effective and accessible space management system.
Whether it is recording the details of your physical spaces in a spreadsheet, or implementing a sophisticated space management software solution, the challenge is to ensure that when making strategic decisions impacting physical spaces, the organisation is relying on good quality, highly effective and integrated space reports.

What works in one sector may not work in others, particularly when it comes to the strategic use of physical resources. Concerning universities, a critical element of the overall space management function is to understand how the physical spaces of the university are being used. To this end, a further process of data capture and analysis comes into play under the broad category of space utilisation.
Universities are required to report on how their teaching spaces are used in terms of both occupancy (how many people in a room relative to its capacity) and frequency (how many times a room is in use over a given period). Universities report annually on this data to the Department of Industry, Innovation, Climate Change, Science, Research and Tertiary Education.
While universities report on their space use to this department, they have considerable freedom in deciding how their physical spaces are being used, letting market forces decide which programs will be delivered to which student. Universities now decide themselves how many students they will enrol in a specific degree program, and the Federal Government contributes a sizeable component of the cost of educating that student.
Space utilisation, therefore, becomes a key factor in the context of understanding the institution’s capacity to balance the demand and supply of physical resources. Does the institution have spare capacity to accommodate student growth, or will its lack of physical resources constrain its ability to increase its student numbers? Driven to increase the participation rate (number of people in post-secondary education), the questions on capacity are of vital interest to policy-makers at both a national and local level.
These are the two key strategic questions for all universities: are physical resources being used efficiently and what is the capacity to support growth? Inefficient space use provides the opportunity to re-task existing space to meet unmet demand – in the university context, this usually comprises research and staff accommodation. Spare capacity space can, of course, be employed to support growth without the recourse to build new. Unlike staff accommodation, teaching spaces have a temporal component that equates to a more sophisticated approach in managing overall use.
While it is difficult to increase the efficiency of the one-to-one staff accommodation (hot-desking aside), there is significant scope to raise the efficiency of teaching spaces. This drive to efficiency provides the university with opportunities to reposition in response to a highly flexible and competitive environment, as well as creating significant savings in capital with reduced building programs.
There are two main methods of obtaining information on space use within universities: either information is sourced from the university’s timetable (planned activity), or a physical audit is undertaken, in which the number of people using a room is counted (actual activity). There can be up to a 20 percent difference between what is planned and what actually takes place.
A week-long physical audit provides quality information on how many rooms are in use during the day and, when in use, how many people are present. Any ‘overbooking’ represents space that is being provided and maintained when it is not actually required to deliver the organisation’s core business activities. Information on space use is also collected with respect to allocation of workstations, library and learning commons use, recreational and residential facilities and even car parking.

Choosing space management software is very challenging, as there is a large number of similar systems available on the market. Selecting a solution is based on a combination of price and functionality. A small- to medium-sized organisation can select from a wide range of offerings, some of which are reasonably inexpensive.
While a limited functionality solution may work well for a small organisation, larger institutions require a more complex and integrated software solution. For example, space management at Deakin University involves establishing effective information systems and reports for a large number of buildings on four campuses.
Deakin University has been using the same computer aided facilities management (CAFM) system for over 15 years, having implemented the system in 1997. In this time, the university has made considerable use of the space management functionality of this system. The system comprises four sites, 500 drawings, 330 buildings, 13,500 rooms and 5500 assets, and receives 25,000 work requests annually. A large number of other applications connect to the system, making it the primary source of space information for the university.
The system has been customised to incorporate live campus maps, which integrate with Google Maps to provide an interactive map of the university’s space, including the ability to create heat maps of where work is occurring, automated reporting of important information via email and the use of QR (quick response) codes on assets and outside rooms to view detailed information about that space.
The Facilities Services Division has a small team of IT experts that manage the system in-house and can provide specialist advice to the university on matters such as best practice, integration and development, as well as designing and developing software solutions that integrate with the system. Furthermore, the division has a change management group made up of representatives throughout the university that also guides the direction of the application.

All organisations need to know a thing or two about their physical resources: where they are, what type are they, who has allocated use and how well they are being used. A combination of good quality space management tools and regular reporting on space use can position the organisation to be both flexible and responsive to opportunities and threats that come onto the strategic horizon. Understanding capacity is all about understanding opportunity.

Terry Roche is the space utilisation manager for the Facilities Services Division of Deakin University. Michael Hewett is the IT manager for the Facilities Services Division of Deakin University.

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